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Dead Rising 4

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Dec. 6, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'Dead Rising 4'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 6, 2016 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Dead Rising is an action and adventure series that challenges players to find the truth behind zombie outbreaks while battling hordes of the undead in new and exciting ways.

Buy Dead Rising 4

At its core, Dead Rising is a series about killing hordes of dim-witted zombies in expansive locales. It encourages you to kill zombies with anything you can get your hands on, including weapons you make yourself. Most of all, Dead Rising is about Frank West. For many people, Frank is the heart of the series, a belief that Capcom agrees with, since he's featured in the first game as well as two other spin-offs. In Dead Rising 4, the focus is back on Frank and the town of Willamette. While the E3 trailer may have hinted that the game returns to familiar territory, the result is more ambitious.

The story fast-forwards a bit. Frank is a professor of journalism who's been discredited for trying and failing to implicate the government in the zombie outbreak. Now living under a new alias as a night school teacher, he gets a visit from the ZDC. It turns out that the zombie outbreak is occurring again in Willamette, and there is reason to believe that government involvement can be proven this time around. Since his former student is also investigating it, Frank is roped in to an investigation of his own.

Despite what the promotional materials may indicate, the tale is quite serious. Most of the cut scenes are tense, and the characters you meet have a mask of seriousness. With the exception of one or two characters, every cut scene is filled with believable personalities instead of common stereotypes. Mix in some moments of serious drama, and DR4 is one of the more grounded stories to grace the series yet.

While this dour tone turned off some players in some of the sequels and spin-offs, it works in the fourth game because of Frank. He's the only character to spout jokes at opportune times, and most of them hit the mark. He can be relied upon to add some humor to an otherwise tense situation because he realizes how silly the whole thing can be. The key is that he doesn't joke around so much that it becomes obnoxious, and he displays enough fear and seriousness to make him more human. He's still a jerk, a quality noted by several other characters, but he remains a good balance for the other elements of the story.

For the most part, the core gameplay mechanics in DR4 are an amalgamation of the traits introduced in the prior titles. The large array of weapons — from yoga mats to cultist swords, sticky bombs and gems — still exists alongside costumes and clothing pieces, all of which can be mixed and matched. Weapon crafting makes a return to pad the weapon count with things like an explosive hammer and electricity-laden ax. An extensive XP and leveling system means access to better perks and the ability to hold more tools for zombie extermination. Photography has also returned to give you bonus XP opportunities and more scoring categories, including selfies for those so inclined. Finally, vehicle use and crafting is also back, with some really silly designs, including an acid-spewing Segway and large-wheeled, open-seated death tractor.

A few of the mechanics have been tweaked, and the game is generally better off. For starters, your weapon types are now separated instead of being lumped together in one weapon pool. By default, you can hold up to four throwable, melee, and ranged weapons, and you can hold more as you level up. Crafting vehicles and weapons remains the same, but zombies won't try to jack you from vehicles now; instead, they'll just keep bashing away until it explodes. As for the photography aspect, the camera now has different filters to help you take photos in the dark and use spectral imaging to unlock doors and uncover secrets.

The only new mechanic is the power suit, but it has enough abilities to make it a significant addition to the series. By itself, the power suit is simply an exoskeleton that gives you increased power for your non-weapon-related melee attacks. It also lets you carry some heavy weapons and objects, like Christmas trees, Gatling guns, large axes and parking meters. Get access to things like arcade machines or ice machines, and you can give your suit a new set of attacks with elemental damage attached. The suits are powerful and have no speed drawbacks, but their weakness is in their battery. As a result, you won't be able to run around in the suit for very long, so you'll likely use them when you're either in dire straits or need to destroy large swaths of the undead.

The pacing helps the game feel less like one big zombie-killing playground. Large areas teeming with zombies, rogue survivors, and soldiers are punctuated with sections where they're scarce. Parts where you simply have to take photos to investigate an area or smaller sections where you can loot in peace help break up the action enough, so the slaughtering doesn't grow tiresome.

Some other changes improve upon design changes from the past or make some of the annoying parts more bearable. The game seems to save more often than before, so when you die and respawn, you'll barely lose any progress. Survivors are also smarter in that they'll make sure to either stand in very high places so they don't get caught or do a semi-decent job of fighting back. There's less of a chance of seeing survivors die unless you sit there and watch them get overwhelmed.

At the same time, some of the tweaks to the formula aren't as good as expected. The addition of storehouses and merchants are a nice touch until you realize that you'll have a better chance of finding almost everything in the wild. The only exception is the maps that reveal the extra pick-ups, like newspapers and cell phone recordings in each area. The special boss maniacs don't get highlighted like they did before. You'll still hear their crazy rants, but you aren't treated to a cut scene that introduces them and their zaniness. They aren't that tough to dispatch, so if they weren't such good sources of XP, you might be inclined to ignore them.

Ultimately, it all comes together to make a campaign that flows almost too smoothly. Unless you're terrible at managing healing items or forget to use them, death will hardly ever occur. Stay armed, and the maniacs will barely give you any trouble. There are still segments that you'll survive by the skin of your teeth, and the aspects that were previously annoying have been significantly reduced. Compared to the previous games, you have the best chance of finishing this title without much difficulty.

However, there are some issues that mar the experience. Leveling up is bothersome because a good chunk of screen real estate is taken up by the notification. The banner even gets in the way during a fight, since it lingers. Beyond that, there are bugs, like zombies clipping through walls or textures popping up as you turn the camera. Speaking of which, the camera can be problematic in confined spaces or big crowds. Some collision with world or item geometry can cause situations where you try to open a drawer but end up doing nothing for a few seconds. You'll be unharmed during this time, but it is an annoyance nonetheless.

As for the multiplayer, it feels different enough from the previous attempts in Dead Rising 3 and its subsequent DLC. You can choose from one of four minor characters, and they can't wear any clothing that's different from their default. Though the experience is shared by all four players, it remains separate from the single-player game's progression system. Once a team is chosen, they'll be sent into the mall to complete at least three objectives within 12 hours. Once time expires, you'll all be timed in returning to a safe spot to complete the day.

The mode will draw comparisons to both Left 4 Dead and the original Dead Rising. For the former, the general mayhem caused by having that many people around is still exciting, and you have a chance to revive one another should anyone fall in battle. The idea of safe houses also reinforces the stuff done by Valve's hit, and the fact that the mode sports four episodes certainly helps. For the latter, the episodes are split into three days, just like the original game, and the presence of a constant timer is more anxiety-inducing for anyone who would rather explore. The presence of manic bosses also helps to make this feel like the solo game, minus cut scenes.

Compared to the previous attempts at multiplayer, this feels like a balanced version of the sprawling co-op of Dead Rising 2 onward and the more contained levels in Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha Prime. Even when restricted to the mall, the multiplayer world is sprawling enough that you can easily get lost or get detached from the party. At the same time, the limits imposed by time and weapon durability ensure that you'll want to stick by your partners in case things go south. It feels like a natural extension of the single-player experience, and the randomized quests give the whole thing some replay value.

The multiplayer portion has a few issues that take away from the rest of the game's polish. During our multiplayer session, we saw corpses slide across the floor and some pieces hang in mid-air. We also saw some of our comrades start warping from time to time, which was jarring. The cooperative nature of the mode helps make this sort of thing feel more acceptable, since you aren't getting killed and online performance was otherwise fine outside of these instances. Players should still expect some weirdness every now and again while online.

Though Dead Rising 3 looked good in stills, its performance was choppy quite early on due to an uneven frame rate. Dead Rising 4 is a big improvement over that because it has a more consistent frame rate. No matter what's happening on-screen, frame drops are rare to the naked eye. Elsewhere, the title remains a looker due to some good lighting effects and the ability to handle so many zombies on-screen at the same time. The character designs and texturing for characters are well detailed and solid, and the environments look good amidst the destruction. There's not much to complain about here.

The audio for the series has always been great, and DR4 is no different. The voice change for Frank may bother some players, but the new actor's more grizzled voice and sarcastic punch make up for the change in a positive way. The rest of the cast does a great job. The music is also a big highlight, as it covers a wider variety than before. The foreboding tone of the main soundtrack is used sparingly to punch up a reveal, and it remains effective when it appears. Get into a pause menu, and the blast of smooth jazz renditions of holiday classics are guaranteed to elicit a good laugh. Meanwhile, getting into a car brings up a few radio stations with DJs in a few offbeat genres. With the move to a more open world, this level of variety puts it in line with other open-world offerings.

In the end, Dead Rising 4 is a solid game that is an enjoyable experience for series fans and newcomers. The "use anything, make anything" mechanics that have made zombie-smashing so fun are still intact, and some changes only amplify the experience when dealing with the expansive world. While the story is good on its own, Frank's presence provides a nice balance between silly and serious, and the multiplayer also finds a sweet spot. The title has some issues, but they aren't enough to dampen the sheer fun this game provides. DR4 is a worthy pick-up this holiday season.

Score: 8.0/10

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