From it’s humble beginnings on Xbox 360, I’ve wanted to love the Dead Rising franchise…after all, it’s certainly paved the way for “zombie mob” titles like Dead Island, Dying Light and State of Decay. Dead Rising has always boasted gore-geous swarms of zombies, creepy human interactions and fantastic “cobbled together” weaponry…and yet, it never held my attention the way it should have.
No, the first two (and arguably even the third) Dead Rising game featured rescue windows for saving civilians…but the rub was that you couldn’t save everyone. Unfortunately, certain survivors would have specific attributes that you might need later, but because there was no hierarchy on those you were dispatched to save. That, plus the “bosses” would respawn every single day, so you’d continually have to deal with the same assholes several times over.
Dead Rising 3 was a pretty good launch title on the Xbox One, and addressed almost all of the shortcomings of the first two, and it took weapon crafting to the next level…but still wasn’t nearly as compelling as it should have been.
So, when the inevitable announcement for Dead Rising 4 hit, I was less than excited. For me, the franchise had come and gone, and I was perfectly content to wait until the Game of the Year edition hit sometime around winter 2017, for $25-ish.
Boy am I glad I didn’t.
Dead Rising 4 represents a pinnacle for the franchise: it’s huge, campy and has a ton of heart, from the NPC interactions to the wealth of blueprints, with which to build weapons, vehicles and other delightful bits. Most importantly to me, the countdown timer to saving civilians or completing objectives has all but gone away, resulting in a more organic experience overall. I mean, sure: if you sit and watch a survivor in distress get swarmed by zombies, eventually they’ll fall…and ditto for enemies. In fact, there was many a time that I sat back and waited for the undead to thin the numbers of either Obscuris or the opportunistic Maniacs.
Before I get too deep into the characters, I should probably mention that Dead Rising heralds the return of Frank West, the protagonist from the original (and from the Dead Rising 2’s “Off the Record” DLC), and as such, it’s kind of a soft reboot. Don’t get me wrong–there’s still plenty of nods and winks to the first three, but you don’t need to have played any of them to appreciate the fourth. In fact, the only thing that you really need to know is that Frank has dealt with zombies before, and the first game was set completely in the Williamette Mall. In the first three, the government was cultivating a temporary cure (called Zombrex)…but all that fell by the wayside, and by Dead Rising 4 (which takes place 16 years later), there are now Zombrex-resistant zombies, as well as new super-strong, super fast “revenant”-style zombies…and a super-super-powerful zombie, codenamed Calder.
This makes intrepid photojournalist Frank West’s heart go pitter-patter, so you’ll be exploring and documenting Williamette, trying to get to the bottom of the case. Of course, along the way you’ll encounter hundreds of photo-ops, side-quests, Obscuris tech to loot, podcasts to find, newspapers to file, safe rooms to discover, and survivors in need of help. Sure, given that it’s an open-world title, the side-quests can get repetitive, but there are so damn many that it’s hard to find fault with them. In fact, the biggest problem I had, was that I’d see a survivor in need of help (or blueprint, or a safe room, etc.) pop up on my minimap when I was speeding to a plot point, and then I’d end up derailing myself for an hour trying to find all the collectibles in the immediate area. Simply put, Dead Rising 4 isn’t a great game for people with attention deficit disorder…but damned if it isn’t fun!
Speaking of blueprints (and podcasts, and newspapers, etc.) you have two choices in finding them: one, you stumble across them by exploring; or two, you buy a location map from a survivor in a safe zone. There are safe zones scattered throughout Williamette, but you’ll need to liberate them before they’re available…and liberating means searching each area, top to bottom, and eliminating every zombie on the premises. It’s easy at first…but you’ll run into one every so often that has a zombie spawned into some odd corner, so it turns into a scavenger hunt. Once cleared, safe houses offer the ability to trade scrap (the in-game currency) for blueprints, materials, completed weapons, new clothing and more. But by far the most helpful is the ability to purchase a location map, which will highlight things you might be looking for–I’d highly suggest getting blueprint maps for each area, to maximize your arsenal.
Dead Rising 4 also features a massive (albeit, temporary) upgrade in the form of Ex0-Suits scattered throughout Williamette (and occasionally on Obscuris mini-mini-bosses). Similar to vehicles, the Exo-Suits have a limited-use window, but give you the ability to have massively overpowered melee attacks, as well as the ability to wield the “big” purple-coded weapons, such as flamethrowers, massive axes and other environmental items. Since it’s battery-based, the more you move, the more power you’ll burn, and eventually the suit will fall apart, after a prolonged beeping sound. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be in an area with large electrical devices (or an Obscuris battery booster), you’ll be able to draw power from them, and thus spend more time rampaging.
In addition to the standard looters and Obscuris goons (exo-suited and not), you’ll run into franchise favorites, the Maniacs. If this is your first Dead Rising experience, Maniacs are overpowered bosses who usually give you a new type of weapon (often used to dispatch them) as well as a minor story to accompany them. Except for a few story-based encounters, battles are almost always optional…but totally worth completing.
From beginning to end, Dead Rising 4 is a fantastic romp with pretty damn good writing: Frank (and the people of Williamette) have never seemed so alive…and the zombie hordes have never seemed so menacing. Unlike Dead Rising 3’s Nick Ramos, Frank West has zero problems mowing a swath through zombies, and human Maniacs; hell, he finds joy in his work, hurling one-liners as often as explosives. There’s no question that Frank is both the zombie-killer we deserve, but also the one we need right now.
There are rarely games that encapsulate what I call “the Tony Hawk Paradigm”; IE, a game that you can play for minutes or hours, and still enjoy every last second. Sure, you’ll run into odd graphics and/or gameplay glitches, but given the sheer amount of zombies in every given area, as well the size of the map, it’s completely forgivable.
What’s unforgivable, however, is the atrocious ending. I logged 129 hours into the story, and hardly came close to 100%-ing the game. I took out almost all of the Maniacs, found 2/3 of the blueprints and probably discovered half of the safe rooms. As far as newspapers, podcasts and computers…well, I figured that I would go back after finishing the story and tackle ‘em at my own pace. NOOOOOOOOOPE!
TAKE HEED: just before the big showdown, there will be a prompt that says “(name redacted) awaits. If you continue, you’ll be unable to explore Williamette.” As someone who’s familiar with the open world game style, I figured it would lead to a blocked off, arena-type area where you’d take on (final boss). And spoiler alert: it does.
Without ruining anything, once you “finish” the game, there’s no going back to your original game. Unless you want to start over again with bonus blueprint unlocks. What’s even more maddening is that the supposed “true” ending will only be available via DLC, the title of which I won’t include, because it’s kind of a spoiler in itself.
COME THE FUCK ON, CAPCOM! It’s incredibly hard to remain “spoiler free” when discussing the big ending, but it’s a hell of a disservice to the franchise as a whole, and it just feels more like a convenient plot point to sell more DLC. If you don’t buy the DLC, you have an uncomfortable, tacked-on ending…and if you do buy the DLC, you get a little extra. But making us essentially choose to continue our time in Williamette by purchasing additional content just comes across as a cheap marketing ploy…and I want to believe you’re better than that.
So I’ll say this: knowing that the end is terrible, might I suggest stopping the story mode at the last mission (just after you blow your way into the basement-area), and spend your time exploring, unlocking and playing in Williamette in the glorious, gory sandbox that it is. Only when you’ve found it all, return to the basement and continue. Fair warning: the last leg of the game, up to and including the final battle, feels like it was designed by a first-year programmer. So don’t go into the ending thinking you’re gonna feel invigorated. I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel cheated. Fair warning.
Lasstly, there’s a decent multiplayer mode which has you assuming the role of one of four survivors playing in a separate timeline from the actual game. There’s no actual co-op in the main campaign, so if you’re looking to team up, you’ll have to do so in a modified horde mode with physically weaker players and significantly weaker weapons. Each area will have you working together to solve a mini-goal while staying alive, with upgrades available to purchase from vending machines with scrap. It’s fun, and competent…but nowhere as near as fun as running through Williamette with Frank.
Even with such a powerfully dogshit ending, Capcom somehow managed to combine the madcap fun of the original with the complexity of 2 and 3, to reinvigorate a slightly stale franchise. Will mowing through hordes of zombies in a modified dune buggy ever get old? Probably. But today is definitely not that day. No matter what game is currently in rotation, I keep going back to Dead Rising 4 whenever I need a fun palate-cleanser…and I bet you will, too.