Dead Rising 4 begins with a massive, bloody, spatter. In the very first moments of the game, Frank West awakes to find himself back at the scene of his first nightmare, Willamette Mall. It’s been ten years since the original Dead Rising, and since that time, the series has further embraced its comical nature, come leaps and bounds in terms of graphics, and honed its brutal combat to a science (a two button science, but a science nonetheless). In short, it feels like the perfect time to return to a new super mall built on the site of the first game’s outbreak, and through a mix of nostalgia and gore, the game manages to innovate, and still bring the fun.
For the first time in the series Dead Rising 4 takes the time to focus on Frank West, and build him up as the macho, belligerent, photojournalist Willamette needs. Frank West is just sarcastic enough to carry Dead Rising 4’s humorous tone, while still dealing with government human experimentation gone wrong. Dead Rising 4’s story actually feels worth playing through, and well crafted. The plot is simple, and doesn’t try to be anything more than it needs to be. Through a young student in his class, Frank is tricked into reporting a government conspiracy back at the site of the original game, all because he wanted to play a game of mini golf. While pieces of the game show Frank trying to redeem himself and uncover the horrible truth behind the outbreak, they are also punctuated by him taking selfies next to trees full of corpses. It keeps the tone light, while creating a tale that drives the player to continue finding evidence to solve the mystery.
Frank uncovers clues through detective-like missions that are reminiscent of a simplified Arkham game. Using a tricked-out camera (infrared-scanner, clue analyzer, etc.), Frank meanders around often very bloody points of interest, providing pithy commentary, and solving cases with ease. These bouts of detective work don’t provide any real challenge, but often have some of the funnier dialogue moments, and keep the story moving. It all makes joyriding through a large group of the undead on an electric golf kart feel like it has some meaning or higher purpose behind it… or at least, gives it some small semblance of reason.
Moving around Dead Rising 4’s map is just as fun as Frank’s first trip to Willamette. There are a wide variety of shops boasting hilarious outfits, as well as various merchandize that Frank can use as fighting implements (with varying degrees of effect). Be it serving up a zombie’s head with a tennis racket, or shooting foam balls at the horde to no effect other than Frank’s own maniacal laughter, Dead Rising 4 has enough weapon variety to keep things fresh. It’s moments like walking out of a shop in full snow gear, wielding a rogue ski against a large group of flesh-eating undead that keep the game humorous, and makes discovering new areas rewarding.
Like more recent entries in the franchise, Dead Rising 4 also brings back a streamlined crafting system. It is not nearly as complex as the original in Dead Rising 2, but it is much quicker, and still allows the player to create plenty of zany weaponry. The system is a simple combination of finding blueprints, and then locating the right pieces to build them. For example, if Frank is already carrying a wreath and stumbles upon a battery, the player can just hold B and create an electric wreath on the spot. Each of these weapons kills zombies to spectacular effect, and feels different from the last.
Replayability is also increased by the size of Dead Rising 4’s map. The original Dead Rising was limited to the Willamette Mall, but Dead Rising 4 extends past that to the town of Willamette itself. Each piece of the map, unlocked through completing cases, feels unique, and offers different environments to slay the undead in. Whereas the mall can feel more confined, and is filled with themed areas (knight’s castles, pirate ships, etc.), the town of Willamette feels more open. Each has plenty of room for the player to explore, and there are hardly any loading screens to be found. The game also feels far less constricting than previous entries in the franchise. If a player wants to say ‘screw the story’ and just go on a gory Christmas romp through one of the areas, they can. Dead Rising 4 has no timer or Zombrex deliveries hampering a player’s exploration, meaning that you can kill zombies to your heart’s delight, and continue on with the story when it’s convenient.
The game also maintains momentum by having a variety of enemies. Granted most of them are the same mindless undead that players have spent the bulk of three games hacking through, but each area also has different enemies that offer a unique challenge. Most zombies shamble slowly, and feel like they have come out of Night of the Living Dead, but occasionally Frank is confronted by fresher zombies that move fast, more like those of 28 Days Later. It’s a simple variety (3 zombie types in total), but the latter make the game feel more dangerous at times, and can make areas more difficult to access. There are also the human threats which tend to be more lethal than the undead. Maniacs are scattered throughout the map, and are those that are thriving in the apocalypse. A particularly interesting group that Frank comes across early on have taken the medieval section of the mall, and all fight wearing battle armor. It all leads to variety in fighting that prevents moving through the game feeling like a slog of the same enemies repeatedly.
Fighting enemies also becomes easier over time thanks to a robust skill tree. Once again, this aspect of Dead Rising 4 is not complicated, but allows for variety in a player’s style. There are four areas that a player can upgrade Frank in: Brawling, Shooting, Fortitude, and Survival. Each provides its own set of advantages (I suggest putting at least some points in Survival early on), and changes the way the player moves through the game. Again, it’s nothing that radically alters gameplay, but it does allow players to choose what combat style they do best with.
Overall, Dead Rising 4 toes the line between a tasteful holiday story, and gory parade through a post-apocalyptic suburban town… Ok, maybe not even close to tasteful, but it’s a damned good time. The game takes what past entries in the franchise have done, improves upon them, but stays true to its original, comedic tone. The changes that the team did make allow for easier gameplay, and just make the experience better. As a fan of the original Dead Rising, Dead Rising 4 feels like a return to form, and will likely have me sawing my way through zombies, searching for every blueprint, collectible, and clothing item for hours to come.