December is finally here, and whilst most people will be switching their focus to the end of year festivities, there’s no denying that the gaming calendar isn’t showing the usual signs of slowing down, instead being a place that is certainly worth some valuable attention. So, with some of the years’ most anticipated releases still trickling in, what better way to try and find the mystical and elusive Christmas spirit this year, than in the not so wonderful winter wonderland of Willamette, Colorado as Frank West’s latest outing, Dead Rising 4, makes its way onto the Xbox One.
Dead Rising 4 has long been an anticipated title by fans of the series. After all, with Dead Rising 3 releasing way back in 2013 as an Xbox One launch title, it’s been a long while since fans had something completely new in the series. One thing that had those anticipating release however, was the return of series veteran and all time fan favourite protagonist, photojournalist Frank West.
Frank West isn’t the only thing returning for Dead Rising 4 either, with him being whisked back to the quiet American town of Willamette, the location of the first Dead Rising game, with an entirely new mall and country town to explore. But is a return to the infamous origin site with everyone’s favourite photographer fresh enough to keep us happy? Well, yes but no.
Dead Rising 4 is certainly not a terrible game, in fact it’s a game I’ve enjoyed quite a lot in places. But unfortunately, it doesn’t require too much time before you begin to notice some pretty big issues, issues that should quite honestly have been ironed out months ago. Before we get into the problems plaguing this release though, let me tell you more about the game itself.
Dead Rising 4 starts off in a quite a different way to the other entries in the series. From the off, players are brought into a pretty serious situation in which the ageing Frank West is now a professor, teaching his own class full of students about photography. But instead of a nice insight as to how this came to be (given that the last time we saw him, he was facing infection and hunting down Zombrex), we are instead dragged off to the outskirts of Willamette as a sidekick/protector/teacher for one of Frank’s students Vick, all on the back of a rumour that shady things are going down courtesy of a military group known as Obscuris. A group that needs to be exposed.
After a disagreement over the right thing to do, Vick takes to abandoning Frank to find his own way home. It doesn’t take long before Frank is required to make a return to the town he hates most, alongside the ZDC – Zombie Defense Control – this time, hot on the trail of his wayward apprentice to help bust a new zombie outbreak.
Whilst the story certainly won’t be winning any awards for most innovative or most original tale of the year, it’s certainly a solid and enjoyable entry to the franchise. Whilst many will find problem with the six to eight-hour campaign, the story on offer is just enough to maintain interest for the players.
The new features on offer aren’t exactly a problem either with exosuits now present, complete with new upgrades that can all now be made on the fly, new combo weapons and exciting new vehicle combos all on offer. There is also a much improved combat system that makes the usual clunky hand to hand combat a lot more tolerable – even enjoyable for the most part. And there are even newly improved safe houses dotted around each of the maps locations, making the constant dawdling of useless survivors no longer an issue. They can now find their own way to these areas and in saving them safe houses can be upgraded, providing new wares for purchase such as food, clothes, weapons, vehicles and collectible locations.
Then of course there is the new Frank, with a new voice actor and a fresh attitude that sees the know-it-all smartass approach swapped with a much more humorous, believable, all round better one. Even his camera brings new things to the table this time with the upgraded night vision and thermal modes perfect for snapping all those selfies that the new comedic Frank now so happily takes – all taken with a range of facial expressions that you’d expect from any traumatised zombie slayer back on the job.
And finally, there’s the location, Willamette, Colorado. Boy has this place had a makeover. With a new look mall fully fleshed out with exciting new shops and corridors, and of course the thousands and thousands of zombies shambling together as far as the eye can see, the Memorial Mega Complex is one of the most enjoyable locations of the series so far. But with the whole town available this time round the magic doesn’t just stop in the mall. And the town is certainly just as impressive with a wide selection of apartments, shops, cleverly placed safe houses and cold, wintry streets all offering more opportunities to explore.
So, if all Is well so far, what’s the problem? Well, unfortunately, everything else.
Whilst my first moments inside the impressive memorial complex were certainly enjoyable, there was no avoiding the fact that Dead Rising 4 is full of bugs; from zombies stuck inside walls, to seemingly invisible walls blocking my movements for a couple of seconds at a time and poor connections affecting the online world of gaming.
Then there are the audio issues. For sections of the game I found myself fully relying on the subtitles at the bottom of the screen due to a complete lack of any game sound for long periods.
If that isn’t bad enough to turn you away, then maybe the new softer approach will. Psychos were a big thing for previous Dead Rising titles, with many even creating guides on how to beat certain individuals. This time out however that won’t be a problem, as Psychos have been replaced with Maniacs. And Maniacs are certainly nowhere near as difficult as the name suggests. In fact, a couple of swings of almost any weapon you find yourself holding will be more than enough to down even the worst of them. This really takes the fun away from what has been one of the series’ best features.
It’s not just thec Maniacs that have been simplified in Dead Rising 4 either. Side missions come down to nothing more than a simple and repetitive ‘clear an area’ type scenario for both survivor missions, and the new equipment-destroying missions. This all makes Dead Rising 4 feel terribly rushed when compared to the brilliance of the previous entries.
My final gripe with Dead Rising 4 however is in the multiplayer offering this time around. There’s no avoiding that Dead Rising is a game that is always going to work well with a multiplayer component, mostly due to the wacky and comedic nature of the franchise. However, when that multiplayer content swaps a full co-op campaign for a random selection of small missions, things can quickly feel a lot less enjoyable than we have found ourselves getting used too.
And that is the case with Dead Rising 4. Campaign this time is a solo only experience and whilst multiplayer certainly hasn’t been forgotten, there is no hiding the fact that it feels like nothing more than a bolt on experience to help mask the true lack of content on offer this time around. With bugs still ever present in the multiplayer offering, this is certainly something that fans of the series will find disappointing in the coming weeks.
Overall and whilst Dead Rising 4 isn’t a bad game, the lack of content on offer fails to represent the quality this title really deserves. Near game breaking issues are on show from start to finish, whilst the much more simplified experience sees the new features that are fully deserving of praise, quickly drowned out by issues that will be sure to disappoint series veterans.