Hubris, Thy Name Is Willamette
HIGH Power Armor + Snow Cone Machine = walking ice tornado.
LOW Starting New Game+ and realizing there’s only about two hours of story.
WTF I have never torn so many people in half.
Before I played it, Dead Rising 4 seemed unnecessary.
After all, DR3 had completely and expertly wrapped up the series — the zombie virus has been cured! Beloved characters return! Plot threads from the first game are tied up! What could a fourth entry possibly offer? The answer, according to Capcom Vancouver, is yet another meaningful upgrade to the franchise’s ever-improving control scheme and a story that’s not quite up to the quality of DR3′s — but it’s one which never embarrasses itself, either.
Set a few years after the events of Dead Rising 3, DR4 returns a new, facially-reconstructed Frank West back to Willamette, the location of the original game. Some geniuses have decided to rebuild the town with an even larger mall at its heart, openly defying the fates and daring disaster to strike twice. Naturally, Frank discovers that certain familiar people are once again up to something sinister, and he’s forced back into investigation mode to get to the bottom of it.
Also, Frank kills something in the ballpark of twenty thousand zombies.
More than any other entry in the series, DR4 knows exactly where its priorities lie. All of the awkwardness has been stripped out of the third-person control scheme, leaving a perfect engine of zombie destruction. While earlier iterations forced players to gather just the right weapons and find just the right areas to engage in truly epic zombie slaughter, Dead Rising 4 is all about allowing the player to use a huge arsenal of combo weapons and slaughter the undead en masse.
The big change is that Frank’s inventory has now been split into three categories, each one assigned to a button on the controller. Previously, if players wanted to go from a melee weapon to ranged, they’d have to scroll through their inventory, stalling gameplay and breaking combos. Now the player simply presses a different button.
With this addition, combat has been transformed into a completely smooth experience, and the developers have tuned the weaponry to encourage experimentation with loadouts. Melee weapons, for example, tend to have devastating special attacks, but strike so slowly that it can be hard to power them up. Firearms specialize in building combos quickly and efficiently, so even the most daunting horde can be taken down by a determined player with a grenade hammer and SMG.
The developers have even finally found a way to make Frank’s photography work. Rather than awarding experience points for particularly good photos, the player is assigned a wholly optional list of shots they need to take, and give rewards for completing them. Turning photography into an optional sidequest was a great idea, and I found myself taking more pictures in DR4 than ever before. The camera is also used in a few Arkham-style investigative sequences where the plot is furthered as Frank snaps photos of crime scenes and evidence.
While the story isn’t particularly gripping this time around, it touches on old beats — the military-industrial complex trying to turn a profit on tragedy, regular people driven to murderous insanity by the breakdown of civilization, new types of zombies turning up, and so on. The plot moves along at a fair clip, but Frank remains a funny, if largely uninteresting character, forcing the script to do the heavy lifting when the characters can’t manage it.
The real problem, though, is that there just isn’t much meat to the story. The open world of Wilamette has plenty of combo weapons to unlock, lots of well-written background texts to read, plenty of people to rescue (but not escort, thankfully) and more, but if players aren’t interested in the optional content, they’ll find the central experience to be just a few hours long. There are no Overtime or Nightmare modes included, just a bunch of action setpieces that can be burned through quickly, especially during New Game+ with a maxed-out Frank.
Luckily, the multiplayer mode offers more than enough replayability to make up for the campaign’s shortcomings. Up to four players play one in-game day at a time over the course of about fifteen minutes. They’re assigned goals to complete — clear out areas, find certain pieces of tech, etc. — and are rewarded for the numbers of zombies they kill before finally getting a chance to team up and fight a boss.
The missions are assigned randomly and each location has a wide variety in stock, ensuring that replaying in order to unlock new content won’t feel staid or repetitive. Slaughtering zombies as a group is a satisfying experience, and the missions have been well-designed to encourage teamwork. This is leagues ahead of its previous attempts at multiplayer, and was the best surprise DR4 had to offer.
Dead Rising 4 may not be the series’ high point, but it’s easily the second-best, and a great experience in its own right. Zombie slaughtering has never been this accessible or thrilling, and the developers at Capcom Vancouver have once again proven that they know exactly what to do with a winning formula.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 30 hours were devoted to single-player modes (completed 2 times). 4 hours were devoted to multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Blood And Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. Keep everyone but older teens far from this one — it’s a game about turning yourself into a human meat grinder in order to reduce the zombie population by tens of thousands. So clearly,this is not for children. Also, there’s plenty of alcohol around, which the ESRB somehow missed.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You shouldn’t have much trouble with the game – all dialogue is subtitled, and there are no important audio cues.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.