DEAD RISING 4
Frank’s back, but is he still a big man on Krampus?
Christmas comes late in Willamette, but who cares when you’ve got a mech suit and an iron chin?
Frank West is exactly the kind of hero we needed after 2016: a man who knows how to enjoy himself in spite of circumstance. Sure, his acerbic wit and not-very-professional detachment are a front, but it’s still soothing to spend time over the shoulder of a character who’s happy to wade through a scrum of the undead and bust into a military fort dressed like Captain Commando, wielding a swordfish crossbow and cracking wise all the while. Why so serious, indeed. West has lived through this nightmare once already, of course, back when he kicked off the series in the Willamette mall. He’s roped back into town by the ZDC (think CDC for zombies), but also a rivalry with former pupil Vick, who has taken issue with her ex-mentor’s story-first approach to the discovery of a fresh outbreak in the area and gone rogue. No one scoops Frank West.
Yet the return to old curb-stomping grounds is still more reminiscent of Dead Rising 3 than the original, for better and for worse. Time limits, which had grown steadily more generous across the series, have now evaporated from the single-player game. Where once an electric guitar and the pointier end of a sporting goods shop’s range might see you through, you’ll now need to cobble together sturdier combo weapons to make serious headway through the hundreds of zombies on-screen. And the characterful confines of the Willamette Memorial Megaplex Mall are only a tiny fragment of the open world map.
No time pressure also means there’s no pacing to speak of, no hurry to be anywhere but clowning around and hunting down fresh blueprints for ever more demented – and rarely less than entertaining – botch-job weapons. The cockamamie story exists in little stasis pods, ready to be deployed when you’ve had your fill of mass mayhem.
It’s a far more forgiving structure, one that might be convincing if there were more happening outside the plot missions. As it is, just a handful of event types repeatedly pop up – rescue survivors by clearing the immediate area of zeds, or raiding military supply crates, which struggle to justify Willamette as a (formerly) living, breathing place.
The ones that shamble apart from the pack, however, are the maniac missions. No longer saved up as key story bosses, there are several groups that have gone a bit, well, strange now that society has fallen apart. Each has a theme, and is run by a health-bar-toting leader, offering a
“Capcom’s return to old curb-stomping grounds is more reminiscent of Dead Rising 3”
pop of colourful insanity among the faceless hordes and jarheads. Putting down sadistic Christmas elves with a shocking wreath necklace, or going toe to toe with Captain Black Friday Beard while mall speakers blare out a barrel load of piratical savings puns – these are twisted delights.
So there are guilty pleasures to be had, for sure, but there’s also a surprising amount of busywork. This flip flops between feeling like doing your favourite household chore with the right playlist on and just irksome padding. You’ll want to track down new blueprints to gain permanent access to the most useful and entertaining gear, although weapon vendors will sell you a selection of new killamajigs for one-time use if you can pony up enough scrap.
There are a bunch of collectibles to find, including cell phones, Vick’s story uploads, and little safe rooms that rarely contain much worth swapping out your limited inventory for. But no part is more regularly tedious than the pauses for Frank to unsling his SLR and wander around a small zone, snapping shots to fill a checklist of evidence with either his regular lens, spectral analysis filter, or night vision mode. Framing can be annoyingly fussy, and the checklist hints aren’t always that helpful, but at least the camera view provides a hotter-colder indication that lets you know when you’re onto something.
And it just wouldn’t be a Dead Rising game without a stockingful of technical issues. With so many zombies to render, the series has always traded volume for looks, but objects fizzle in from nowhere and NPCs teleport about erratically (although frame rates on One S are atypically stable). One safe house almost became impossible to clear thanks to a zombie getting entombed in a pillar, and we’ve lost more than one survivor thanks to the event being triggered while inside the confines of another mission. There are recurring irritants too, including dim AI and muddled item pick-up prompts – annoying when you’re surrounded and in need of a health item, but end up chucking away your melee weapon.
Co-op: left 4 dead?
Thankfully, the cocktail of enjoyably mindless OTT combat, Frank’s ‘charming’ personality – which has shifted to be one part Bender to one part John McClane – and the gleeful irreverence carries you through the low spots. After the likes of GTA V, there’s no denying this is a solidly B-list open world. The compensation? Being able to combine a vintage car with a snowmobile and end up with a Model T as designed by Mr Freeze.
While we feel the lack of being able to share the maddest moments with a co-op buddy, DR4’s multiplayer seems like a good let-off valve for the gregarious zombie slayer. Divided into four episodes, this cooperative-competitive gorefest restores the time limits and, consequently, some of the tension missing from the campaign.
Here, you’ll have to earn the best gear, or at least buy it from vending machines with scrap. You’ll also have to work together, since the mobs are scaled up from meat roadblock to tough-to-control crowds, and that’s before you meet the 28 Days-style ‘freshies’. Each day, you’ll have to leave your safe house to complete randomly doled out objectives, before making it back in time to see who ranked highest on the leaderboard.
So Capcom hasn’t ruined Dead Rising 4 with its controversial choices, but nor has it exactly reanimated the series afresh. Bringing Frank back to Willamette does DR4 no favours by inviting comparisons to his tensely-structured debut, either, and yet he’s one of the best things about it. Why overthink it? Lovers of lighthearted, undemanding fun can take a cue from him, say “Screw it”, dig out a chainsaw strapped to a sledgehammer and just wade in.
Microsoft Developer Capcom Vancouver ETA
Format XO (reviewed), PC Publisher
Out now Players 1-4