The dead have risen. Again!
Dead Rising feels like extreme pest control. Instead of rats or cockroaches, our protagonist, Frank West, is exterminating zombies; immolating them, decapitating them, dismembering them, electrocuting them. Look around your room and you'll probably see a dozen things Frank can use to slay the undead of Willamette.
Yes, Willamette, the scene of the very first zombie outbreak in the original Dead Rising game, and the first time we were introduced to photographer Frank West. If you've played Dead Rising or either of the two sequels then you'll know exactly how Dead Rising 4 works. But, there have been some changes since Frank's first zombie-slaying excursion all those years ago.
But first, what's the same? There are hordes of zombies everywhere -- in back alleys, main streets, shops... everywhere. Sometimes it's possible to run round them, but the increased processing power afforded by the Xbox One means there are more zombies on screen than ever. This means that you're going to need to kill a few, something the game encourages.
The mall and the surrounding town of Willamette is shock full of weaponry. Some are obvious like knives and guns, while some, such as wheelchairs and fish, are improvised, but often more effective. Combo weapons are the most exciting way to dispatch the undead. By combining unlikely items littering the world, Frank can create maniacally inventive weapons. Christmas wreaths that electrocute every zombie around and a dinosaur head that spews acid are some of the tamer combinations.
The method for creating these weapons has been streamlined. You no longer need both in your inventory. As long as you have one of the items required you only need to be close to the other ingredient to craft it. It then replaces the part you had in your inventory and you're ready to get back to killing walking corpses.
Inventory management has been overhauled in its entirety. You have a separate weapons wheel for your thrown items, ranged weapons and melee weapons. You can flick through them using the D-pad or select a specific one from the wheel. It's more intuitive and makes managing your ever-expanding arsenal of whacky weapons simpler.
Not another outbreak?
It seems the U.S. authorities just can't keep these zombies in check and poor Wilamette has now suffered two. The game opens with Frank, now a photography teacher, and his young protégée heading towards a military base -- no prizes for guessing what they find inside. It isn't long before Frank is convinced to investigate the new outbreak and he finds himself in the same mall he thought he'd left behind 10 years before.
Frank's investigation of the outbreak leads him deep into conspiracy territory and along the way there some genuinely poignant moments. These moments of horror remind you that these zombies you are mulching your way through were once people with families and lives. These remorseful moments are at odds with the silliness of the rest of the game, but they do at weight to the story as does the stellar vocal performances from the lead characters.
New ways to investigate
Frank is back, and so is his camera. Its absence was felt in Dead Rising 2 and 3, and it's good to have it back in action. You can take a picture at any time and doing so at the opportune moment can reap some impressive rewards. Your snaps are rated based on brutality, horror and humour amongst other things. Photograph a legion of zombies bearing down on you and you'll score a multitude of horror points. Set a few of those zombies on fire and you'll get some brutality points on top. Humour is one of the hardest to capture, but I managed it by taking a swift snap of a swordfish stuck in a zombies head. You can take selfies, too.
The system rewards experimentation and it's worth doing since the points awarded for the best pictures help you level up. Levelling up Frank gives you access to new abilities and makes your weapons more durable. The five upgrade trees are vast and the generous amount of points awarded for kills and pictures meant I levelled often.
The camera is also used in the new investigations. Your camera has three modes night-vision, normal and spectrum analyser. Switching to the latter reveals points of interest such as safe-rooms, safe combinations and notable items in the area. This is most useful in the set investigation sections where you need to use it to find clues about how to proceed. These zombie-free sections are a welcome change of pace.
Take to the streets
Eventually you'll escape the mall and find your way onto the snowy streets of Willamette. It's here that Dead Rising 4's freedom shows. There are no time limits anymore, so you're free to explore at your own pace. Some people may prefer the tension of a time-limit, but I preferred the relaxed approach.
It means that finding the games numerous collectables and tackling side-quests is enjoyable rather than a mad dash to get every last item in time. The best side quests involve maniacs -- still living residents who have been driven mad by what they've seen. In previous games the maniacs have been tiresome enemies with huge health bars, but they have been toned down here. As a result, they are more manageable and enjoyable.
The open roads of Willamette are perfect for the game's other combos... vehicles. These absurd engines of destruction are fantastic fun. As soon as you get into a vehicle, the number of zombies subtly increases. Moving them down in a regular old car is fun enough, but not as fun as a pick-up truck that hoovers up the undead before catapulting them out again.
There are mech-suits to find, too. They are present in the mall and in the town, but take some finding. Donning the mechanized armour turns Frank into a super-soldier capable of ripping zombies in two. He can also increase its power if he finds bulky weapons like flamethrowers and axes that can only be equipped if you're in the suit.
You can't stay in the suit for too long, which seems annoying at first, but it's a good decision. Having a super-powered Frank for much of the game would see Dead Rising fall into Saints Row 4 territory. Dead Rising is silly enough without giving Frank access to permanent super powers.
Zombie-slaying with friends
You can run riot through Willamette's mall with three friends in tow if you like. The carnage if well suited to co-op play and the game manages well under the strain. There are moments where the sheer number of zombies on screen causes some framerate dips, but they were infrequent and didn't affect the game too negatively. You can't play the entire game cooperatively, but the separate episodes are fun nevertheless.
There are other problems not least the clipping. Brush against a wall and you'll see right through it.
The glorious joy of slicing and bludgeoning thousands upon thousands of zombies has never been better. The interface is slicker, combination weapons and wackier and easier to make, and the removal of any kind of strict time limits leaves you free to explore and cause mayhem at your own pace. The framerate could better and I'd rather not clip through every wall I brush past, but they don't diminish the fun too much.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One with a review copy provided by Microsoft.
Images courtesy of Microsoft Game Studios and Capcom Vancouver.