Dead Rising was fun, but brutal and unforgiving. Dead Rising 2 kept the same formula but offered players a bit more leeway, broadening the appeal. Dead Rising 3 offered open-world zombie slaying, but toned down the humour significantly and seemed more concerned with presenting as many zombies on-screen at once as possible than with delivering a well-constructed game. As a result, it was disappointing and clunky. Dead Rising 4 is…?
In terms of story, things have pretty much circled all the way round to the beginning. Photojournalist Frank West is once more in the saddle of the metaphorical zombie-killing horse, and the location of the zombie outbreak is again the town of Willamette. Initially tricked into returning by one of his students, he learns that there’s some sort of secretive military operation fiddling with things they shouldn’t be (isn’t there always?) which, of course, soon results in the whole town getting zombified. The good news, of course, is that this means it’s totally okay to kill everybody you see – alive or undead – so long as they don’t have a name floating above their head!
With Frank back, that means his camera’s back, too. You can take pictures at any time (unless the story dictates you can’t) and, this being the 21st Century, you can photobomb the carnage yourself for a selfie. You’ll also be using the camera for “Investigations”, a new feature for the series that essentially work as beats to break up the action. Think the wandering around small areas in Batman games, looking for specific objects/clues.
You might think that by bringing back both the protagonist and town from the original game, Capcom are looking to reintroduce that game’s mechanics, too. That’s not the case, however; quite the opposite, in fact. No searching for toilets with the desperation of a laxative-poisoned food addict (you had to find a toilet in order to save in the first game). There are fairly regular checkpoints auto-saving your progress. There’s food to replenish your health strewn all over the place and, as in previous games, makeshift weapons are everywhere you look. It seems, however, that decent weapons are easier to find than ever.
The series’ signature combo weapons and combo vehicles make a return so, once you’ve found the relevant blueprint, you can make these more powerful items out in the field with the relevant ‘ingredients’. However, safehouses – which you unlock via the fairly simple task of clearing out the zombies within – contain vendors, including some who will sell you combo items for immediate use (even if you haven’t yet found the blueprint). On top of that, the weapon system has been juggled about so that you no longer have just one weapon in your hands at a time. You now have one slot for melee weapons, one slot for ranged weapons, and one slot for thrown weapons. Each has a different button assigned for use, meaning you can switch between, say, a sword and an assault rifle in an instant.
A more forgiving environment means that levelling up is pretty quick and easy, meaning in turn that unlocking perks and extra inventory slots happens sooner rather than later. If all that isn’t enough for you, don’t forget about the exo suits now available. Pretty rare, they don’t actually offer much in the way of protection – but they increase your strength immensely, allowing the use of weapons that are otherwise too heavy and turning even your fists into deadly flesh-mushing weapons. Some of the human baddies get to use these suits, but when they do that usually means there’s another one nearby waiting for you to jump in, meaning they’re not actually much of a threat. Enemies in general in fact seem easier to fall than before, with even the ‘maniacs’ proving easy to kill. Perhaps a little too easy.
The final source of challenge/frustration (delete as appropriate to your desperation to appear talented), the time limit, is now completely gone. Although some ‘maniac’ encounters are missable if you ignore them, you’re generally free to do what you want as slowly or quickly as you want to. The only exception is the final linear leg of the story, but the game gives you a big fat warning that there’s no turning back before you dive in.
There’s no denying that this is, by far, the easiest Dead Rising game yet. Including the handful of optional encounters I went after, it took me roughly 8 ½ hours to finish the story – and I died just once during that time (though I failed a second time due to poor AI leading to the death of an important NPC). I completely applaud opening the game up to those outside of the stubborn niche determined that the more obstinately difficult a game is, the better it is. It would’ve been nice, however, to see a happy medium between this and the first game.
There’s online multiplayer, but this seems like a huge missed opportunity. It’s not just the offline game played with other people. You can’t take your offline character/level/abilities/clothes/weapons/etc online. You play alongside up to three others in “episodes” which severely restrict your playing area. Presumably to counter the presence of multiple players, things are tougher. Good weapons are harder to come by, and seem to be less durable. There’s no narrative worth speaking of, just ‘missions’ which task you with working together to perhaps kill a certain number of zombies or take photographs of specific things. It’s an interesting distraction, but not exactly addictive.
What’s the bottom line? The most accessible Dead Rising yet, but so far removed from the first game most people will probably either love it or hate it.
Review by Luke Kemp. Thanks to Xbox for the Code!