Ahoy hoy fellow gamers, zombie obliterators, and gaffa tape enthusiasts. It’s not often I pop in a written review on B3, mostly because I am too busying playing, or filming. But, I feel that this update to the franchise could do with a proper explanation and a bit of an overall check-out.
During the month of Christmas, a sequel to the Dead Rising franchise hit the shelves, Dead Rising 4. I decided to look it up and see what new areas have been added. It’s been over a decade since the original Dead Rising launched on Xbox 360, it’s kind of amazing that the series’ singular concept – killing hundreds of zombies with bizarre and ridiculous weapons – has kept up enough popularity to warrant a fourth near-identical sequel. Thank god it has.
It is ten years since the first Dead Rising was released – and appropriately enough in the current climate of wistful nostalgia that has spawned both destructive political movements, and lazy Hollywood reboots alike – the game’s third sequel sees the return of both original protagonist Frank West as well as the town of Willamette, its population once more unfortunately mostly finding themselves zombified.
If you are looking for a game with subtlety, then Dead Rising 4 is probably not for you. If you are looking for a game where you can shoot exploding garden gnomes or create and ride around in a cannon-firing wheelchair in order to butcher as many onrushing zombies as possible, then you are in the right place.
The zombie outbreak begins after the new Willamette Mall’s Black Friday sales -and the Christmas setting of the game, timed perfectly for its release- lend it an amusingly topical note. Built on with the cheesy music piped in through disembodied speakers whenever the game is paused; the ability as well to take a selfie with Frank’s camera at any point in the game, complete with amusing controllable facial expressions, and -somehow- more crazy combination weapons than the previous titles. It all just kinda works – even if the game was generally treated with cynicism from announce to launch. The selfies, for one, hat rarely gets tiring, particularly given the wealth of potentially horrific backgrounds for photos.
Frank will make funny comments and spout references to pop culture, singing occasionally as he slays, and always prepping the next wisecrack for unsuspecting survivors across the town. Mucking around with the game’s countless outfits and hats makes for some absurd cut scene appearances, too – Frank in a fireman’s outfit with a big Roman helmet and comedy beard, for example – but it works in making Dead Rising 4 a silly bundle of stupidity. And, to be fair, who doesn’t like a game where you can be stupid?
While unpopular with some fans of the franchise, the removal of the time-limit from previous Dead Rising incarnations allows for more exploration of the open-world and the discovery of all manner of weapons as well as the blueprints needed to create the variety of eccentric and, largely extremely bloodthirsty, combo weapons that are a key part of what makes the series popular. Taht said, regardless of how you tool up, the majority of your time is spent button-mashing in the game’s repetitive combat. The game really needed some better finishers to be unlocked – this is a series that has thrived on variety, and so the lack of it here really felt like a major weakness. You’ll watch the same kill animations again and again, as the slow-mo finishers rarely change between the various different weapons you’ll find scattered across the world. Despite this, I found myself getting sidetracked annihilating zombies more often — just sort of spacing out behind the wheel of a pickup truck and seeing how high I could rack up the combo meter in the game. It was … strangely, relaxing.
When you’re not smashing up soldiers or slicing the undead, you’ll be investigating suspicious scenes for clues, and snapping the evidence with Frank’s new camera modes. You’ll have to use the camera’s three different modes to scour trickier places – there’s a normal lens, a night vision to investigate darkened rooms and warehouses, and a Spectrum Analyzer to hack doors, laptops and reveal -otherwise hidden- clues. This is a pain when you enter a dark room full of zombies as when you enter night vision, you put away your weapon. Hence a quick flick back and forth is needed to 1) see where you are going and 2) kill the enemies.
Compared to previous Dead Rising games, the Maniacs -themed boss characters who were previously referred to as Psychopaths, rebranded in what appears to be a not entirely successful attempt to make them less offensive with a new name- have been considerably de-emphasized. There are still boss battles, but they’re generally against much more pedestrian enemies, like soldiers in power armor or particularly strong zombies.
Meanwhile, Maniacs are side quests, easily skippable if you’d rather not get involved, with little of the drama or presentation seen in previous games. For example, you can still save non-infected humans from zombies for a small reward. Before, you had to babysit many survivors on their way back to a safe house, or give them weapons and hope for the best, but here, once they’re saved, they’re good. They go right back on their way. It’s one less point of failure for the player, and Dead Rising 4 has fewer of them than any game in the series, which for me they should have kept in.
Inventory space used to be at a premium, with limited room for food and weapons. But now Frank has separate collections of slots for grenades, melee weapons, ranged weapons and healing items, each of which can be upgraded. By the end of Dead Rising 4, I had about eight slots for weapons and four for healing items, meaning I was carrying around a sleigh’s worth of murder toys at any given moment.
Another game changer is the save system, the older, clunkier systems have been replaced by a generous checkpoint-and-auto save system here, but that didn’t really matter to me, because I never died in my 20-hour playthrough of the game. With labotomised, avoidable maniacs, vastly more powerful weapons freely available, and no timer rushing me along, the game was never hard like the previous titles. I should add, however, that since launch Capcom have now added a harder mode and time limit which should rectify this.
For players who are more invested in Dead Rising’s survival roots, there is one potential lifeline in Dead Rising 4’s multiplayer component. While cooperative play is bizarrely omitted from the main game — despite some vehicles seeming specifically designed for it — the separate online mode places up to four players in a series of escalating scenarios with a more traditional inventory system and much less resilient characters. Survival there is far less assured, and you can run it alone, if you want to.
Overall, I found myself warming to this game more than the others in the series. I do miss some of the items the previous ones had, but overall it is an enjoyable little Sunday romp. Dead Rising isn’t going to win any horror awards, but you can’t say it’s boring.