In recent years, I’ve felt like the zombie-theme has been played out a bit, with a plethora of television series, films and of course games. In one brilliant swoop, Dead Rising 4, developed by Capcom Vancouver and published by Microsoft Studios for Xbox One and PC has changed my mind completely.
The game takes everything that I loved about the previous franchise entries, refines it all, puts on some extra bells and whistles for good measure and neatly gift-wraps in in a Christmas themed extravaganza. It is the best Zombie game I’ve played in years, and the TLDR version is that you shouldn’t miss out on this open-world survival horror action-adventure masterpiece.
Warning: There be spoilers below
Frank is going on a Christmas-themed binge
Frank West, the protagonist from the first Dead Rising game, is back. For those who don't know him, he is a photojournalist, alcoholic and slayer of the undead, and, in my opinion, one of the most entertaining protagonists in any game I have played…ever.
Frank awakes from a dream where he kills hordes of zombies and shortly afterwards sets off with his journalist student Vick, who brings him a story about secret government experiments. The duo's mission: to uncover the truth and of course to get the scoop on the story, but things go horribly wrong.
Framed and vilified by the press, Frank goes “underground”, calling himself Hank East (not very original Frank…) and poses as a photography instructor, until he is pulled back in into the action when he finds out Vick is in the midst of the new outbreak in Willamette, Colorado, which just so happens to be the same place the first outbreak occurred 16 years ago.
Willamette Memorial Megaplex Mall was only open for one day, Black Friday, before the virus was released, turning most of the mall and surrounding area’s inhabitants into zombies. As I ventured into the Willamette Mall, the Christmas theme was obvious, with decorations, sales and cheery Christmas carols drowning out the sound of zombies scuffling about and feasting on remains.
Blood, guts, violence, Christmas trees and colourful lights created a zombie-slayers dream environment; but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Frank doesn’t pull any punches, uses name-calling, crude language and dark humour on a minute-to-minute basis to the point where I am sure he has a bright future in as a stand-up comedian if being an alcohol and coffee-filled photojournalist doesn’t pan out. Throughout my gore-filled journey as Frank West, I met a wealth of characters, from ordinary survivors to Maniacs, who are people who went crazy when the outbreak occurred, for example a group of survivors dressed as medieval warriors bent on protecting their queen…
The game delivers over-the-top action, satire, humour and most importantly, it is an absolute joy to play. A big part of that joy comes from the weapons at your disposal.
Tools of the trade
Slaying undead has never been this much fun. The first time I crushed a zombie’s skull with a guitar was one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in a game. A mall, especially on Christmas time, has so many wonderful, cheery items on sale; all of which you can use to decimate your foes.
The developer has done such an amazing job creating a world space where player creativity can run rampant as you combine every item imaginable to create devastating weaponry. Throughout the game, you acquire blueprints, which you can use to create new weapons by combining old ones with parts found around the world. For example, the first melee weapon you can create is aptly called “A blast from the past”; it’s basically a sledge hammer combined with a grenade, with the result that each hit creates an explosion on impact.
My personal favourite is a bow combined with some fireworks, which results in celebratory, beautiful and deadly explosions. Simply put: oh, so shiny!
The game has a new type of extremely powerful attire not found in previous titles, called the Exo Suit. When equipped, Frank becomes extremely strong and can use large weaponry, for example the X-Fists you can see in the image below. Great power does have its limits though, as the Exo Suit only lasts 2 minutes before you need to find a wireless recharge point.
But that’s not all. You can also create a range of vehicles or purchase some already-created ones from a survivor shelter, for example the Slingshot truck in the image below. Each vehicle handles differently and has its unique uses and abilities. For example, I used the Slingshot for some heavy duty vehicular slaughter or used a modified go-cart to speed through the streets dodging the undead.
With the massive amount of cool weaponry available, you need some powerful zombies to slay, right? Well, Dead Rising 4 has two new kinds of zombies to test your skills again, namely the Freshly Turned and the Evo. The former are zombies with red eyes, those that turned right in front of you and they are as fast as they are relentless. The latter is a unique zombie type that is smarter, more cunning and acts like a wild animal on the hunt rather than just a mindless, shambling mess.
The weapons are, in my opinion, the star of the show, but there is also one other tool that is crucial to Frank’s success; his trusted camera. I had so much fun taking photos and earned prestige points to unlock cool rewards such as special attacks. Photos are ranked and divided into different types, for example “drama” and “brutality”, so I found myself on a personal quest to take cool photos everywhere I go…and I’m still looking for that perfect shot.
But the camera isn’t just there for taking photos. No, Vick rigged Frank’s camera to add night vision (which has the obvious use of seeing in the dark) and a Spectrum Analyser, which you use in order to hack things like doors.
Clearly, it is a very useful tool for progressing through the game and investigating the outbreak. However, the best part the camera is that you can take selfies, even with some of your undead “friends”.
No rest for the living
There is an absolutely amazing number of things to do in Dead Rising 4, from collecting and assembling different weapons mentioned earlier in this review, to collecting Scrap to trade with and levelling up to unlock new abilities.
A plethora of side quests and events, such as rescuing civilians or investigating a specific incident gave me the feeling of freedom; I could play the game the way I wanted and even just go on a zombie killing binge for hours on end.
That’s the thing about Dead Rising 4. Not only does it deliver and interesting story and a brilliant protagonist, but it also allows you to do whatever you want; and everything you do is rewarding in some way. Killing zombies gives you experience points, which you can use to upgrade your character to suit your playstyle, for example going down the melee weapon skill path increases your damage, while the survival path provides benefits when creating weapons and vehicles.
Inventory management is easy, but it definitely lacks some space. You can only carry four ranged weapons, four things to throw and four melee weapons, which might sound like a lot to those who haven’t played the game, but with so many options available, there is one thing I would suggest everyone who plays the game does: You need to put at least one skill point into survival, which allows you to use blueprints to combine items from the ground, without wasting a precious inventory slot.
Frank gets tired when running, hitting things or just about any other physical activity and moans about, which is quite frankly, awesome…sorry I just had too. His entire demeaner feels both realistic and absurd as he makes light of some very serious situations; and it truly is a joy to listen to Frank grown and soldier through. After my first five hours, I checked out my character status for the first time and saw that I spilt over 5000 litres of blood, all while cheery Christmas songs played in the background.
The game is definitely not for the faint of heart of those easily offended; but that’s about the only thing I can think of that some would see as “wrong” with the game.
Throughout over 20 hours of play this weekend, I experienced one bug that meant I could not complete a survivor rescue mission, due to what I suspect is an invisible zombie or maybe one stuck somewhere I couldn’t get to or see. Further, I did experience a few slight frame-rate drops, but there was nothing technically wrong with the game that ruined my experience or broke the immersion and fun factor the game provided.
I’ve talked a lot about how fun the game is, how I enjoyed playing as Frank West again and obliterating the undead; but that’s not all Dead Rising 4 has to offer.
A deeper meaning
Dead Rising 4 doesn’t take itself too seriously as evident by all the humorous comments from the protagonist, wacky weapons, vehicles and more as I mentioned previously. However, the game did make me think about some serious issues for the first time.
The story touches on some serious themes, specifically the idea of consumerism; encouraging the acquisition of goods in ever-increasing amounts, much like one of my all-time favourite films, Dawn of the Dead (1978), which just so happens to also take place in a shopping mall. After slaying thousands of undead, I realized that the zombies in Willamette, especially those in the Memorial Megaplex Mall, are very much like the hordes of people on Black Friday, wanting brains…I mean deals…and becoming almost zombified in the process of waiting outside of big shopping centers.
In a way, the Dead Rising franchise has grown up a bit with the latest entry and made me think about society and consumerism. There are also hints of the suffering of those affected and about ordinary townsfolk just trying to survive. Then, there is also the depiction of chaos, vigilantly justice and how in a time of such a crisis, the undead aren’t the only ones you should fear.
The game isn’t just all fun and zombie slaying (though it has that in spades), but something more…something better…something that will make you think.
Dead Rising 4 is a spectacularly gory, comedic and most importantly, an extremely fun game to play. Without a doubt, Capcom has managed to create a game that I simply want to continue playing until my fingers bleed. The game plays as good as it looks, and it looks absolutely amazing.
Apart from a few bugs, none of which are game-breaking in any sense, Dead Rising 4 stands out as the best zombie-themed game I have played in the last several years. The only thing that might be a negative for some is that if you are easily offended, you might not like Frank’s attitude and comments on certain subjects. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the protagonist’s banter as he stomped his way through a Christmas-themed, zombie invested extravaganza which is Dead Rising 4.