Looking back at the Xbox 360 and it’s early days, there was one game that made me want it more than the PS3 – Dead Rising. Dead Rising was a game that put you in the zombie apocalypse and let you play however you wanted. There were psycho humans to deal with, zombies flooding the mall’s main areas, and seemingly everything could be used as a weapon or an outfit. It was a lighthearted approach to a genre that had previously only really been seen in a serious light. The game was a hit and developed quite the following. Over the next generation, we would see 2 sequels that never hit the highs of the first, but was well liked for what they were. Each sequel brought a new character to play as and modified some of the underlying mechanics of the game. The timer that was so prevalent in the first game was downgraded to almost nonexistent by the time the third came out. Fans of the series wanted a return to form and with the release of Dead Rising 4, I can say they aren’t getting it. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing depending on how you enjoy your Dead Rising.
Dead Rising 4 kicks off with series favorite Frank West playing the role of professor at a community college of sorts. The game begins with him and one of his students driving back to Willamette (the location of the first game) to investigate some rumors. Things don’t go so well for the pair and they are split up after their plan backfires and the duo leave on not so good terms. Fast forward a while and Frank is visited by some government agent who tells him that something is going on in Willamette and he thinks his former student could be tied to it. Begrudgingly, Frank agrees to put on his camera again and see what the heck is going on at the most infamous of shopping malls. Your main goal in Dead Rising 4 is to determine what the heck is going on and why is there some shadowy army types so active in the area. The main story will take around 12-16 hours to complete, but with the secondary objectives and side quests, you could easily spend up to 25-30 hours playing in this zombie infested world.
When you begin the game proper after the introduction, you’ll notice a lot of similarities between the gameplay of 4 and the previous installments in the series. Like in previous installments, you can build super weapons that combine other weapon types to create more powerful versions. It’s nice to have this in the game, and once you find your favorite weapons you’re usually be on the lookout for the parts that make them. My favorite was the ice sword that, when swung, would freeze enemies in place. The downside to having a favorite is that I basically only used this weapon and would trash all others to make sure that I had multiple copies in my inventory. There are a lot of different options to choose from, but the desire to switch just isn’t there when you find one that truly works for your playstyle.
There is also a nice upgrade tree in the game that will allow you to build out your character to fit your playstyle. I usually prefer survivability over other things, so I focused primarily on increasing my health. When I was satisfied with that, I went on to increasing capacity of melee weapons, and typically avoided anything with firearms since I rarely ever use them in a Dead Rising game. With each level (and you’ll level up a ton throughout the story) you get some additional points to sink into the tree. Some things are locked behind other skills, so be sure to skim the unlocks so that you can see where you would like to build out your character. You may have to put some points into something you won’t typically use just to get to something you will.
One major difference from the previous games is the timer, or rather, the lack thereof. In previous installments, there was usually some sort of time mechanic that ranged from extremely strict in Dead Rising 1 to pretty lenient in Dead Rising 3. With Dead Rising 4, it’s completely gone. Hardcore fans of the series with undoubtedly cry foul because this was a well regarded feature that accounted for multiple playthroughs and time management. For me though, this was the best change. I hated the time mechanic. I typically play games as an explorer and do things at my leisure. Dead Rising 1 had be obsessed with making sure I didn’t miss something, and when I did, it ruined the experience for me because I knew I would never make that perfect run and I certainly didn’t have time to do multiple playthroughs. Without the timer, Dead Rising 4 allowed me to play at my speed and do whatever the heck I wanted. There were times I just wanted to take a truck and drive through hordes of zombies and without a timer to keep me pushing on, I could do that anytime I wanted. I hope the series sticks to the lack of a timer, but judging by the outcry from series die hards, Capcom will have to consider the pros and cons of doing that.
Another thing missing from this installment are the psychos. That was something I actually liked from previous games. Psychos were characters who were humans driven mad or opportunistic by the zombie apocalypse. They were usually incredibly difficult and you had to really fine tune your approach to taking them down. In Dead Rising 4, there is something resembling psychos, but they are most events than bosses. In one area, you stumble into a Christmas tree farm and have to take on crazy elves and eventually a Santa character. It’s a fun event, but you can just unload into the character with your weapon of choice and they’ll go down quickly. You’re also find a cult that could have been a really fun story element, but in the end is just another encounter with enemies in the world that you make short work of. This was definitely a missed opportunity and I hope future games return the mainline psycho bosses.
Graphically, Dead Rising 4 is serviceable. There isn’t anything here to show off the power of next gen consoles outside of the sheer amount of zombies that are on screen at once. You sort of take it for granted as you play the game, but at any given time, there are tons of zombies on screen. Driving a car through hundreds at a time is a joy and it makes sense that the graphics took a hit to allow the sheer numbers you see on screen. I’m ok with corners being cut graphically if you ensure that I get to slaughter hordes of zombies while seeing my kill counter rise up into the thousands.
With Dead Rising 4, you’ll either love or hate the changes made to it. If you’re a purist that wants their Dead Rising only one way, you might leave this game feeling cheated. That is understandable. Capcom talked about bringing the series back to it’s roots, and outside of the location and the main character, they didn’t. If you’re like me though, and enjoyed the higher number games more than the original, then this is more of what you would expect. Dead Rising 4 is an incredibly enjoyable game through a mall and the surrounding town where everything has gone to hell quickly. Using your camera, you’ll unlock clues as to what the heck happened while mowing down hordes of enemies without the constraint of a timer. If that sounds like fun, then Dead Rising 4 may be right up you alley. If you’re new to the series, don’t worry about not having played previous installments. Each game stands on it’s own and the story is rarely the focus and is basically there to give you a reason to continue on from area to area. The ending of the game is a little abrupt, but I’m curious to see where they go from here.