Dead Rising 3 launched alongside the Xbox One, bringing its zombie-filled action to the new gen. Three years later and free from the launch rush, Capcom is back with Dead Rising 4 – a timed exclusive for Xbox One and Windows 10. Has that extra development time made "4" the best Dead Rising yet? You bet!
Frank West returns
Dead Rising 4 marks the return of original protagonist Frank West, after Chuck Green and Nick Ramos took over for him in the second and third games. Frank is the award-winning photojournalist who uncovered a zombie outbreak in the town of Willamette, Colorado several years ago. He looks fit and handsome here, as opposed to portly and balding as in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record.
As the game begins, Frank finds himself dreaming of the Willamette Parkview Mall, the primary setting of the first Dead Rising. He must chase a ghostly figure as the player learns to use various combat maneuvers and weapons. This ghost taunts Frank with things he's said before ("I've covered wars"), a clever way to give newcomers an understanding of the character's history.
In the waking world, Frank now teaches investigative journalism at college. One of his students, a girl named Vick, tricks him into accompanying her to a secret research station where a nefarious organization is once again experimenting with zombies. Frank has become detached and cynical after his previous experiences, which clashes with Vick's idealism.
Months later, Colonel Brad Park of the military's Zombie Defense and Control Branch (a returning character from Dead Rising 3's Last Agent DLC) tracks Frank down and recruits him for a new mission. The two must return to Willamette, where Black Friday has just been ruined by a zombie outbreak. They must also search for Vick, who was conducting her own investigation before the outbreak started.
The world and story of Dead Rising have always resembled those of Resident Evil, only far less serious. Dead Rising 4 marks a massive upgrade on the narrative front, with three new writers taking over for Annie Reid, who wrote the last few games by herself.
From the very beginning, Dead Rising 4's storytelling is a treat. Whether it's amusing banter between Frank and Vick or the hilarious and desperate way Frank tries to escape by a window when Brad Park first tracks him down. It's all very propulsive and fun.
Our hero delivers plenty of choice quips and one-liners during gameplay, as well. Themes about Black Friday crowds and holiday consumerism being akin to zombies could be more subtle, but at least this blood-soaked action game has something to say.
On the case
Dead Rising 4 is a sandbox-style action game divided up into seven Cases (chapters). These cases can be replayed at will, a welcome refinement compared to past games. Frank's overall level, abilities, and other progress carries over between cases. During each case, players have plenty of freedom to tackle missions, side-quests, and explore at their leisure.
One element that conflicted with that freedom in the first few Dead Risings was their time limits. Each game operated according to a strict clock, with events happening at fixed times throughout the adventure. Completing every objective, saving every NPC, etc. was extremely difficult, requiring careful planning and memorization or the use of a guide. It was stressful.
Thankfully, Capcom Vancouver realized how unpopular the time limits were among players and restricted the time limit to a specific mode in Dead Rising 3. And in the fourth entry, the in-game clock is gone entirely. The developers want players to be able to see and do everything, so no more ever-present time limit. Frank will encounter an occasional time section later in the game, but nothing that you wouldn't experience in other games – and it's so much for the better.
Weapons and vehicles
Battling crazy numbers of zombies with a diverse arsenal of weapons and equipment has always been one of Dead Rising's greatest strengths. The actual inventory management left something to be desired, though. Those problems are gone in Dead Rising 4, as Capcom has overhauled inventory management and controls.
Weapons come in three basic types: thrown, melee, and ranged. Frank can carry several of each type, so selecting them needs to be easy. And it is, with each type mapped to a direction on the D-Pad. To toggle between melee weapons, for instance, just hit up on the D-Pad until you find the one you want. Pressing and holding the direction brings up a weapon wheel to aid with selections.
Healing items and food have gotten easier to use, as well. Tapping down on the D-Pad automatically uses one of your stock. There's no need to select specific foods this time, so you can heal and replace items way faster than before.
Since Dead Rising 4 takes place in and around a mall, Frank will find plenty of unique weapons to use against the zombie hordes. Practical weapons include baseball bats, pipes, axes, knives, pistols, and machine guns. Impractically awesome armaments include toy swords, holiday decorations, sporting equipment, video game consoles, monitors, and so much more. No other game gives you as many crazy things with which to deliver beatdowns.
Similarly, our hero will encounter a diverse array of vehicles with which to travel quickly and kill lots of enemies. Players get to ride or drive cars, golf carts, go-karts, Segways, tricycles, and more. Vehicles tend to instakill enemies (for reduced experience), and some even have mounted guns and other weapons for maximum carnage.
This installment adds a new tool to Frank's repertoire: Exo-Suits. After encountering one of these at the end of Case 1, Frank will eventually be able to find them in special chests throughout the world. Exo-Suits make the wearer far stronger than normal, allowing him to lift and wield objects from the environment that would otherwise be too heavy. Like vehicles, Exo-Suits eventually run out of juice - Frank's never safe from the zombies for too long.
Weapons and vehicles can be combined to make new and better amalgamations using the revised crafting system. Before you can combine anything, you'll need to find specific blueprints. These tend to be locked away in safes, though some sit out in the open. Certain NPCs sell collectible maps, so finding all 55 blueprints won't be a problem for dedicated players.
Crafting is easier than ever, thank goodness. You can combine items anywhere, as long as you have the materials. If you're carrying something that can be combined with an object in the environment, you can simply press the combine button while looking at the environmental object. It's a snap.
Some combo weapons include an electric axe, a fire-breathing dinosaur mask, an explosive Santa decoration, an ornament gun, and more. Even vehicles can be combined, with a lawn mower and kid's bike joining to make the deadly MowerHawg. Combined equipment lasts longer and deals more damage than normal stuff, and the collectible aspect of trying to find and build every blueprint design really enhances the experience.
Photojournalism and investigations
Frank is a photographer who "covers wars," so of course, he brings his camera along for the ride. You can take pictures at any time, with the game evaluating them based on drama, horror, and other factors. Off the Record's selfies return as well, allowing for some silly mugging for the camera. Although Frank's camera has a limited amount of storage, the game will automatically delete old photos (unless you've chosen to save them) when the memory fills up.
Photography also serves a practical function in Dead Rising 4's new investigations. At various points in the game, Frank will have to investigate a scene to progress. That means snapping pictures of the clues listed on the side of the screen. Hunting for clues and learning about the overarching mystery is essential photojournalism.
The newly-upgraded camera has two additional modes: spectrum analysis and night vision. Spectrum analysis aids with solving puzzles, such as detecting which buttons have been pressed on a keypad lock. Night vision simply allows you to navigate pitch-black areas. Nobody can accuse Dead Rising 4 of being just a mindless action game.
Practically everything you do in Dead Rising 4 earns Prestige Points (PP), this series' version of experience points. You even get them for discovering new shops in this game, nicely encouraging exploration. Collect enough PP, and you'll level up, earning a Skill Point.
Skill Points can be spent on the vastly expanded skill system (formerly known as Attributes in Dead Rising 3). Frank can unlock 109 skills spread across four categories in single-player, and a whopping 150 in multiplayer.
The skill categories include Brawling, Fortitude, Shooting, and Survival. Benefits include buffs for various attacks, increased durability for weapons and vehicles, health boosts, additional inventory slots, and more. Some skill tiers are locked to overall player level, forcing you to spend your points on other categories rather than maxing out a single one.
Survivors and safe houses
Frank's adventure initially takes place in the Willamette Mall before eventually expanding to other parts of the city. Each of the four primary locations has a safehouse which will act as a base between missions. There, players can interact with rescued NPCs and purchase a variety weapons, food, vehicles, maps, upgrades, and more.
Whenever you rescue survivors, they automatically return to the safe house on their own. No more escorting them and worrying over inadequate AI as they can't be killed at all in this game, to my knowledge. The more survivors you rescue, the higher your safehouse level. This allows you to buy more cool stuff, including Capcom-themed clothing and unique upgrades and blueprints.
Although the first Dead Rising was single-player only, subsequent games have been online co-op affairs. Dead Rising 4 offers a 4-player online co-op mode separate from the main story.
Multiplayer consists of four unique episodes, although they take place in areas from the main game. Instead of Frank West, everyone plays as one of four NPCs from the campaign. Each has a starting weapon that allows them to play different roles, such as healer. The actual healing class is probably the worst one, as healing items are usually abundant enough for everyone.
Unlike the other modes, multiplayer has a traditional Dead Rising 1 and 2-style timer. The overall goal is to survive through two in-game days, each lasting about 15 minutes of real-time. The team starts with several cooperative objectives, such as clearing an area of zombies, delivering an item, or taking photos of specific objects. As the in-game day ends, everyone will have three real-time minutes to reach the safe room before failing the match.
Player level, skills, and trials are separate between single-player and multiplayer. Weapon combo blueprints and money are shared, however, so spending time in single-player provides a slight leg up in co-op by allowing you to make better weapons. 15 recipes are exclusively found in multiplayer, so it evens out.
The mission-based structure of multiplayer makes it suitable for hopping into a game when you have time. There's lots of fun to be had teaming up with others, leveling up, and going after all the multiplayer skills and blueprints. If you don't care about those aspects, you won't get nearly as many hours from it. The only other problem I've noticed in co-op is you can't pick up or customize clothing - a baffling ommission considering how much fun dressing up adds to single-player.
Dead Rising 4 has 50 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. 12 Achievements are exclusive to multiplayer, such as completing an episode without eating food and taking a photo of three players at once. Others are mostly completion-based, such as unlocking all skills, completing all trials (optional challenges), and solving all mysteries. You'll also need to kill 200,008 zombies over time. All told, the Achievements won't be too tough, but unlocking all skills in single-player and earning 1,000,000 points in multiplayer will take dozens of hours.
Chop till you drop
Dead Rising has always been a worthwhile series – a colorful, action-packed game set within a world inspired by the films of John Romero. But the gameplay was never quite intuitive enough to win over the masses, relegating the franchise to cult status.
Dead Rising 4 has the potential to buck that trend. Capcom Vancouver put a lot of thought and energy into making sure this entry is just as good as other AAA games without losing its unique flavor. The fun stuff – battling hundreds of zombies at once, wielding whimsical weapons, and dressing up in a multitude of cool and bizarre costumes is all here.
The difference is in the polish. The game world is vast and beautiful, filled with countless things to see and do, and all the time you need to do them. Not only does the game look fantastic and colorful (although some parts of the mall aren't lit well enough), but the story and writing are strong enough to match.
- Story is clever, funny, and has actual themes for a change
- Combining weapons and vehicles is finally simple and intuitive.
- Feel like a photojournalist thanks to investigations and improved camera mechanics.
- So many amusing outfits to find and wear.
- Restrooms no longer act as save points, making it difficult to save before quitting.
- The separate Co-op campaign is less substantial than full campaign co-op would have been.
- You can't pick up or customize clothing in co-op multiplayer.
- Xbox One and WIndows 10 versions are not cross-buy or cross-play, sadly.
Throw in the enhanced photography and investigations, and Dead Rising 4 is an unusually deep and well-rounded game built around zombies. Forget the zombies, though. The real monsters are those who won't give Dead Rising 4 a chance.
Xbox One review copy provided by Microsoft.
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