STAFF REVIEW of Dead Rising 4 (Xbox One)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016.
by Kirby Yablonski

Dead Rising 4 Box art Dead Rising first released on the Xbox 360 in 2006, yes that is 10 years ago, and the most recent game, Dead Rising 4, has just been released on the Xbox One. Both these games feature Frank West, the dark humored photo journalist that managed to save the day in the original game. Fast forward to Dead Rising 4, and Frank is headed back to Willamette, where the first game took place. Developed by Capcom Vancouver, this latest entry into the franchise has the staple sarcastic humor that has made the series what it is, oh, and of course there is lots of zombies to kill and many ways to do it while dressed in zany costumes should you wish. And, just so you know, you'll find a few changes and additions to the gameplay as well.

The game starts off with Frank, who you control, immediately fighting zombies in a mall. Think of it as a tutorial so to speak. As you make your way toward the level’s boss you wakes up in your house, and you are now in Dead Rising 4’s universe. Frank is a college instructor for investigative journalism and he is awaiting the arrival of one of his students, Vick. She picks him up under the guise of playing mini-golf, but this is a sham. She takes him back to Willamette, the last place he wants to be. She tells him a that a source of hers told her of an old missile silo/base where “body bags go in and body bags go out”. She wants to investigate with Frank’s help, but of course he wants no part of this given his last experience in Willamette, but Vick is persuasive.

Once the two are inside they realize they are onto something big as zombies are being experimented on for some unknown reason. As they make their way through the base Vick decides to do something that attracts attention and both her and Frank need to escape. They are separated and once Frank makes it out he sees Vick leave without him. Frank is blamed to attacking a military staff at the installation which forces him to go into hiding. Fast forward to a few months later and Frank is once again teaching college, but in a small unnamed town under the name of Hank Smith. The Director of Zombie Defence & Control, Brad Smith, has tracked him down and recruits him to investigate what has happened in Willamette since Frank and Vick were at the missile silo/base as was there as a new zombie outbreak occurred on Black Friday. To add further drama to the story, Vick is knee deep into her investigation of events leading up to it.

Overall, you’ll find yourself invested in the story as things play out. There is much more narrative then what I have laid out above, but I have always been an advocate of not ruining a good thing. What I can say though is that you’ll find the current story can link to the first Dead Rising and I think this is great. Given that it pays homage to the first game that started the whole series is pretty cool and it does it in such a way that it makes sense and doesn’t feel corny or forced.

The story plays out over 7 cases (think of them as chapters). At the end of each case a summary of what you have found throughout your game experience is displayed and you are given a ranking based on your progress. It should be noted that at various points in the narrative you will be tasked with investigating certain areas with your camera, which has a night vision and spectrum vision mode (both new to the franchise). Both these modes will become necessary to solve not only the investigations, but some basic puzzles as well. For the story centric investigations, as you find clues, and snap pictures, the narrative continues and once you find everything you can move on.

Although the tale plays out in a very linear fashion, the game is a sandbox affair that allows for a lot of exploration. One of the biggest changes, and one that may bring about a lot of debate, is the removal of the 72-hour timer. Personally, I think this was a smart move, but I am sure there are Dead Rising fans who won’t agree. For me I see it as truly allowing you to have the time to explore your environments, and trust me, whether it be during your first play through, or after you completed the main story, you’ll be doing a lot of exploration, which is not a bad thing. There are so many things to find such as panic rooms, newspapers, cell phones, blueprints, etc. that help not only tell the story, but add to the gameplay.

Of course, you’ll need weapons, vehicles and some form of first aid to assist your efforts in your fight against the undead, and Dead Rising 4 has you covered. Your weapons come in three flavours: ranged, brawl (melee), and those you throw. These range from pistols, machine guns, baseball bats, tire irons, car mufflers, grenades, acid, gasoline, and SO MUCH MORE. Even Christmas items like giant candy canes, Christmas wreaths, choir bells, giant presents, and many, many more can be used. It’s pretty crazy what you might find to dispose of a zombie or two. Switching between your weapons is easy too, as each ‘category’ is assigned to the d-pad and with a simple press in one direction you can equip that category of weapon. As for first aid, should you find your health low, you only need to press down on the d-pad to replenish it. Simple…effective….and easy to do during the mayhem of killing a horde of zombies.

One of the new additions to Dead Rising 4 is the ability to wear an Exo-Suit. This new combat ready exo-skeleton adds some neat mechanics to the game. You’ll find the ‘suits’ in various areas of Willamette as well as in some parts of the story that require you to use it. Along with heightened speed, and strength, you can also use Exo-Suit only weapons that you find (e.g. railgun, battle axe, jackhammer, tractor shovel) or you can power it up with added parts. It’s fun to put on the Exo-Suit and just run through the zombies, and other enemies, that you will come across.

Another new addition to the gameplay is the introduction to two new types of zombies. There are ‘fresh’ zombies and ‘evolved’ zombies. The ‘fresh’ zombies are exactly what it says, those who were recently killed and just turned into a zombie. They are faster and stronger than regular zombies and they have red glowing eyes. The ‘evolved’ zombies are very quick and have a bit of combat strategy. They jump, hang off walls, and are much stronger than any zombie out there. They have green glowing eyes as well as a green aura around them. These two new types of zombies are a nice change from the regular slow and meandering ones, and they add a bit more challenge and spice when fighting them.

Blueprints are really one of the mainstays of Dead Rising 4 as these allow you to combine so many different things in the game making for some crazy weapons, and vehicles too. There are a huge number of blueprints (55 in total) to find throughout all the areas you’ll be exploring. You can randomly come across them or buy a map from a vendor that will show you all their locations. To say there are some interesting creations is an understatement. From the Ice Sword (freezes zombies and then breaks them into bits), Holiday Junk (Christmas wreath that when you hit your enemy it zaps it and those around it) and the Blambow (crossbow that launches fireworks that explode when hit their target) to the likes of Raining Nails (a gun that fires explosive nails in a bunch at a single time), the Do-It-Yourself-Grenade (a martini mixer filled with chemicals) or Dynameat (a hunk of meat with dynamite in it which the meat attracts zombies and the dynamite explodes). Of course, vehicles are just as crazy, such as Sling Rot (combination of tow truck and a hearse) or the Warmonger (combination of a Military DRV and ATV). Blueprints add that ‘over-the-top’ way to dispose, and travel, through the zombies you come across.

Dead Rising 4 has a skill tree system that allows you to use Prestige Points (think EXP) to make you a
stronger character. Earn a specific number of Prestige Points and you will level up earning a skill point which you can spend on a ‘box’ in one of four areas: Brawling, Fortitude, Shooting and Survival. These buffs will help you in the long run, from adding extra slots in specific inventories, adding extra health, improving health or stamina regeneration, making your weapons more accurate, affecting how much health is cured when using first aid/food, slow down your stamina use, and many other areas. Overall there are well over 100 ‘boxes’ over the four attributes to spend your skill points on as you level up.

As you explore the world of Willamette you will find ‘Events’ that are basic, and optional, side missions. Such things as helping a survivor, destroying enemy equipment, or finding an Exo-Suit, will pop up and add to the gameplay. Some of the NPCs will also give you things to do, such as investigating a rumor of some sort and putting the rumor to rest. All of these things give you extra Prestige Points and Scrap (in-game currency). It’s worth noting that should you complete the events where you assist and save a survivor, they go back to the emergency shelter in that area. Each area has an emergency shelter which is the ‘safe house’. There you can buy clothes, weapons, food, maps (for locations of items, blueprints, etc.) and vehicles. Each time you save a survivor and they return to the emergency shelter, that shelter levels up and you can buy better items.

Should you pretty much ‘plow’ through the game’s main story, and only do a little exploring, you should be able to get through the game in anywhere between 10-15 hours. That being said, and as referenced above, there is a lot to search for in the game and a lot of items to find that will not only enhance your experience (Ummmm hello, dress up as Akuma from Street Fighter), but also add to the challenges that you can complete in-game. As Frank is a photographer, you’ll find that you are able to take pictures of everything, and there are photo trials (challenges) for you to do. There are also combat trials and exploration trials to complete as well. These trials are not necessary, but add to the gameplay, especially for those completionists out there. I found that I would search for hours on end just to see what was in each area of Willamette. Fans will enjoy what they can come across when searching the various buildings, stores, and areas.

Dead Rising 4 adds a cooperative mode, but it is not the traditional co-op campaign mode. This time around you and up to three others (totaling 4) can team up and play in a series of episodes that are their own mini-story. When we had the chance to play with Capcom Vancouver online and the best way it was described was as a combination of the original Dead Rising and Left for Dead. This is because you are given a time limit to complete your task(s) and once you survive long enough you must make it to the safehouse within a certain time limit. The characters that you choose to play as are based on 4 NPCs from the story mode, and you’ll learn a little more about them as you play. Each of the 4 episodes is different and they change daily, so the daily game experience varies. You must make it through all episodes to be successful and Capcom Vancouver says this should, on average, take around 4 hours.

During our multiplayer game time, you could sense the similarities to Left for Dead, as you are scored for your performance (e.g. zombies killed, first blood, highest hit streak, etc.). It is also a free-for-all when it comes for special weapons and health items. Fresh zombies, with a bag on their back, make an appearance during your play and should you take them down and search the bag you’ll discover that there are special weapons and items inside. It’s a first come, first serve approach too, as whoever picks it up gets it. Multiplayer mode has its own skills, its own trials, and its own blueprints (Gold Blueprints). The time we spent in multiplayer was relatively fun, and there are multiplayer specific achievements, but my fear is that it may become repetitive after extended play (meaning weeks not days) and it may not hold the attention of all those who play it. That being said, it’s there and it is fun when you first play it.

The voice acting is pretty good. Franks one-liners and sarcastic comebacks will result in a chuckle now and then. The overall voice acting is fairly solid for all the characters, and there is a lot of dialog as the story progresses. I played most of the game using a set of high quality surround sound headphones and I was impressed. From hearing the hundreds upon hundreds of zombies surrounding me moaning and groaning, the music in various vehicles I drove, to gunfire from other enemies in the distance, it was surly an audio delight. Even the little details of a hidden cellular phone buzzing that you could track down from the sound was a nice touch. Fans should enjoy the details here, well most of them except for the annoying sound of semi-automatic gunfire from one sect of enemies. You may even want to take the time watch the credits for all the music in game, as there are a lot and it adds to the holiday cheer.

Although there is a lot of good in this game (IMHO), there are a few quirks to be found. First off, the visuals are solid, and the number of zombies on screen at once without any slowdown is impressive. There is a lot of Willamette to explore too. It amazed me with how much of the area and buildings that you can actually go int and explore. The size of Willamette Memorial Metroplex (the new mall) is impressive and there are a lot of places to go. Unfortunately, with something this big, you’ll find a few glitches now and then, like limbs coming through walls or a zombie who you cut in half results in their bottom half getting up and running around wildly. These types things happened occasionally and were worth noting. Another issue is that when items are close together it can be frustrating to pick up the one specific item you may want to use. I found that sometimes I spent more time positioning myself to pick up a weapon/item then I did looking for it. Finally, it’s also worth noting that if you spend a lot of time in one specific area, things just ‘reset’. You’ll find that the horde of zombies and all the enemies resets, the events reset, and vehicles reset (the latter is not as noticeable). I would have preferred that if I was in one area for an extended period exploring that things were relatively the same as I left them, not repopulate them with the same horde of zombies, enemies, or events.

Dead Rising 4 is a continued testament to what makes the series fun, that being how it doesn’t take itself so seriously like many other zombie games out there. Capcom Vancouver has done a great job with this latest game in the Dead Rising series, and although some may argue that the omission of the 72-hour timer is a mistake, we think it was a great idea as it should make the game that more enticing to so many gamers. In the end this holiday zombie killing experience is recommended for those Xbox One owners out there, as it’s humor, it’s content, and all there is to do in-game is quite enjoyable, even despite a few technical glitches.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.2 / 10
Visuals: 8.2 / 10
Sound: 8.9 / 10


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