Frank West is back (sort of), and he brings with him an arsenal of toys and goodies in Dead Rising 4, just in time for Christmas.
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Platforms: Xbox One (Version reviewed), PC
Release Date: December 6th, 2016
This holiday season offers an overwhelming amount of choice in terms of what to play. There are those who may want to use their free time to dive into the epic saga of Final Fantasy XV, while others will instead wish to indulge their competitive side with Call of Duty, Battlefield 1 or Titanfall 2. Some of us, however, just want to ride through hordes of zombies on a lawnmower-cum-tricycle while dressed as a pirate. If that sounds like you, then Dead Rising 4 definitely has you covered, but know that this fourth game in the Dead Rising series doesn’t really offer much in the way of any drastic changes or evolutions over what’s come before.
There is one big difference, of course, and that’s with regard to Frank West himself. The beloved protagonist of the original Dead Rising makes a much celebrated return here, but he is not the man he once was. The podgy faced weirdo of yesteryear has been ditched in favor of a slimmer, chiseled jawed model, complete with a new voice actor to boot.
While it’s frustrating to see Capcom aesthetically reinvent West as something closer to the male protagonist archetype that seems to populate the majority of action-adventure games these days, the newcomer does a surprisingly good job in ensuring the character’s wise-cracking personality remains intact. In fact, this was the first Dead Rising game with writing that genuinely made me laugh, and a large part of that is thanks to his sarcastic, deadpan delivery as West.
These frequent moments of comedy are cushioned within a story that really serves as nothing more than a placeholder for the action, and – in keeping with the series – remains a forgettable tale about getting down to the bottom of another government conspiracy. There’s a few quasi-pointed remarks about journalistic ethics and our consumerist culture, but the focus is on making you laugh with the silly and shallow rather than the serious or satirical.
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When it comes down to it, Dead Rising 4 is an updated and refined version of what Dead Rising has always been; a sandbox populated with an insane amount of zombies, and a ton of hilarious options for killing them. Combo weapons and vehicles are back, and there are more options on offer here than anything that’s come before; firework-shooting crossbows, electrified go-karts, explosive sledgehammers…the indulgent joy of Dead Rising’s creative and varied arsenal has yet to run out of steam.
The one noteworthy new addition to the weaponry is that of the exo-suit; if you manage to find one of these out in the streets of Willamette, the gleeful power fantasy that follows as you explode zombies with your fists, parking meters and chainguns, is almost overwhelming. Think Fallout’s Power Armor on steroids, and you have the right idea.
The fairly simple means of combat have been finessed by a number of small touches that make a big difference to the flow of the gameplay. Weapon types are now assigned to different hotkeys, making it easy to switch between them even when stuck in the thick of a horde. Melee weapons, too, boast specific visceral kills that can be activated once you’ve built up a combo, the on-screen results of which range from gleefully satisfying to sadistically brutal.
Creating new weapons from blueprints scattered across the environments is also now easier than ever before, as the game will tell you if an item can be combined with another before you’ve even picked it up, allowing you to quickly build weapons without needing to navigate your inventory.
It’s usually the zombies who are the star of the show in Dead Rising, but with Dead Rising 4, that spotlight goes to the reimagined locale of Willamette itself. Not only is the Megaplex Mall a huge and theatrically designed environment in and of itself, but the surrounding town can now also be explored; a snow covered suburb which allows for some welcome aesthetic variation, but also serves to better accommodate Dead Rising 4’s larger vehicles. The motivation for exploring every store or building in Willamette is always to find a new blueprint or weapon, but discovering the audio-visual idiosyncrasies of each often proved to be a joy in itself.
It’s not all dandies and roses, however. Capcom Vancouver has mystifyingly decided to incorporate a stealth mechanic into Dead Rising 4, which – as you can imagine – feels completely out of place in a series known for its loud and excessive approach to combat. I only found myself staying sneaky when the game encouraged me to, and even then it felt kind of silly to adopt such caution against one zombie when, only moments ago, I was decimating hordes of the undead with careless abandon.
…bugs that force players to reload or reset are certainly worth taking into account if you’re considering jumping in on day one.
That same sense of pointlessness can be said for Frank’s new camera, which has been endowed with a few upgrades since Dead Rising: Off the Record. While it remains fun to document your rampage with a scrapbook of chaotic photos and dumb selfies, the same can’t be said for Dead Rising 4’s investigation sequences, in which Frank must use his camera to discover clues within a closed environment. These investigations quickly turn into a repetitive and tedious case of “spot the outlier”, and end up acting as tiresome barriers to the action rather than an interesting new dimension to the gameplay.
Additionally, Dead Rising 4 struggles to impress on a visual level. It is true that the sheer number of zombies on screen remains as striking as it did in the first Dead Rising, and the frame-rate holds up well when the limbs start flying and liters of blood are volleyed across the landscape. But textures and facial models are muted and lacking in detail, and character animations are partial to bouts of stiff movements or outright jankiness.
On the Xbox One version of the game, I also lost complete control of Frank on a number of occasions, as a result of him getting stuck behind certain objects or NPCs. The worst bug I came across was when the game’s camera refused to stay on Frank, but instead locked onto a vehicle that I had been using a few minutes earlier. Hopefully glitches like these can be sorted out via a patch within the first few weeks of the game being released, but bugs that force players to reload or reset are certainly worth taking into account if you’re considering jumping in on day one.
For the first time since Dead Rising 2, Dead Rising 4 no longer features drop-in/drop-out online integrated co-op, with multiplayer now being limited to a select number of survival missions with up to three other players. This feels like a huge step back for the series, since running through the campaign with another friend – regardless of how it undermined the story – essentially doubled the amount of entertainment you could have when slaughtering the undead.
While it’s certainly even more chaotic when playing as a party of four, each co-op mission’s fleeting brevity (they last for two in-game days) only reinforces the sense of loss and limitation from this new approach to multiplayer. That said, there are some interesting systems than only be experienced in co-op, including healing weapons, specific skills and unique boss battles. It makes for some perfectly fun set pieces, but it can’t help but feel like a complete U-turn on a feature that was so quintessential to Dead Rising’s entertainment value.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.