I have fond memories of the original Dead Rising game. I played the demo (remember those?) repeatedly until the day came when I picked it up after its full release. It was everything I wanted it to be and then some. There were masses of zombies and a myriad of ways to dispatch them. Added to the mix were fellow survivors in need of being rescued and some rather unhinged people who needed to be dealt with. All the while there was a ticking clock which meant you were having to make tough decisions on your way to the games’ end. It seems fitting that for the fourth instalment we return to where it all began, Willamette, Colorado.
Given the location, it feels right that reporter Frank West is our protagonist. He’s slightly older and not the same person in some ways but he’s still a wise-cracking, a self-absorbed parody of what makes an investigative journalist. Challenged to a game of mini-golf by his protégé he soon learns that all is not what it seems and discovers she’s taking him back to Willamette. I don’t want to delve into the story too much but what surprised me the most was just how intricate the storyline here was. There are nods to the original Dead Rising but more than that is the fact that the while things do, inevitably, go slightly weird the core story is quite impressive given the game it’s tangled up in. The story is divided up into cases and as I progressed through each one I was genuinely intrigued as to where things went next.
Over the course of the series tweaks have been made to the format of the game, however, one thing was ever constant; the timer. The timer forced you to make decisions as you couldn’t just meander your way through. In a way, this pressure was what made them great as opposed to just decent as it gave your playthrough meaning by way of consequence. It’s removal here means that the world at large is just a playground for you to discover and wreak havoc upon in any way you see fit. I can see the arguments for and against here but it’s loss, to me, isn’t that big of a deal as the upside here takes the game’s fun level and turns it up a few notches. Now you can go anyway and do anything taking your time to explore the Willamette as this time things go beyond the mall.
Our story beings in the new megamall built in the centre of Willamette however, the story will take you outside and into the streets. I’ll admit there’s not a lot of character to the town it does give you a nice large playground in which to unleash zombie armageddon. There are cars to utilise, safe houses to regain control of, survivors in need of assistance, maniacs to put down and a whole lot of fun to be had. The safe houses aren’t anything useful beyond giving you fast travel points and the ability to purchase weapons on the go. You get the feeling that the developers planned more for them but in the state that they are they’re not anything of note. It feels like a missed opportunity. Another change is that survivors no longer require you to escort them to safety. Once you’ve fulfilled their “save me” requirement they leave you a gift and mosey on to the nearest safe house with no trouble at all. It removes one of the more frustrating aspects I’ve had with the series as the AI sometimes could just be downright frustrating.
It does, however, feel like the developers are trying their best to stack things in our favour making it rather hard to die. During my playthrough, I mostly died when I was trying some dumb new idea rather than being overwhelmed by stronger opponents. It wasn’t until the final act that I had issues and that was down to my inability as a player rather than anything else. Some will say that this makes the game less challenging and, well, they’d be right but I like to think of it in a different way. By making things feel easier and putting a huge emphasis on combining weapons and so forth we as players are being encouraged to go forth, explore and wreak absolute havoc in as many and interesting ways possible. It can get rather intoxicatingly fun and when you put this together with a lack of a timer it’s no surprise I wasted at least a couple hours cruising around Willamette using the myriad of crazy weapons at my disposal.
Speaking of weapons tweaks have been made here to split things into three categories; ranged, melee and thrown. Each has a limited number of slots which you can expand through using up skill points you acquire as you level up. There are a fair number of combo weapons for each type with some of them being given rather amusing names like Jurrasic Barf. When you combine this with an abundance of health pickups and the easy feel to the difficulty I found playing cathartic at times. It must be said that though whilst we do have three different weapon types I often found myself using just the melee weapons. This was mostly down to them being the most effective for a wide range of situations but equally found others slightly more cumbersome to use. Thrown weapons can either be quick thrown or aimed but by the time I got my arc right my target had moved. Ranged weapons are a smidge better but still a little slow and clunky to aim.
When you combine these together you end up with something that is a fun game to play but lacking some finishing touches that would make it a great game. In addition, enemies often clip through scenery and objects in the world, weapons disappear sometimes when you drop them and every so often a vehicle will get caught on something hidden forcing you to abandon it and move on foot. None of these is disastrous and the frequent auto-saving means if you do die you won’t have much to retread. Dead Rising 4 won’t win any awards nor is it the best of the series, that for me is still the original Dead Rising, however, it’s a strong entry and worthy of your time. I mean putting comedy heads on zombies will never, repeat never, get old!