The Dead Rising series has constantly been evolving since the first game was released back in 2006. Each release over the past decade has added, modified, or removed certain elements of the original game with Dead Rising 3 being the biggest step away from the familiar formula the first two games established. Now in Dead Rising 4 Capcom has brought the old fan favorite reporter Frank West back to where it all began, Willamette, Colorado. Is Frank’s return one worth celebrating or is he getting too old for this?
Frank West has been spending his days post-zombie outbreak being fairly successful, even teaching a journalism course at a college, but it looks like those days are over. After his rebellious student Vick Chu gets a tip about a strange occurrence near Willamette, she manages to trick him into investigating with her. After seeing that zombie experimentation is happening in a strange militaristic facility Frank ends up being seen and labeled a murderer by those who wish to keep his mouth sealed.
After going dark for a few months, Frank is tracked down by the ZDC and informed that Willamette has suffered another zombie outbreak and that his protégé Vick Chu has already been there for weeks trying to uncover the truth. While zombies are nothing new in the world of Dead Rising, the story mentions that thanks to the events of the previous game that the original form of zombieism had been cured making this new outbreak all the stranger. Not one to let a scoop slide away from him, Frank agrees to help the ZDC find out the truth behind the outbreak even if it means traveling into the zombie infested city one more time while also dealing with an unknown military presence at the same time.
The Dead Rising series has always been one with plenty of comedy and that is certainly true in this fourth entry but one thing I wasn’t expecting was an actual relatable relationship and believable interactions between Frank and Vick as they try to survive and learn about what happened. Although it can be a bit predictable at times, their interactions and statements about one another are handled well and the main mystery that runs the course throughout the story is also adeptly executed.
Frank West has definitely let himself get a bit more grumpy and goofier in his older age. While not always the most likable fellow thanks to his tendency to prefer a successful story over the lives of others, he is highly entertaining and ready to make plenty of smart-aleck remarks about various events that happen. Ranging from making quips about various shops he travels through to the things he sees or actions he takes, Frank’s personality helps bind everything together in a game that manages to be incredibly ridiculous in nature and filled with plenty of dark humor all while set in a bloody winter wonderland with holiday music playing often and Christmas decorations everywhere.
One thing that the series has been known for is having a timer that would keep players limited and while many liked this rush, it was significantly decreased in importance in Dead Rising 3 and now in Dead Rising 4 it has been taken away altogether except in a rare case. While this does make the title lose a bit of its unique side once you step foot inside the Willamette Memorial Megaplex Mall you’ll see just why this loss of a timer ends up being a good thing.
For the most part the basic combat still feels very much the same as players will use a mix of melee, ranged, and throwable weapons to deal with the copious amounts of undead that they come across. These weapons are divided in a new and interesting fashion however as the inventory system is a bit different this time around and while it might take a bit to get used to for veterans, it helps keep combat far more fluid. You see, each weapon type is divided into a separate D-Pad direction to swap with the player being able to hold the button to open up their inventory and see what is available while actually swapping between weapon types is just done through combat presses, with X dealing melee damage, aiming down the sights or simply pressing RT fires a ranged weapon, and a LB press can aim or immediately toss a throwable item.
Thanks to this splitting up of the inventory, players are also able to easily heal on the go with a simple down on the D-Pad. While players are initially limited to carrying only two healing items with them at a time, the fact that you can almost always instantly eat an item means that players will rarely feel like they are in danger, especially when they level up and unlock various perks that allow for additional health, more carrying capacity, and even the ability to temporarily overheal. This lack of a challenge does diminish the threat in this game a bit since my entire time throughout the course of the campaign and gathering nearly every collectible never saw Frank die to the zombies or other foes that he comes across.
While standard zombies are still an ever present threat, this strain delivers a few other types of zombies with fresh zombies being able to sprint and tackle Frank to the ground and deal damage while also absorbing more attacks with special “Evo” type zombies eventually appearing as well. These Evo zombies move quickly and use the environment to their advantage and are capable of stunning Frank making them something of a challenge but not one that can still be dismissed with capable combo weapons. These zombie types join the likes of a militaristic organization that has their own motives for being in Wilamette and use firearms as well as standard melee weapons as well as crazed survivors that will attack on sight using whatever they have available to them.
Thankfully, as mentioned before, the players are almost always going to find themselves capable of dealing out plenty of damage thanks to the amount of combo weapons available. While players need to find a blueprint before being able to craft a weapon once you have acquired said blueprint and have one piece in your inventory, finding the other component on the ground can allow for quick on the fly crafting without slowing Frank down too much. These combo weapons range from being simply functional such as an electrified axe or flame sword to completely zany such as a Nutcracker machine-gun head, a crossbow that shoots swordfish, or even a magic wand that turns zombies into Christmas decorations.
Outside of those weapons players will occasionally stumble across Exo Suits that have been brought in by the unknown military force. While these suits turn Frank into a beast, they are far from overpowered primarily thanks to the fact that outside of certain story segments they run out of power rather quickly. This means that while Frank can rip signposts out of the ground, hurl car doors like giant Frisbees, and use heavy machine guns without a car in the world in a suit, that suit usually only lasts for a few minutes. Players can even find various power upgrades to a suit that allow things to get even crazier by strapping parts of an ice machine or vacuum to the suit to unleash icy death or small tornadoes against anything in your path.
This means that while this isn’t a really challenging game, it is one that is incredibly enjoyable and highly varied with almost everything being a suitable weapon. As mentioned before players will find that there are so many collectibles to gather and areas to explore that the time limit being removed can be seen as a good thing. These collectibles help provide extra insight to the outbreak as text messages, emails, newspapers, and more can reveal various happenings that occurred before Frank arrived and even shine a bit of extra light on some past events that are mentioned here and there.
If hunting these down isn’t quite your style then you’ll be happy to hear that the safe houses in this game actually do have an extra purpose. The more survivors that Frank rescues while traveling around the city of Wilamette the higher the level of a safe house in that area will grow and the more rewards will be available. You see, players can gather Scrap from defeated zombies, breaking objects, and searching things such as bags, lockers, and refrigerators. Scrap serves as something of a money system in the game and can be traded with the survivors in each safe house to unlock special blue prints, obtain already created combo weapons or the ever fun combo vehicles, and even maps that point out the location of every collectible in the zone so players won’t have to hunt blind.
One unfortunate aspect that has been downgraded in Dead Rising 4 is the fact that the previously highly memorable psychopaths have been downgraded to maniacs. These people are still themed villains but they are introduced in an extremely simplistic way and often can be defeated in the same way as any other human enemy. The reward for defeating these maniacs, which range from a pirate crew to Santa’s elves, is also mediocre as it generally only gives the player some PP and the weapon they were using which is likely a combo weapon the player can already craft at that point.
Speaking of PP, players will be able to make use of Frank’s camera to take various photographs throughout the game that once again fall into the various categories of horror, violence, etc. though this time players will also make use of Frank’s camera for some actual investigation. Equipped with night vision filters to see in the dark as well as a scanner to pick up residue that allows the opening of safes and special “zombie-proof” panic rooms players often have to take photos of story scenes in order to advance in a way that makes nice use of the camera rather than having it simply be an extra feature.
Unfortunately unlike the past two Dead Rising games, Dead Rising 4 does not support campaign co-op which is a disappointment and instead the multiplayer is kept into a separate mode. This mode allows players to select from one of four characters that all share the same level progression that allows players to level up a character to match Frank West if they are persistent enough and while this multiplayer mode allows for four players to play through episodes that are relatively short in nature and are set in slices of the city, they tend to be rather unimaginative in nature.
Your average mission boils down to clearing out an area or retrieving an item, killing zombies until a certain time frame and then retreating to a safe room only to repeat it the next day until the episode is over with players being able to unlock special boss encounters if they complete enough side-mission during an episode. While fun, this isn’t really a suitable replacement for the main co-op mode that would have been even better since players can still carry over their level ups, blueprints, and other collectibles into New Game+.
Visuals & Audio
Something that is exceptionally rare in games is being set during a holiday season. Sure there are a few occasions here and there but generally this is kept to a minimum but Dead Rising 4 really relishes in the fact that it is set during the Christmas season. The game isn’t entirely flooded with it so players shouldn’t worry about being too overwhelmed since many areas just happen to be covered in snow, but many areas of the mall and the town are designed with Christmas decorations that can be destroyed or used as weapons and while there is normal music to be heard, including some callback music to the original mall, most of the tunes you will hear in the game happen to be in the form of Christmas songs.
A number of the combo weapons that can be created are also holiday themed as with the aforementioned nutcracker gun there are also electric wreaths, ornament explosives, and more. As far as the voice acting goes most of the cast is handled well but of course there was a big deal made that the original voice actor for Frank West wouldn’t be returning and while I will say that the new voice of Frank doesn’t manage to match his predecessor, he also doesn’t fall short. Instead he manages to give us a bit of a new sounding Frank West with a great sense of humor and voice skills that help make even some of the lamest lines still give you a chuckle.
Dead Rising 4 may not have the signature timer that many fans are familiar with but in its place players will find an enjoyable zombie killing game that manages to both deliver a solid storyline with believable character interactions while also not taking itself seriously in most regards. Though the lack of campaign co-op, any discernible difficulty, and the diminished presence of the “maniacs” are disappointing, the more more refined combat system and a ton of new combo weapons and new abilities to make use of, those looking for a jam packed open world with some great action will be pleased with what the undead streets of Wilamette will offer.