Dead Rising 4 PC Review

I remember Capcom’s Dead Rising being one of the first big games to hit the Xbox 360 in September 2006 after the system’s large release drought earlier that year. It arrived on scene with a splash, showcasing the power of the Xbox 360’s ability to render hundreds of zombies on screen at once, while bringing across some of that peculiar Japanese game design.

Dead Rising is a game that requires the player to adapt to its time management mechanics and limited saving system, a polarizing feature for some, but a challenging gratification for others. No matter what side of the fence people sat on, there is no question that the gameplay of Dead Rising, and its concept of being able to pick up a variety of weapons scattered around Willamette Parkview Mall and slash, chop and decapitate thousands of zombies, while rushing against time to finish a case, certainly gave the game its own identity. As each sequel arrived, it’s evolved and added new things, although, the original idea has slowly been left behind, transforming the series into a game trying to capture a new audience by making everything all too easy to do, loosing some of that uniqueness that made the original a special game when it released.

Fan favourite and photojournalist “expert” Frank West returns as the protagonist for this fourth instalment – the third mainline entry by Canadian based, Capcom Vancouver – since he was pushed to the side to make way for more serious characters in Chuck Greene and Nick Ramos. It’s been a year since the incident in Los Perdidos (Dead Rising 3), with Frank now a college professor teaching his students the art of covering wars and the skills needed for scoring an A on the erotica category. It’s here that one of his students Vicki Chu, lures him into a military compound on the edge of Willamette, a place hiding government experiments on zombies. Frank and Vicki snap a few photos before getting spotted as they escape, in turn making Frank a fugitive as the Government tries to track him down for trespassing. Months later, Zombie Defense and Control agent Brad Park finds Frank and convinces him to return to what he does best, capturing the bizarre moment to moment happenings of a zombie outbreak, which happens to have begun on Black Friday in the same place where it originally started, in a new mall built in Willamette, Colorado, but has spread out into the local town as it became closer to Christmas.

When I come to a Dead Rising game, I don’t expect a good story, and Dead Rising 4 isn’t one that will be remembered for that, but under its predictable outcome, the awfully rushed final chapter that feels disjointed and out of tone compared to the rest of the chapters (prologue + six chapters in total), and its subliminal messaging about the ravages of Black Friday, is some snippets of dark humour and entertaining comedy that I rather enjoyed, mostly coming from Frank West. He’s an ageing guy in his early 50s, but he’s picked up a new personality and wit from his time away from the series.

We can’t talk about Frank without mentioning the replacement of the original (and much loved) voice actor, Terence Rotolo, who did a great job bringing a new character to life. But this game is going for a different approach, one where the new voice actor, Victor Nosslo, who you might know as Nyko from TV show The 100, does a solid performance in delivering Frank’s witty, amusing or smart ass lines – his comedic acts made me chuckle a few times. Frank’s persona has changed, now a mixture of someone who is trying to impersonate Michael Madsen with the mannerisms of Bruce Campbell, while adding the personality of Joey from Friends, and it kind of has its place in this new Dead Rising, even if he can come off as a dick sometimes. I’ll still standby and say he’s not THE Frank West, but the replacement puts in a great performance with the developer’s rebirth of the character.

The fictional town of Willamette has also changed, with the newly built mall acting as the central focus on the map, which now has grown in size to allow players to leave the mall and explore its surrounding areas. Players will have all the time in the world to venture out around town, because Capcom Vancouver has taken the next step up from Dead Rising 3 and completely removed the time limit system. There isn’t even any day limits any more, now players are free to do any main story mission, side mission or hunt down hidden secrets without the stress of having to meet deadlines. It’s not even an option, which will certainly upset fans who enjoyed the threatening challenge of doom lingering over their head as the countdown nudged closer to the end. In it’s defence, the game has been tuned to deliver its missions that the timer doesn’t feel lost, and it offers the chance for people to enjoy looking for secrets, hidden newspapers, snapping graffiti art at their own pace. Still, I feel they could have put this in as an option for the fans that took a liking to the timer, as its removal has taken away some of what makes Dead Rising what it is, like a bit of its soul has been stripped away, leaving behind something more generic.

Having the game set during Christmas presents itself with some fun opportunities. It’s a time of year that isn’t often dedicated enough in video games. Of course, with the Steam release (the version I played) coming out in March, it’s missed launching in a time of holiday spirit, unlike when it first released on Xbox One in December, but its seasonal choice is done well that you feel compelled to get back into the mood – I guess buying Christmas presents now will surely have you prepared for the festive madness in nine months time. From its remixed classic Christmas tunes during the game’s menus or the decorated sales in the mall, to the snow filled streets and nutcracker ornaments sitting outside houses, the presentation of Christmas is strong, and I guess before everyone changed into zombies, they managed to fill the streets with Christmas trimmings. Hmm….well prepared town, I must say…

As for Willamette, it’s a “lively” place, well as one can be with thousands of undead walking around. The town is littered with so many zombies, the most the series has ever had on screen. It’s impressive that they’ve managed to get to the point where I still find it awing running through a street mobbed with so many bodies wanting to take a chunk out of me. Four major locations make up the outside of the mall, all with safe houses that connect through the basement to return to the shopping complex for quick access. Willamette is easy to navigate, as most of it is accessible from the beginning, with short highways joining between the four sections that create a circular loop. It’s straightforward without the hassle of blocked areas, such as in some other open world games and in Dead Rising 3, and comes with enough variance in locations that it’s a good size for the game.

Scattered around town are objects that can be used as weapons. Anyone who has participated in any antics before with the series can expect the same level of variety when it comes to defending oneself from zombies. An interesting choice is that some areas where you would expect to be able to pick up a weapon, you cannot, for example, the sports shop where the racks are loaded with baseball bats, yet Frank cannot access them. He has to find a loose one on the floor,  very different in contrast to the original Dead Rising, where racks could be accessed to have an unlimited supply of weapons. It could have been an oversight in development, but it’s something I noticed when I began playing. In terms of gameplay, this title is the most streamlined. The controls are simple, with triggers used to fire ranged weapons, X for melee attacks and LB for throwing weapons. One missing factor is that Frank can no longer throw anything melee based. Remember picking up a park bench in the first game and tossing it at a bunch of zombies? No more, you can only drop them on the floor to make space for another weapon to pick up. Frank can also use a special attack once hitting a few zombies in a combo chain. These attacks are specific to the weapon, with some more advantageous than others.

Frank has limited inventory space, but this time it is split into three categories – throwing, melee and ranged. Melee includes swords, axes, boxing gloves and pipes, ranged is often shotguns, machineguns, pistols, while throwing includes explosives, such as grenades or sticky bombs. As Frank levels up from earning PP ( the game’s experience) by beating missions, performing various activities, discovering secrets or just killing a ton of zombies, he gains skill points to put into the ability to carry more weapons in each category, along with improving his health, accuracy, damage, new moves and other typical upgrades, depending how you build your Frank.

A gun or a grenade will do its job, but the point of Dead Rising is not to settle for the norm, but go wild and outlandish. The combo weapons are always an exciting part to discover, and here it keeps the tradition that dumb combos are hilariously fun to use. You’ll need to grab the blueprints first before being able to create them, but once discovered, you’re in for a party, well depending on how useful they are; some are just plain pointless, albeit comical – the launcher that shoots out vinyl records is one such weapon. The Christmas theme brings a new flavour – the combination of a nutcracker figurine using its muskets to fire at zombies on your back, as you arm yourself with a mace and shield, or blending a crossbow with explosives for firework-based projectiles that blow up zombies into a mess of red blood with a rainbow of explosive colour will bring a smile. Frank can even dress up as Vega from the Street Fighter series, so perform your best Yodel-ay-hee-hoo as he claws at zombies. Sadly, no izuna drop can be done with this attire.

Building on the idea of combo vehicles from Dead Rising 3, this entry takes this up a notch with fascinating combinations, from silly mini cars jacked with an electricity field to small ATVs with rockets and mini guns. This stuff is dumb, but using combo weapons are memorable moments, and along with the new time limited Exo Suit, a type of power armour that comes with a battery supply that drains over time until it dies, and its own set of larger weapons (huge miniguns, giant rifles, power axes and a huge fly swatter….) offer an easy way to decimate both zombies and human opponents with ease.

Ease is an issue here – the core difficulty spoils the idea that you should be pushed to go for the more powerful weapons. In the default setting, this game is a walk in a park. It’s so incredibly easy that a challenge rarely appears. It removes the survival fun previously felt by the older titles. The inclusion of Fresh Zombies, a more aggressive, faster batch that can take more of a beating, still don’t put up much of a fight. Bosses bring a change of pace to the mindless slaughter of the undead, but they are still easy, to the point where running into them, swords swinging like a madman, will put an end to their life. Frank levels up fast, allowing players to increase stats more often, which in turn decreases the difficulty. Hitting the half way point of the level cap, level 50, took about 7 hours. Hitting level 50 was unimaginable in the original game at this pace. Most of the issues are removed with new difficulty settings that originally were patched into the Xbox One game before the Steam release hit. The toughest, called Blackest Friday, actually managed to bring me a game over screen, including help tips that I had never seen before. I fully advise anyone to begin at least on hard rather than the standard difficulty for an improved experience.

I can’t shake the feeling that the developers wanted to make Dead Rising 4 a title where focus is to do dumb shit and kill zombies without a worry about death or time. There are no longer escorting missions, as survivors now just magically run off, eventually disappearing and magically reappearing back in the region’s safe house. These survivors level up safe houses, bringing better gear and items to the shops inside them. There are no save points, as the game auto saves generously, I assume to let the player keep their focus on smashing up zombies. Keeping Frank alive is easy, as mentioned, but what makes staying alive simpler is finding food and health items, as they no longer come with their own stats, rather, each healing item becomes a green health cross in Frank’s inventory, reducing the need to care about what heals the most. It removes not only the tension that is had when low on health, but their importance is invalidated, when before the game made people work to create or find better healing items.

Frank retains his trusty camera to take pictures of zombies in peculiar circumstances. He can also now take selfies, blending real life trends into the game, but replacing buddies with zombies, who you can get up close for a personal life and death selfie for bonus PP. The camera has been given extra focus with the inclusion of investigation areas, in which Frank has to find key evidence and take pictures with either standard, night-vision or spectrum analyser lenses. Investigations are only a small mechanic, but I do like how they are handled, and investigating isn’t intrusive or difficult that they spoil the flow of the game’s otherwise constantly hectic action.

Length varies depending on how deep players want to dig into the secrets. Aiming for just the main story will clock in around nine hours, but expect to at least add seven more if you begin to branch out to do secondary objects and hunt all secrets. It might seem short, but remember there is no time limit that causes the player to reset the progression that added to the total game time. To note, I also never felt the need to want to replay the game after my first completion. The removal off Psychopaths, crazy people that were designed to standout, are no longer part of the game, reduced to small groups called “maniacs,” which are a real poor excuse of a replacement – think of them as groups of people dressed up as football players or religious fanatics worshipping Satan – that they are no substitute for the madness in the original Dead Rising, a place where discovering Psychopaths during certain times of the day was another surprise. Finishing Dead Rising 4 is a one and done situation, because you have seen everything it offers after beating it. Cooperative could have helped overcome that feeling, but in a strange decision, the developers opted to remove the cooperative play from the main campaign and give it its own mode.

Multiplayer cooperative (online only) supports up to four players and contains four episodes situated in the mall that assigns randomly generated objectives. Each player is given a character from the story, with these acting as fresh accounts starting at level one. I don’t mind it as a fun diversion, and it’s nice to include at least some cooperative feature, I just find it that it comes across more of a side project to what it could have been if it was part of the bigger campaign. One big flaw I had with the multiplayer was its limitation to the mall. Dead Rising is known for that location and fleshing it out well with vibrant environments that you probably don’t normally find in a mall (massive pirate ship with employees dressed as sharks),and there is lots to do in that building, but removing the rest of the map from multiplayer seems like cutting a big chunk of the game away. If Capcom Vancouver wanted to limit the size of the maps in multiplayer, then they could have based episodes in selective parts of the town to keep the size constraint the same.

PC brings advantages over the console version when it comes to performance, allowing higher resolutions and 60FPS support. It’s a taxing game, as setting everything to the highest (including anti-aliasing) just about held itself above 60fps for most of the time. Things do drop when dead bodies, sliced in half, leaking blood everywhere, litter the streets, same as the weird hiccup when visiting a mirror to change clothes, which seems to hammer the frame rate to nearly half of its usual performance. At least something like a Nvidia 1070 is needed to run this game maxed out at 1440p, but other cards should be able to still have decent frame rate if they drop a few settings. Not the most optimised game on the platform, but I wouldn’t call it an horrid port that we have seen in the past with some other major titles.

Simply put, Dead Rising 4 is going to upset the serious hardcore fans of the series who have enjoyed its quirky mechanics over the years. Signs began with Dead Rising 3 that Capcom was moving in an direction to simplify the game to allow more accessibility to the mainstream. Dead Rising 4 will not do anything for those people, but for anyone who did enjoy the previous title or would like a game that’s about dressing up in dumb clothes and killing zombies in stupid ways with bizarre weapons, while celebrating the wonderful festivities of massacre over a Christmas theme, then this title is for you. It makes an improvement over the third entry, offering a few hours of silly fun for a series that still manages to bring a unique experience like no other when it comes to dishing out the zombie violence.

7 out of 10