Dead Rising 4 marks the return of the fan-favorite protagonist Frank West and the setting in which he debuted, but there are shortcomings scattered about the chaotic landscape.
It's odd to think that Frank West hasn't starred in a numbered Dead Rising title since the franchise debuted ten years ago. As an obvious fan-favorite, it seemed inevitable that the original protagonist would make his return in due time, but Capcom Vancouver apparently opted to put a hold on delivering that premise to gamers until Dead Rising 4. If returning West to his former glory wasn't enough, the studio has also reimagined the setting of the premiere installment (the sleepy town of Willamette and its massive shopping mall), ensuring that longtime fans will be on the receiving end of plenty of nostalgic nods to its past.
While all of these components work well together to create another enjoyable iteration, they also give way to one of the bigger issues that currently plagues Dead Rising 4 – it's been lightened up substantially. When compared to Dead Rising 3, there's nothing massively different, at least aesthetically, between the two. There are still hordes of the undead shambling through the streets, there are all sorts of cooky weapons to be built, and there's plenty of the franchise's trademark black humor to keep fans satiated. But, when it ultimately comes down to it, the game is lacking some of the challenge and features that made previous installments so endearing.
For instance, one of the most engaging aspects in past games has been the quirky characters that fill it, but those interactions have been limited substantially. Now, as anyone familiar with Frank West can confirm, the protagonist is easily the most iconic and genuinely entertaining mainstay of the property's universe. Accompanying the photojournalist are several other encounters that standout, but one of the biggest blows players are on the receiving end of is the lack of depth to both the standard survivors and the psychopaths that are scattered about Willamette.
Dead Rising 4 forgoes the intimacy associated with rescuing unique survivors within a certain amount of time by turning these characters into generic and randomly generated happenstances. In this light, they are simply used to upgrade shelters/shops that will provide Frank with a plethora of weapons, clothing, vehicles, food, and location maps highlighting collectibles found throughout the Willamette region. Some will be overjoyed by the removal of timed events as it allows them to simply explore the in-game world with no consequences, but this leisure approach to 'time' ensures that a sense of desperation and importance for each mission is thrown out the window.
Meanwhile, psychopaths have been reduced to a shrug-worthy role thanks to the lack of cinematics and horrifying deaths surrounding their arrival in-game. Even then, often the battle is over just as quickly as it began thanks to the bountiful number of armaments West carries on his person at any given time. Admittedly, being able to carry a menagerie of unique and inventive melee, throwable, and ranged weapons affords users more opportunities to try all of the options available to them when combatting crowds of living and dead enemies.
While these can certainly be seen as detractors to faithful followers of Capcom's second most famous zombie IP, there's a lot to dig into here as well. Willamette has been lovingly expanded and now features an entire world outside of the Willamette Memorial Megaplex mall. With so many nooks and crannies hiding secrets and collectibles, gamers can spend countless hours simply slashing, driving, or sneaking around Dead Rising 4's environment. It's still a visceral thrill to lob a grenade into a flesh-hungry mob or lose control of an ATV as it slides around on the entrails of the splattered undead, and the light-hearted tone of the main character ensures that fans will be grinning throughout the Yuletide romp.
Despite these aspects remaining true to the nature of the series, Capcom Vancouver has added on new power up that's sure to appeal to even the stingiest of users. The exosuit is the latest addition to the series, and these contraptions can be found spread around the map. It doesn't add much depth to the game (outside of justifying Frank's ability to now rip parking meters out of the ground and utilize them as weapons), but they make for interesting, albeit incredibly short, bouts of destruction. In short, the exosuit makes for more of a small scale enhancement than a full-blown incentive to purchase the game, but it's an enjoyable novelty nonetheless.
Finally, it should be said that the lack of co-op in the main narrative is disappointing. While teaming up with a friend to trek through the story – or simply to rampage through Willamette – would have made for a nice option, the developers have thought to include a multiplayer mode that stars four characters from the main narrative within the confines of the mall. The gameplay itself is split into four episodes, which make for enjoyable stop-gaps when they do work. There are a handful of connection issues that would lead to dropping out in some instances, but overall it makes for a nice distraction from the meat of the core product.
Dead Rising 4 is a worthwhile endeavor for longtime followers of the series, but it has a number of shortcomings. The sense of desperation that's been so closely tied to past entries in the series has been removed in favor of making the game more accessible, which can be viewed as both a positive and a negative depending on the individual playing. That aside, the copious number of little bugs that pop up can be irritating, while the lack of additional cutscenes leaves the human threat lacking when compared to the franchise's more memorable encounters.
Even then, Frank West manages to be the smart-ass anti-hero that fans have been longing to see resurface, with the zany means of dispatching enemies making for a wondrous distraction from some of the other issues present in the game. Dead Rising 4 is certainly good, but it's still not as good as it could have been.
Dead Rising 4 is currently available on Xbox One and Windows PC.