Dashing through the horde…
When the Xbox One launched, the best game out of the gate was easily the third installment of the Dead Rising series. It was the first game I broke 1000 Achievement points in on the system, and remains one of my favorite games on the system. Fast forward three years and we finally have the next entry, and things feel strikingly familiar. Dead Rising 4 feels like the combination of the third game mixed with the original and smashed against a wall of stuff to do. Toss in the Christmas theme and it only gets weirder from there.
For anyone who has never played a Dead Rising game, it is essentially a zombie genocide simulator. Players use whatever they can find (or craft) as weapons to mow down hordes of the undead. It is goofy and never takes itself too seriously, which is a large part of its appeal. Dead Rising 4 brings back Frank West, the protagonist from the very first game, albeit with a new voice actor, and a lot more sarcasm.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $49.99
The story revolves around Frank’s return to Willamette, the city the first game took place in. There is even a new mall. Frank feels like the Indiana Jones of photo journalism. He is older, wiser, and now teaching his craft after his infamous run-in with the undead. The story falls flat for most of the journey, and the only character that really stands out is Frank. He has commentary for almost every occasion, and I adored it. Whether he was narrating his go kart race, or talking smack to a group of zombies, the amount of dialogue variety is entertaining.
At its core, Dead Rising 4 combines everything the series has done up to this point, as well as a host of new features. The skill tree from three returns, as do the vehicle combinations. There are also an abundance of collectibles and clothing to unlock. The game throws so much stuff at the player, it gets overwhelming quickly. Completionists should be warned this is Assassin’s Creed Unity levels of dots on the map. I had to train myself to pass up on items and collectibles on my first run, otherwise I may never finish the game.
There are new mechanics as well. The photography has been expanded. There are now sections of levels that require investigation to advance the story. Frank will get clues and have to figure out what to do next. His camera is equipped with night vision and a sort of hacking tool that allows him to decrypt and unlock computers and doors. It is a weird function, but it works. Of course, Frank can also take selfies and general pictures, which are scored and earn PP to level up.
Dead Rising 4 is constantly in your face with things to do. Collect this, build that, do this side mission, and so much more. If I stripped away all the side content and focused solely on the main game, it felt barren, almost two sides of an extreme.
The game once again focuses on melee combat, but this time around there seem to be a lot more firearms to use. Frank now has three main inventories. One for melee weapons, one for throwing weapons, and one for ranged. These are all selectable by tapping different directions on the d-pad. Hold a direction to open a wheel. Hold down on the d-pad to drop a weapon, or tap it to use a health item. Yeah, like everything else in the game, there is a lot going on. The upgrades also feel arbitrary, almost like they should just have been included as part of Frank’s repertoire. I mean really, upgrading the effectiveness of the dodge mechanic just seems silly.
Combat feels familiar to past games with a few exceptions. Frank can now find mech suits throughout the game that increase his strength, and allow him to carry special weapons. There is also a counter button that gives a sort of Batman-esque feel to some combat situations. It is incredibly satisfying to see Frank counter a zombie, then do one of his signature wrestling moves on them. Guns are also much more plentiful, and the shooter controls feel decent. There are just a lot more ways to take down the undead.
There has been a lot of talk about removing core elements to the series, the biggest being the timer. While it is absent through most of the game, it does make an appearance late in the story. Personally I enjoyed not having to worry about time restraints within the game. Frank can also purchase a skill upgrade that allows for health regeneration, while it does change the core mechanics, it never felt forgiving. I died often, and until I upgraded food carrying capacity and health, I was very vulnerable, especially with weapons that do damage to Frank as he uses them, which also seems truly ridiculous.
Probably the biggest disappointment for me in DR4 is the removal of story co-op mode. Instead, multiplayer has been replaced with a mixture of horde and survival. Players can join with up to three friends in a series of areas with the main goal of surviving. There are also challenges during each session to complete. There is an XP system, and just like the main game, character upgrades. The cool part is that they are progressive, meaning each session doesn’t require players to start from scratch. The mode is actually quite fun, whether with friends or going solo.
Visually Dead Rising 4 looks a lot like Dead Rising 3. The same art style remains intact, and the amount of zombies on screen is, as always, impressive. I loved revisiting Willamette and of course the mall setting always makes for loads of fun. Performance seemed fine, with a few dips here and there, but the real star is the music. When paused, the game plays Christmas tunes that are both fitting and soothing. I love the theme of the holidays, and it works so well within the game.
Dead Rising 4 feels like yet another one of those games. I love the series, and DR4 will satisfy my thirst for yet another entry. It felt good to get back into Frank’s shoes, and the Christmas theme is fantastic. The lack of story co-op is the biggest offender, and I wasn’t a fan of how much the game seems to throw at players. This seems like a perfect example of less could be so much more, but as it stands Dead Rising 4 is a solid entry in the long-running series.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.