Dead Rising 3 was my first ever review. The series holds a special place in my heart. Its dedication to maniacal fun and plentiful weapon crafting combinations hooked me. The third game’s inclusion of vehicle combinations did enough to spice up the formula for its Xbox One debut. In my Dead Rising 4 review, you’ll likely find my opinion of the series has soured. With the removal of Dead Rising’s most interesting features, the fourth iteration feels like a shell of its former self, albeit with a more compelling protagonist.
At its best, Dead Rising 4 leaves you to your own murderous devices. At its worst, it’s a sluggish, technical mess. It tends to lean on the latter side of things. It feels like a good game at its core, but it’s a bad “Dead Rising” installment. That’s the short version; time to get wordy.
Look and Feel
Zombies, gore and Willamette. It’s nice to see the town outside of that infamous Mall where Frank West became a star. Dead Rising 4 looks good, with that distinct realistic-cartoon mixture at a higher fidelity than ever before.
As usual, the most impressive visual aspect of Dead Rising is the myriad of weapon and vehicle designs. Sure; it’s nice to see the colourful Willamette Mall lit up for Christmas and the snow-covered grounds of the town itself, but they pale in comparison to an industrial deep fat fryer attached to a quad-bike.
It’s that creativity that keeps Dead Rising interesting. Ice Swords that shoot out blades of frost, electric-charged broad-axes that give you the power of a lightning God and holiday-themed gloves called “Deck the Halls” that knock some Christmas joy in to walking corpses, grumpy mercenaries and inconsiderate looters are all good reasons to return to Dead Rising.
It suffers from performance issues from time to time. The frame-rate tends to dip under the weight of zombie hordes when in vehicles. On more than one occasion, my audio got caught in a loop during a conversation leading to a full-reset to stop Vick from saying “Hmph Hmph Hmph Hmph Hmph”. Add to that one full-game crash and some general sluggishness and we have a typical triple-A release in the modern day.
The return of Frank West holds no nostalgia for me, but I now understand why he’s so adored. Frank’s sarcasm and quick wit shoots from him so naturally, he can hold the game’s entire narrative on his back amongst a cast of weak (but well-acted) side-characters.
In a nutshell, Frank West is duped in to investigating a facility in Willamette. A student of his is following up on rumours that the group stationed there aren’t what they claim to be. Naturally, a zombie outbreak is discovered and Frank is ultimately dragged in to it by the authorities he once tried to bring down.
What Dead Rising 4 is missing in this game is the off-the-wall eccentricity that made the earlier games unique. The world seems far too grounded, especially set against the gameplay itself, which is all-the-way crazy.
In a way, Dead Rising 4 tells a story with the most depth in the series, but with that depth comes the loss of what made it interesting in the first place: psycopaths and monsters.
I did enjoy the relationship Frank had with his student Vicki Chu; an eager reporter taking the moral high ground. A moral compass Frank lacks. Their exchanges throughout the game are fun to listen to, but without Frank’s input, I feel that Vick would blend in with the rest of the character pool fairly quickly.
Dead Rising is as Dead Rising has always been: a third-person action game wherein the player hacks and slashes their way through zombie hordes. The games remain interesting as a result of their “combination” mechanic.
If a player has the right blueprints, they can craft two materials together and form a new, often insane weapon. Dead Rising 3 threw vehicle combinations in to the fray and now, Dead Rising 4 offers the limited-time Exo Suit with elemental upgrades that can be grafted on to it.
For those wondering, Dead Rising 4 has seven main story chapters (called Cases) and up-to-four player online games focused on completing challenges. Collectibles litter the map for completionists. Cell-phones, podcasts, newsletters and the like offer a bit of flavour to the otherwise bland town of Willamette. Blueprints can be found to unlock new combinations and now combinations can be done on-the-fly. No workbench required for vehicles or weapons.
Dead Rising 4 has a skill tree and, as per tradition, you level up with PP from defeating enemies and building up unbroken combo chains. The more uninterrupted hits, the higher the PP bonus. PP can also be gained from completing quests and discovering new areas. The skill tree is as basic as it gets: increase health, get critical hits with weapons – nothing game-changing but gradual improvements to the overall damage resistance and output.
The new Exo Suit powers are fine, but they last for too short of a time and prevent the use of vehicles or non-Exo Suit weaponry. The problem is that my favourite (and more reliable) weapons were used without an Exo Suit (the Ice Sword). And the vehicles are far more effective than anything else in the game. As fun as an Exo Suit can be, having to find it and having a limited time with it in the world makes looking for one and relying on it pointless. Plus driving a modified tractor designed to tear up the roads with zombie guts is massively satisfying in a way that the clunky, robotic movement of the suit could never be. That said, there’s no denying that strapping a slushy machine to your back and shooting out freezing tornados at your enemies is a sight that must be seen.
Dead Rising Streamlined
The biggest issue I have with Dead Rising 4 is the removal of some of the more interesting features. No; I don’t mean the removal of the time limits for quests. I’m more disappointed in the lack of interesting boss fights.
The previous games had “Psycopaths”: unique enemies you’d stumble across and struggle against. Their designs were impressive and they offered a break from the main quest. In this game, they’re replaced by “rumours”. Paula will call to tell you of an area that needs investigating. Frank will go, fight enemies dressed in funny clothes/costumes and earn rewards.
The enemies themselves aren’t anything special. They might have a better weapon than their usual counterpart, but there’s nothing unique about their design or approach in combat. Psycopaths used to be a spectacle. They were tough as well. Taking on a Psycopath unprepared would lead to certain death.
Dead Rising 4 does have boss battles but they’re far too easy. During most, I sat back with a Blambow (Crossbow with explosive rounds) and took pot-shots until the enemy died. Cue cutscene, roll credits.
Difficulty Level: Breezy
Even with my favourite weapon on hand, I’ve never felt as if Dead Rising games were easy. They were never incredibly hard, either. Dead Rising walked the line well, spiking for side-stories but providing a reasonable challenge during main quests. Dead Rising 4 is remarkably easy by most games’ standards. My only deaths came at the hands of weird, technical glitches where I’d be knocked down by a freak explosion and get clawed on for my last bit of health. The deaths weren’t memorable, just unimportant, and never against a supposedly difficult enemy.
Frank West: Camera Man
The camera adds some new features to the gameplay. Aside from taking selfies with nearby zombies, it has an environmental scanner and night vision mode as well as the standard camera mode. Each will be required to investigate scenes (when prompted to do so), find secret graffiti tags and uncover other secrets around Willamette.
Survivors Need You, Just Not Like They Used To
Side-quests in this game (colour: blue) usually involve saving survivors and having them return to your safe houses around the town. Two changes made to this system are: your attacks no longer hurt the survivor, which I like, and they run back to the safe house on their own, which I’m not fond of. Part of the fun of saving survivors used to be getting them back safely to the safe house. Now, they just disappear in to the wild, blue yonder and level up your safehouse facilities as they do. It’s anti-climactic, but the side-quests are so samey that I’m glad of that change simply because of how generic they’ve become.
A Safehouse is a Great House
Safe Houses now have levels that increases when survivors reach their door. As they level up, players will be allowed to purchase more goods from the vendors. Oddly, the vendors have most of their vital wares available from the beginning. You can straight up buy the best weapons in the game immediately with enough scrap on hand. Bare in mind that weapons and vehicles break over time. That still doesn’t stop you from becoming overpowered and rendering the hunt for blueprints largely irrelevant, as money comes in hard and fast the further you get in the game.
I do appreciate the ease of access to awesome goods, it just feels cheap. Combination weapons used to be earned. The best weapons and vehicles were obtained with great effort on the player’s part. Now, all you need is a fat wallet if you want to slay zombies with the big boys and girls.
Take Dead Rising 4 but add three other players and challenges to complete: that’s it. That’s the online game in all its glory, and honestly? It’s what I’d want from Dead Rising Online. Leveling up and surviving the challenges leads to unlocking new episodes with new challenges in (you guessed it) new areas.
It works the same as Dead Rising 4 except with the choice of one of four characters that aren’t Frank. The player starts from level one and must build up this new character once again.
Watered down to the basics, Dead Rising 4 is a low-point for the series. Mowing down mobs is fun on its own merits and the new ways to murder are enjoyable, but measured against the previous entries, it fails to capture the same magic.
By grounding its story and characters, Dead Rising 4 abandons the madness that I so adored.
After all: what’s a zombie apocalypse without a real maniac or two? Slapping that name on basic enemies doesn’t do it justice. Frank West is back at his best, but in the telling of a more human story, Dead Rising betrays itself.
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