Willamette Mall has been the beginning, and will likely now be the end, of the Dead Rising series. The original anti-hero of the series, Frank West, makes a welcome reappearance in Dead Rising 4 and with the setting returning to Willamette ,16 years after the original outbreak, the series appears to have come full circle.
Frank has now set himself up as a Photojournalism teacher passing on his worldly wisdom, with a specific focus on his protégé student, Vicky Chu. She convinces him to return to Willamette to investigate some rumoured military human experimentation, but things take a turn for the worse and they are separated, with Frank being labelled a fugitive after the military fabricate a terror attack to his name.
Now in hiding, he is approached by the ZDC to help investigate an outbreak hidden from the general public, occurring at the Willamette mall on Black Friday. Frank must return to the town to find the evidence he needs to prove the military involvement and in so doing, prove his innocence and once again get himself in the middle of the story of his career.
Combat follows the tried and tested method, picking up what seems to be random assortments of junk before fashioning them into lethal zombie defiling weaponry of destruction such as the fan favourite laser sword for combining gems with an electronic device or the Gandelf, for combining a garden gnome with a hat rack to provide you with a transmogrifying staff of wonder. Weapons are crazy, entertaining and expendable, requiring you to keep an eye on their durability lest they break mid fight. Sadly, despite the wondrous creations you can formulate, the combat becomes a bit of slog when you are not utilising a new weapon, and only deviates from the grind of decimating hordes of undead when specialist undead, crazed survivors or roaming patrols of the Private military antagonists, Obscuris. Thrust into the world, is the new Exo suit that Frank can find obscured throughout the world, that when equipped turns you into a walking tank of amazing , and thankfully short lived, destructive power that can overcome any of these adversaries with ease. Outside of these exceptions, huge hordes of enemies will die at your hands, and unlike previous iterations, there is no difficulty involved in the dispatching. There are no additional difficulty levels to change your approach, and the expected timer that started to make its way out in Dead Rising 3, has completely vanished in this mode, much to my personal disappointment.
Although I dislike the change in pace for the game, I can see the benefit to bringing fresh fans into the fold. Again personally, the change of model and character voice artist for Frank is not a deal breaker for me, with the new voice actor providing a refreshing alternative vision of Frank, with all his anti-social, wise cracking, zombie slaying persona. On the other hand, the real change that concerns me is regarding those colourful bit characters that form the ranks of the psychopaths.
The Psychopaths from the first three games can be summed up in 3 words; extravagant, exotic, memorable. Sadly, the “maniacs”, as they are now known in Dead Rising 4, can be only be described as dull, bland and furthermore uninspiring. Say Dead Rising to me, and I initially think of wacky over the top characters, ultra-violence against an undead horde and weapons…lots and lots of weapons. Ultimately the overall quirkiness of the series has been effectively removed from the story, with lacklustre enemies that don’t have that same wow factor as I would expect from a series with its comedy horror so finely produced. The enemies are distinctly unimpressive, and the lack of exposition or cut scene to announce their arrival, not to mention the removal of any strategy for defeating these mini bosses was another glaring omission that led to disappointment.
New changes to the series focus on Frank’s trademark camera. Gone is the standard PP snapshots, replaced with a device that acts more as an investigative tool than just a simple camera. Night vision and thermal imaging options allow for some simple, yet interesting, investigation sections throughout the game, and the selfie option allowed for a little bit of creativity to bubble forth when despatching enemies, zombie or otherwise. Crazy outfits are once again Frank’s mainstay, with a plethora of combinable outfits to be found to make your own Frank that little bit more unique.
The story can be seen as a redeeming feature, to some extent, with an interesting tale of redemption and growth for the now aging Photojournalist. Set five years in the future, the focus is solely on Frank and his ties to Willamete, but his interaction with Vicky Chu and the survivors of Willamette in their second outbreak move from his lofty, better than thou, beginnings that we came to know and love in spite of how horrible he appears, to actually resembling something of a human, providing aid and succour where he can as he unravels more of the story surrounding this latest outbreak.
As a fan of the series, I enjoyed this game regardless of its flaws and regressive design ideas, but I suspect there are few who will be so forgiving. Despite its changes, I still spend countless hours scouring the game world for every note, letter and recording that would add to the lore and reveal a glimpse into the lives of those impacted by the outbreak, for good or bad. I gathered every weapon crafting schematic, found every ZOM-B vault and picked up every newspaper, photo op and vehicle combo that the game had to offer. There are few games that can engender the collector in me, but the Dead Rising series is one of them. It’s just a shame that my favourite collection, the survivors, was rendered moot in this release.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 7.5/10 Format: Xbox One Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Derek McRoberts purchased a copy of Dead Rising 4 for personal use. The title was reviewed over the course of a week . For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.