Walking along the beachside piers and promenades during the late 90’s to mid-2000’s with parent’s palm in hand, as a kid I would often be drawn by all the various bleeps and boops that would echo their way to my ear from the arcade machines that called to me. Sad to say, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than slot, fruit, and grabber machines in today’s modern mainstream arcade, when at their height, the most tantalising cabinet present was what’s known as the prestigious light gun shooter.
Point Blank, Time Crisis, and of course House of the Dead, were all light gun arcade experiences that popularised the use of plastic, gun-shaped video game peripherals, which let players indulge in the thrill of shooting down waves of enemies while being guided on rails. And all for the whopping expense that reached heights of £2! As time goes on and future technology takes full effect, the bite-sized social draw of light gun shooter arcade games is slowly being overtaken by the likes of virtual reality, mobile gaming, as well as traditional home consoles.
Enter Dark Escape 4D – Bandai Namco’s latest attempt to keep light gun shooters alive and thriving on the arcade scene. First introduced to arcades in 2012, I recently experienced this fully immersive horror shooter for the very first time at my local bowling alley, and boy does it make a great case for the return of a dying (if not already dead) genre.
The entire conceit behind the experience Dark Escape 4D intends to offer you is – as the game’s title suggests – something that breaks the boundaries of typical dimensions. While “4D” is often a nothing phrase that is laugh-inducingly thrown about to indicate when a short film might sprinkle water or air on your face, with this light gun shooter it works.
“Face your fears” Bandai Namco’s original marketing boasts, and it’s with these 4D elements that the cabinet does a pretty good job in letting players do so. What are these elements exactly? Well, experimental to say the least. 3D glasses, chair vibration, full 5.1 surround sound, and legit panic sensors all work together to create a fairly convincing 4D experience, resulting in a somewhat boutique light gun arcade experience that makes Dark Escape 4D well worth seeking out.
It amazes me that still as late as 2012, the Japanese experimentalists were willing to develop, craft, and ship out such an experience, during a time where light gun games had all but vanished and AAA games had almost certainly taken over. To put things in a little more perspective, 2012 was also the same year Bandai Namco released console-quality games such as Soulcaliber V, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D, and Tales of Xillia 2. The fact that Dark Escape 4D was released alongside such titles, is a true testament to the company’s faith and hope for a genre and platform that’s something other than a slot or pachinko machine.
In terms of story, Dark Escape 4D reaches the same schlocky horror heights and cheesiness that was first introduced for arcades by the House of the dead franchise. The only difference being, that Dark Escape 4D has the visuals and immersion to back up the scares. Spliced mutant spiders dangle down from mid-air, zombies lean their way out of the screen to make a grab on you, and it’s all convincingly brought to life on a glorious 46” high definition screen.
Like many experiences of Dark Escape 4D’s ilk, it will gobble up your coins at a rapid pace, but thankfully it only touts a concise four fear-themed stages that makes seeing all that the game has to offer pretty easy. At best, I’d wager that roughly $10 could successfully see you through to the end of this on-rails adventure depending on skill should you crave it. A fair proposition for all of the high-tech happenings the game makes use of.
In every way a relic of a bygone era in the video game industry, with Dark Escape 4D Bandai Namco set out to ensure that players don’t just see the monsters, but feel them too. For the most part they succeeded, and it’s a shame that most gamers might not get the chance to experience it.