House of the Dead isn’t exactly what you’d call a triple A franchise. At its best, House of the Dead is an above average series in a genre that primarily exists to get people to spend as many quarters as possible in between rounds of bowling or while they’re waiting for their pizza to be served. As arcade cabinets become more and more irrelevant anywhere other than Japan, these games have begun to take a different approach. While again, by no means a game of the year contender, the last House of the Dead game, Overkill, was a well regarded home entry in the series that was successful because of its good use of b-movie and grindhouse trappings along with funny writing and generous use of expletives. In the brief time I spent with House of the Dead 4, I saw none of that, and it seemed entirely generic.
Just to clarify, House of the Dead 4 was originally released in arcades several years ago, well before House of the Dead Overkill came out, so it may be unreasonable of me to expect the grindhouse presentation in this game. Even though the PS3 version is just a re-release of a 5+ year old game, I still expected more.
The game was running on a Playstation 3, using Move controllers with the machine gun case, and this seemed like a decent enough way of playing House of the Dead. The only problem with this set up was the poor calibration. I don’t know if it was something inherently wrong with the game or if the show floor at PAX is simply not an ideal environment for the Move to function, but I couldn’t get the thing to shoot where I was aiming. I am going to choose to believe it was the set up or location and not hold this against the game, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter.
The gameplay was entirely generic light gun gameplay with nothing to set it apart from any other rail shooter out there. You move through corridors shooting zombies and then shooting more zombies. There were cutscenes, but they seemed more like the extremely cheesy yet somehow too serious cutscenes of past numbered House of the Dead games. None of the grindhouse charm of House of the Dead Overkill was present, and that was really all the set that game apart from all other generic light gun shooters. On rails light gun shooters need something to set them apart, because the very generic and repetitive nature of the genre can’t really stand on its own outside of 5 minute play sessions at an arcade. Obviously this game is fairly old, but I am not going to cut it any slack, because they are releasing it in 2012 and I expect a higher quality product.
And that’s really all I have to say House of the Dead 4. It seems like another House of the Dead game, with nothing new or unique, and nothing at all that makes me want to play any more of it. Like I said, I only played a few minutes of it, and who knows, maybe it will be the best light gun shooter of all time, but at the end of the day, it’s still a light gun shooter.