Also On: PC
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Frank West has been the fan favorite protagonist since the original game back in 2006. Despite this, he was absent in Dead Rising 2 and 3, only being mentioned in the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love Frank as much as the next fan, but I was ok with new comers, Chuck Green and Nick Ramos. With the inclusion of new protagonists, came the evolution of the series for better and worse.
A lot has changed since the first Dead Rising and some would argue that the series has lost a lot that made the name what it is. For the most part, I would have to disagree. One of those changes comes in the form of the timed story mode. Personally, it was one of the things I couldn’t stand about the original and Dead Rising 2. I’m not one to stray away from the story, however, with Dead Rising, I always found myself having too much fun with finding new weapons, outfits, and even combo cards (in DR2).
This used to cause me to constantly run out of time and have to either restart, or depending on the mission, continue to play and deal with not saving that crazy woman in the jewelry store. This brings me to the next mechanic that I didn’t particularly care for;. The dreaded saving of survivors. It pretty much came to a point, where I would just kill them and put them out of their misery because trying to get them to the safe houses was way too much work.
Fast forward to 2016, Dead Rising returns with fan favorite Frank West back to where the first outbreak happened. Good old Willamette, Colorado. So my initial thought was, is this a reboot? Think about the year we are in. A large amount of games were either rebooted, remastered, or just ported over to current gen consoles. Dead Rising isn’t a stranger to this, as we just recently received the original three games sans “Case 0” and “Case West”.
Thankfully, this is not the case with Dead Rising 4, as we have been given a brand new game with an all new story, larger map, biggest on screen zombie count, and COMBO WEAPONS! Along with the new game, is a redesigned Frank West, now 52 and looks better than he did in “Off the Record”. Seriously, why did he look like Dan Aykroyd? Anyway, with his new look also comes a new voice actor. Many hardcore fans of the series are not happy about this and I can understand why. For me, the new Frank has grown on me during my time with DR4.
With that said, let’s talk about the latest entry that is Christmas themed and takes place during a Black Friday weekend. Already sounded like a horror before you even add actual zombies. As most games that have a franchise, mechanics evolve, content gets tweaked, and some things get put on the back burner. In the case of DR4, the time limit has been removed from the offline story mode, however, it still exists in the new multiplayer mode that we will discuss a little later.
This will no doubt turn away some of the hardcore fans of the original games. For me, it’s a welcome transition and after playing for several hours, it’s proven to be one of the best changes for me. As many of you know, I’m a single player guy and this is the perfect game for me. I spent a lot of time exploring the newly rebuilt super mall, now called the Willamette Memorial Megaplex and finding the many new weapons you come across. There is an enormous amount of content this time around and the removal of the time limit is a blessing in disguise.
At its core, DR4 is exactly what it’s meant to be. A fun, over the top zombie action game with a plethora of content that will last hours beyond the 7 cases in the single player. If you’re a hardcore fan with deep interest in the story, there is a ton of hidden Easter eggs, as well as files hidden throughout the town of Willamette. What really works is how Capcom Vancouver took a little bit from each game in the series and found a way to marry them cohesively.
Frank’s camera makes its return with updates as well. Frank’s new camera comes equipped with night vision and a spectral analyzer, which are vital in solving puzzles and helping discover more about the outbreak. It’s a nifty addition that changes the gameplay for the better in my opinion. Another inclusion to the camera mechanic is a selfie mode, which millennials will love. I can take it or leave it.
Clearing out safe houses is also back along with the addition of hidden panic rooms where once opened will sometimes free a survivor and/or leave you some extra health will and weapons. I have to say, after exploring the town, I came to discover that many home owners heavily invested in firearms after the first outbreak. Clearly, it didn’t do much for them.
The thing with DR4 is some things that fans loved about the original games that was included feels a bit lackluster. Let’s take the psychopaths for instance. Some of these characters have been as memorable as Frank, like the original game’s crazy clown Adam. Fighting him and his dual mini chainsaws near an indoor roller coaster is something that made the first so enjoyable. Instead, we are treated to generic boss fights with now called maniac, with little to no backstory or interest. These fights just feel forced and forgetful, even with the Christmas themed maniac Santa that was to be expected.
Another component that feels lukewarm compared to its predecessors was the vehicle combos. Maybe it’s from being spoiled by some of the crazy ideas that came out of DR3 but so far, I barely took the time to combine vehicles. I think a big reason for that was because of the new addition of the EXO suits. These EXO suits make Frank able to wield huge weapons including chain guns, parking meters pulled out of the ground with a slab of concrete still attached. Wearing the suit has a time limit, unless you are in an area with satellites that remotely charge it.
Frank can do some serious damage with the EXO suit, especially when you upgrade it with items you find like an arcade cabinet or a slushy machine, which was my favorite. I was able to get a 1400 plus kill count creating ice tornados with the slushy upgrade. Based on the amount of time I spent with the suits, I found myself just grabbing a standard vehicle to traverse the map instead of embracing combo vehicles. The inclusion of the EXO suit is one that may get a mixed reaction.
When DR4 was first announced, I held off on reading a ton of details because I wanted to go in with a fresh mindset. As a fan of the series, it’s important to gauge what I enjoy and what fans may or may not. For the two year development it took, it’s important to look at how much has gone into making DR4 work. I believe many hardcore fans will be turned off by the many changes to the core gameplay like the timer removal and redesigned Frank West. For the single player story mode, I felt right at home from the start of the game which has Frank in a weird dream sequence where you are being guided by your younger looking self in ghost form.
Once you get a couple hours in, you get a good grasp of the many subtle changes to the controls, and gameplay. One noticeable improvement was the crafting on the fly, which in DR3 was part of the upgrade tree. Once you find blueprints and have the needed items, you can craft immediately with the push of a button. On the controls side, the way your inventory is managed has had an overhaul. Instead of having an x amount of slots for everything, you now have three categories to carry an upgradable amount of items per slot. One is for health, melee, throwing weapons and firearms. Each is accessible with the D-pad, which at first takes a little getting used to.
Something important to remember is the game is still as absurd as the older games, with the story taking a slightly more serious approach like Dead Rising 3 did with Nick Ramos. I for one, never played DR for the sake of its story, but DR3 helped me be a bit more interested. A zombie outbreak/conspiracy can only be told so many ways, yet Capcom Vancouver found a way to revitalize DR4’s story that stands on its own for newcomers to the series, all while having enough for the existing fans to relate to.
One thing I was disappointed to see was the exclusion of the story mode co-op last minute. Not sure what the reasoning was, but the only way to play online is with the 4-player multiplayer mode. While not the focal point of DR4, the multiplayer is compiled for four levels that all take place in the mall portion of the game. The characters were designed for this mode and doesn’t allow you to play as Frank or other memorable characters from the series. Since my time with DR4 was prior to the launch, I only had a couple of sessions with other people. You can play solo via this mode, but keep in mind that the time limit returns here.
The multiplayer seemed like an afterthought and isn’t the best replacement for story mode co-op. Does that mean it’s not worth checking out? No, it can be fun with the right people. The mode takes inspiration from Left4Dead where you need to survive to a certain time in the day and make it to a safe house where you stack up on health and ammo. Each level is compiled of random challenges that you complete and earn scrap, which is the currency in both modes of the game. You will work together to survive and can also revive someone before they bleed out.
It’s a different take on Dead Rising than most would expect, but works better than you would think. It may get stale after a while, with only four cases to choose from. At the same time, Dead Rising was always a single player experience and DR4 successfully takes a little from each game in the series, and does its best to give something for everyone. Is it what the hardcore fans want? Not all of them. Games change with time, for better or worse, and right now is Dead Rising’s time to shine.