Release date: December 6th, 2016
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed) and PC
As Capcom’s Dead Rising series hits its 10th anniversary, they decided to celebrate in a big way, by finally releasing the 4th main entry to the series. It was announced just earlier this year that the game would arrive later in 2016 and would also see the return of the series’ first protagonist, the one and only Frank West. While Frank has made cameo appearances in spinoff games and alternate modes of the series since the first Dead Rising game in 2006, this is the first time he returns to the canon story and world in a main installment.
They also announced the game would have a very Christmas-themed aesthetic and story, which seemed like a very strange move to make a game so closely tied to a certain season or time, but I awaited the release with great curiosity to see how they would manage such an idea. When initial gameplay shots and videos started to surface, it looked like everything was in place to see another great entry to the series without losing its roots, and now that the release is here, we can fully assess how successful they were in their aims.
The story of Dead Rising 4 is much more interesting than I originally thought, where we see Frank West in his early fifties, and now working as a college professor of journalism and photography, but on Black Friday of this year, a new zombie outbreak occurs in the town of Willamette, the town where the original Dead Rising game took place.
It follows that everyone who was out doing their insane holiday shopping on Black Friday became zombified, so all the traffic on the streets and inside the giant Willamette Mall were infected en masse and now the government has chosen Frank to find the source of the outbreak.
There’s a great little nod just in the premise of the story that’s very anti-consumerism, just like the first game (and its inspiration, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.) This sets the perfect scenario for them to fill the whole game with sarcasm and criticism of American holiday celebrations and traditions in a way that I did not see coming, but it fits perfectly into the heavy societal criticism that the series has always featured.
The setting really gives the developers more than ample opportunities to make tons of jokes of all kinds about Christmas and government conspiracies at the same time, and also makes the setting mostly very fun to look at. The inside of the mall is immaculately decorated with Christmas lights and decorations, and the streets filled with bleak and snowy landscape, making most areas of the game a visual treat to explore. It’s also full of fun and hilarious Capcom references, from Street Fighter to Bionic Commando, Ghouls n’ Ghosts, and of course, Resident Evil, mixing seamlessly into the references to other cultural phenomenon in modern times.
Amongst the screams and moans of the undead, you’ll also hear a variety of different music pumping out of vehicle radios and loudspeakers scattered around the city and mall, ranging from jazzy “muzak” renditions of classic Christmas carols, songs made specifically for the game (and referencing the game in the lyrics,) generic mall muzak (even some songs returning from the original Dead Rising game,) and classical holiday favorites. The setting feels more immersive with every song you hear, making it feel like a real over-commercialized holiday.
One major change they made to Frank’s character, to many people’s dismay, was the changing of his long-held voice actor from all the previous installments. The original actor had a very wacky and comical tone, but the new actor retains very similar ability to channel the humor and sarcasm when he needs to, but also can act the dramatic and serious scenes much more convincingly when needed. I got used to the “new” Frank quite quickly, and to their credit, he’s also much more mature and older at this point in the story, so a change in voice doesn’t really seem too out of place.
Gameplay in Dead Rising 4 retains all the main staples of the series, with crazy weapon combos, vehicular manslaughter abounding, and even adds in super-powered human-sized mech suits to allow you to wreak all kinds of havoc on the zombies that inhabit Willamette.
On top of keeping all the staples of the series, they also chose to make quite a few improvements in the item management, combat (including a useful stealth mode for use on humans,) and many other areas that could have used a facelift from the previous entries.
A major change was also made to the way the story progresses in DR4, making it feel quite different from the previous games in that the story is much more focused and doesn’t involve so much backtracking and tedious fetch missions, so the pacing is much more streamlined.
Because of this, the main story is much shorter to complete than the previous games in the series, but that does not mean the whole game has vastly less content than the others, as it does have a very similar amount of things to explore and do in the world, but the game strongly encourages you to explore the main story first before going to most of the side missions.
The main story took around 15 hours to complete, and there wasn’t a dull moment within. Afterward, I was leveled up enough to really start exploring more of what the game had to offer, with more combos and abilities, and it got even more fun after that, being able to freely explore and find what’s hidden in the nooks and crannies of the city and the mall.
There’s only a small complaint with the controls, where sometimes the way Frank responds to your inputs can be a little bit awkward, and while this was always a factor in all the previous games of the series, it seems slightly more annoying here, but nothing that breaks the game or makes it unplayable by any means, it just doesn’t feel quite as snappy or responsive as many modern action games.
Dead Rising 4 also includes a co-op multiplayer mode, where you play through multiple long-form missions with up to three other players, and it makes for a lot of fun with friends. The multiplayer runs smoothly and is a lot of fun to be able to carry out your crazy zombie-slaying ideas with friends.
More content has been promised through updates and a few pieces of DLC, and if the DLC is anything like the ones they had for Dead Rising 3, they should be very worth the wait and any further cost they may require. Again, this isn’t to say that the main game is lacking content by any means, as DR4 should keep you busy for more than 40 hours just for the single-player content.
Overall, DR4 is a real bang for your buck and is the best way that many of us more cynical folks can really get into the “holiday spirit” this year. Keeping the great mix of comedy, story, violence, and fun makes for a highly enjoyable experience, especially for any who enjoyed any of the previous entries to the series.
The game is available at retail and through the Microsoft store, for Xbox One or Windows 10 PC.