Frank’s back, but is he still a big man on Kram­pus?

Games Master - - Con­tents -

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.

Whack jobs

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

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