Frank West makes his comedic and action-packed return this week in Dead Rising 4, the latest installment in this over-the-top zombie survival horror game series.
For those looking for something a bit different—and who don’t mind a bit of gore with their comedy—Dead Rising 4 looks like a great choice. I’ve only played the game for a short time so far, but it has delivered on the promised humor, and has surprised me with a decent-enough plot given that we’re talking about a game in which the protagonist wields an exo-suit and stalks zombies with a variety of weapons in a shopping mall.
Which, by the way, sounds like the original Dead Rising, which was a year one title for the original Xbox that shipped in 2006. That game was notable for its comedic take on zombie gore, and my big memory of the original was that you could mow down zombies with a lawnmower. Looked at more broadly, Dead Rising concerned a fictional town in Colorado that was quarantined after a zombie outbreak; and you, as photojournalist Frank West, were tasked to document the happenings and, as the game progressed, discover who was really at fault.
Game maker Capcom released two sequels to this title, the imaginatively titled Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3, but these games had other protagonists and settings, and I’m not honestly sure that I ever played either. But with Frank West making a return to a graphically improved Dead Rising 4, I was interested to see whether this seemingly one-note franchise had anything new to offer.
After a brief introductory level that takes place in a military base, Frank returns to the fictional Willamette, Colorado, where the events of the first game took place. Yes, it’s the holidays, so the game is infused with Christmas music. Yes, there’s a new mall, the Willamette Memorial Mall, to replace the smaller mall that was destroyed in the first game. And yes, there’s been another zombie outbreak.
OK, that sounds like the same-old, same-old. And it is, of course: Any gaming franchise reboot has to of course resemble, even honor, the games that came before. Some can get mired in nostalgia, mistaking repetition for solid gameplay, like the middling Gears of War 4 or the new DOOM, but others can rise above that.
It’s not clear yet whether Dead Rising 4 rises above nostalgic me-tooism. But in a nod to modern gamers, if not the needs of sequels, this game adds an exo-suit with unique weapons for more damaging attacks on the newly more-dangerous Evo zombies and Maniac survivors. It drops the time system from previous games to offer a more traditional open world experience that encourages exploration.
And it amps up the comedy, which I usually find annoying—Gears of War 4, for example, or the reviled Duke Nukem Forever are great examples—and is, God help me, legitimately funny. There are even neat little bits all over the game, like the music that sounds just like the Godfather theme song that plays if you move through a fast food Italian restaurant in the mall’s food court.
There’s a story in there too, of course, and Frank quickly returns to his photojournalist ways: You are required to document things with your camera, but you can also take selfies to funny effect with zombies and the like. Frank makes quips as he goes—“Food court zombies are the worst,” and so on—and he’s always accompanied by a sidekick of some kind.
I’ve only touched the surface of the game so far—I completed the military base sequence and have landed in the new mall so far—but the game, to me, seems like a third-person fighting title, like a zombie-infused Street Fighter, complete with combo and finishing moves, and a kill streak system that rewards non-stop violence. Yeah, it’s pretty great.
But there’s almost too much to do: In a game that seems to be about just pummeling zombies, there is an enormous number of items to forage and examine, dead bodies to search, things to take pictures of, weapons to construct out of parts, and so on.
There’s a ton I’ve not yet tried: You can play the single player story mode in co-op if you want, for example, and a 4-player multiplayer version lets you join in-progress games from around the world. These co-op games have unique game features like safehouses, healing weapons, respawning, and more.
Dead Rising 4 is available for both Xbox One and Windows 10 for $60 each. Sadly, it is not an Xbox Play Anywhere title, as Capcom has elected to release it separately on both platforms.