The weather outside might be on its way to becoming frightful but this holiday season, as you head out to the stores to buy your presents, just remember that things could be worse than having to wrap up warm. Just ask photographer Frank West, a man with a colorful past that just wants to forget some of the things that he’s seen. He would have been able to get away with it and leave the town of Willamette, Colorado behind for the last time, was it not for an annoying zombie infection breaking out on Black Friday.
Or rather, we should say that this is a reinfection, since we’ve been in Willamette before. Indeed, we’ve been there playing as main protagonist Frank West while a zombie outbreak takes hold of the city before. It feels like an eternity since West last took the lead – unless you’ve picked up the recently released remastered edition of the first game, of course – but this retreading of old stomping grounds complimented by the gameplay improvements and sense of scale brought forward in Dead Rising 3 makes Dead Rising 4 immediately feel something akin to a “Greatest Hits” compilation of sorts.
That isn’t to say that there’s nothing entirely new going on, since there most assuredly is. For example, Frank now must take part in a bit of genuine investigative work during the story, finding clues with his camera, which comes complete with alternate lighting modes that allow him to find things that aren’t visible to the naked eye. The camera can also be used to take on photography challenges, too.
If you come across a cardboard standee of Street Fighter’s E. Honda or find a Rival Schools arcade machine during your trip through the game, you can snap a shot of it to get bonus points that help you improve your skills. Taking shots of humorous situations – such as a zombie wearing a snowman head that you just threw at them – or horrific or destructive events will also get you bonuses. You can even snap a selfie or two, should the mood take you. These deviations from the standard formula serve as a welcome break from crushing thousands of zombies as you attempt to travel from place to place.
“Thousands” is no overstatement, either. There are times during Dead Rising 4’s story mode where a simple 300-meter trip from one place to another can be punctuated by a killing spree that would make the Frank West of the original Dead Rising look like a saint. The infected are packed in much more densely than before, so whether you brave a trip on foot or jump into one of the many vehicles that are dotted around the place, you’ll realistically be able to rack up thousand hit combos without too much trouble.
Getting hold of the game’s weapons plays out as it always has. Either you find and use an object as a weapon, or you combo it up with something else to make a more powerful death-dealing device, provided you’ve found the relevant blueprint to do that, of course. This means that there’s an awful lot of stuff in Willamette that would be entirely non-interactive in other games, but which has a genuine use here. Actually, gathering these items is one of Dead Rising 4’s main problems.
Since there are so many things laying around the game world that there are often times where you’ll find two or three possible pickups right next to each other. Manipulating the camera so that you’re able to grab the exact item that you want will take up more of your time than it really should. When your health is dripping away during a zombie attack and you’re trying to grab that bottle of headache pills off the floor so he can stave off death, only for Frank to come up with a new pair of shoes or a record player because the camera moved half an inch, it can be immensely frustrating.
There’s also frustration to be found in the later story. The penultimate case contains a chase scene that you get locked into, where your enemies are setting everything on fire. Should you avoid the randomly-placed hordes of zombies that stand in the way of your escape – which is easier said than done – you end up with a short sprint away from a larger character. Your mileage may vary, but four attempts at running straight for the exit ended in a one-shot death and reload. I approached the fifth try in the exact same manner, running straight for the exit, and the game randomly decided that I’d done enough.
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That case leaves a bit of a sour taste, since it’s a very rare spike in difficulty in what is a surprisingly easy game. At no point during my playthrough did I feel that I was in any real danger, since there are health pickups absolutely everywhere. From bottles of beer to sandwiches and burgers, almost every location you visit contains a handful of recovery pickups. You can increase the difficulty level, but even when you’ve done that, the fights against more prominent opponents aren’t particularly taxing.
A lot of this is down to that wide range of weaponry that you can pick up. Most battles can be won relatively easily when you’re holding a machine gun, two ranged weapons that fire explosives, an electric axe, an explosive hammer, as well as a pocketful of molotovs and hand grenades. In fights where the opponent is more overpowered, you’re generally given access to an upgradeable exo suit, which instantly levels the playing field.
The easier approach that Dead Rising 4 takes isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. What it means is that you get time to explore more or less at your leisure, taking in the genuinely charming Christmastime setting that Capcom Vancouver have put together, which is great if you’re trying to find every pickup or complete every side-mission.
If you’re playing it in July, you might not feel the same effect, but there’s something against going toe-to-toe against a guy in a Santa suit at this time of year that just feels right. Jumping into the pause menu to take a look at the map is a joyous affair too, with cool re-recordings of classic Christmas songs playing out in the background.
When you do beat the story – and it’s a case of “when” as opposed to “if” – there’s always the option of taking it on again at a higher difficulty level, carrying through the power-ups and skills that you’ve obtained in the first run. Should that not be enough for you, an almost Left 4 Dead-style multiplayer offering is available. Here, you and up to three other players take on episodes consisting of increasingly difficult challenges.
While the systems in play are pretty much identical to single player, the challenge is much greater, so you’ll need to be watching each other’s backs and reviving each other as necessary, whilst making sure that the horde doesn’t overwhelm any of the members of your team. You can obtain multiplayer-only power-ups for levelling up your character of choice and further episodes are unlocked through repeated play, so there’s plenty of extra value on hand if the idea of co-op zombie battling is something that appeals.
That sort of caveat is the main takeaway from Dead Rising 4 as a whole. While it’s massively enjoyable for the greater part, if you didn’t like Dead Rising 3, you likely aren’t going to dig its successor. Even though some nice improvements and additions have been made this time around, there’s not enough that would really cause anyone to change their mind about the franchise. If you did enjoy Capcom’s last open-world zombie-chopping romp though, you’re in for another wild and entertaining ride.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
If you've played Dead Rising 3, you'll know what to expect from Dead Rising 4. There's blood, guts, gore, and fun to be found in spades, but it isn't a massive leap forward from its predecessor.