Just like any horror franchise, scary cinematics tend to lead to an army of sequels even when they are completely uncalled for. Sega has been fortunate enough to get by with three solid House of the Dead titles and pushes its luck again by recently shipping number four to arcades. Unfortunately, the whole shooting zombies with mediocre presentation thing is starting to get old.
With part four, Sega gives us a continuation of House of the Dead 2. James Taylor from the second installment has evidently received a few promotions within the AMS and tags along with relative AMS newcomer Kate Green.
Gathering information on the Goldman case in Venice, the two are rudely interrupted when the building collapses and leaves the two trapped. Waiting for rescue, the pair notices something unusual on the security cameras and scavenges for weapons to defend themselves from what suddenly bangs down the room’s door.
Give yourself 20 obvious points if you guessed the threat was zombies.
For House of the Dead 4, Sega’s answer for innovation is in the form of its again-redesigned guns. Dropping the pistols from one and two and immediately dismissing the shotgun from three, the fourth iteration puts an uzi-variant in the hands of players eager to mow down zombies.
Aside from the cosmetic change of the guns, the uzis also host a tilt sensor, which allow players to shake the gun for a few different effects. Instead of shooting off-screen to reload your gun, House of the Dead 4 requires players to shake the gun to put more bullets into your “zombie slayer.”
While it makes sense in the regard you shake the empty clip out of the bottom of the uzi, the mechanic can become annoying and most of the time interrupts the players’ aim. With head shots being so crucial in House of the Dead, shooting and reloading the gun will require an extra steady arm and a lot more patience than gamers are likely to put into an arcade title.
On a positive note, the shaking is not only restricted to reloading. Zombies are now given an alternate “grapple” attack where your undead nemesis will grab you in an attempt to force a bite on your character. A balance meter will be displayed and by shaking the gun, you can work the meter into your favor. By shaking the gun until the meter is all the way in your favor, you can shove the zombie off your character and clear away surrounding zombies for some breathing room.
To ultimately clear away a screen of zombies, a button toward the barrel of your gun will lob one of your character’s hand grenades onto the screen. Stocked with three grenades, your character can chuck a bomb and after a few seconds of fuse time, an explosion will remove almost any enemy from your view. Much like health in the game, more grenades can be located by shooting certain objects through the stage.
The flow of the game strays from its previous rendition and plays out a lot more like House of the Dead 2. While there are multiple paths that are traveled by picking directions, shooting items at just the right time, etc., every path ultimately leads to the same result. Unfortunately, this means playing through the game again will only reveal multiple paths and not multiple results – not a good way to get players to come back with quarters in tow.
Graphically House of the Dead 4 truly is a mixed bag. Some of the models in the game look blocky and jagged and the main characters still have the hokey, stiff B-movie animations. At first I had to spend some time deciding whether Kate was male or female, with her hideous face and nappy hair she could have bordered along the line of cross dresser.
The zombies, while detailed decently, are extremely generic and look 100 percent identical. The faces, the clothes, the exposed brains – all the same. The bosses save the conformity, arriving in their typical, more-powerful glory, concluding with the cliché multi-form final boss.
While it is a little much to ask to have hundreds of unique zombies in the game, when ten zombies line the screen and look exactly the same, it’s just laughable. But looking at the series as a whole I have to wonder if laughable is Sega’s goal.
The sounds are exactly what you would expect out of House of the Dead. The uzi rifles off gunfire, the zombies moan and “voice actors” follow a cheesy script that continues to make little sense.
Basically, the deal is, you’ve played this game before. There’s no new mind-blowing features, no memorable presentation and, unfortunately, little reason to come back for seconds. With the endless number of light gun games that litter the dying arcades of the U.S., Sega is going to have to do more than change the type of gun players fire to make this tired genre interesting. While the gun shaking mechanics are interesting, they do nothing but act as a novelty in a game with little substance.
Arcade titles are not rated by the ESRB. House of the Dead 4 contains violence, blood and gore.