Dead Rising In Name Only.
If you were to ask a Dead Rising fan what the living, breathing heart of Capcom’s most unlikely success story is, they’d probably laugh and say “Frank West.” He’s covered wars, you know. Dead Rising was a great game, but its enduring popularity is largely due to the meme of Frank West. So it’s kinda odd that, since the original Dead Rising, we haven’t seen much of Frank in the Dead Rising series. Yeah, sure, there was Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, but that was more Capcom looking for a way to cash in on Frank’s newfound meme status than a serious creative decision. And once the developer was in on the joke, and realized the joke sold games, well, it was only a matter of time before we saw Frank again.
Enter Dead Rising 4: Frank’s Big Package, which is essentially a Game of the Year edition for the original game. It includes an improved version of the base game, as well as the Frank Rising DLC, Capcom Heroes mode, and the Super Ultra Dead Rising 4 Mini Golf DLC, which may be my personal favorite part of the game.
If you’ve played Dead Rising 3, you’ve got a pretty good idea of how Dead Rising 4 operates mechanically. That means that the time limits that defined earlier games in the series has been thrown out in favor of a more straightforward action-adventure title. How you feel about this change will largely depend on how you viewed previous games in the series.
"The time limit’s removal forces the game into a genre that is already overcrowded and removes one of Dead Rising’s best features – the possibility of failure, and the rush of navigating a series of challenges quickly. Without that, Dead Rising becomes merely another action-adventure game with zombies."
Personally, I believe that the time limit – the struggle of trying to get to a place and do a thing under duress or lose it forever, while navigating a large and often hostile world – is what made Dead Rising unique. Its removal forces the game into a genre that is already overcrowded and removes one of Dead Rising’s best features – the possibility of failure, and the rush of navigating a series of challenges quickly. Without that, Dead Rising becomes merely another action-adventure game with zombies. This one just happens to have wacky weapons and the decency not to take itself seriously.
That’s not to say that Dead Rising 4 is a bad game, but it is a bad Dead Rising game. Yes, some of the core elements of the series have survived: you’ll still gain experience by snapping photos with Frank’s camera and absurd weapons, like a crossbow that shoots firework or a sledgehammer covered in grenades. Story-wise, it’s also similar. The one positive to come with the removal of the time limit is that the story has improved. Dead Rising 4 picks up 16 years after the original game as Frank West, going by the amazing handle of Hank East, is a professor of photography who gets roped into another zombie conspiracy by Vick, a promising young student. From there, the government steps in and Frank is back in Willamette, which has been overrun yet again, by – you guessed it – zombies.
Despite this, though, this still feels like a talented studio trying to imitate what a Dead Rising game feels like, while removing most of the things that made Dead Rising unique in the first place. They even changed Frank’s voice actor, dropping series mainstay Terrence J. Rotolo in favor of Ty Olsson. I don’t want to disparage Olsson’s work here – he does a great job and is genuinely funny as a more mature version of Frank. But this is yet another change that simply didn’t need to be made. Changing a series’ core appeal in the attempt to woo a larger audience almost never works, and it’s a shame that Capcom didn’t use Frank’s Big Package to correct some of these oversights.
"Hitting a group of zombies with a grenade-sledgehammer should feel incredible, but it generally lacks any sense of punch. Even the original Dead Rising made better use of its weapons."
That’s not to say changes haven’t been made. Human enemies are much smarter, which means that fighting Maniacs (the less cool replacement for Psychopaths) is actually pretty challenging as they no longer act like braindead zombies. Another addition are Distress Calls, which task Frank with rescuing a group of survivors and leading them to safety through groups of zombies.
Dead Rising 4 is a fun game, and the story is generally hilarious and well-written. If the game suffers from anything beyond the changes made to the core formula, it’s on the gameplay front. Ranged attacks feel very weak, which is not unusual for the series, but even the melee hits lack impact this time around. Hitting a group of zombies with a grenade-sledgehammer should feel incredible, but it generally lacks any sense of punch. Considering so much of the gameplay is about combining weapons and vehicles together to form even better, more quirky combinations, it’s a shame that they aren’t more fun to use. Even the original Dead Rising made better use of its weapons.
The other major issue is the environment. Despite the sheer variety of settings available in Willamette, the entire game just seems grey. This is true even when you toggle on the modes where zombies are wearing holiday clothes. It’s a dreary environment that should be bright and full of color, and it’s depressing to go back to the original Dead Rising and realize that it had more color, especially in an era that was marked by games whose entire color palette consisted of various shades of grey and brown (thanks, Gears of War). There’s also less environmental destruction compared to the first game and generally less to play with. As fun as it is, it’s impossible not to notice how much of a step backwards Dead Rising 4 is, especially when compared to a game released in 2006.
"My favorite addition is Super Ultra Dead Rising 4 Mini Golf, which allows you to play mini golf as various characters from the core campaign on zombie-infested courses. Frank and a zombie named Bob provide color commentary. The mode is an absolute blast, especially with friends, and features a wide variety of courses."
Despite all of that, the game is fun, and it’s absolutely choked with content. There’s a co-op mode, which allows you to team up and kill zombies, but unfortunately doesn’t allow you to play through the main story, as Dead Rising 2’s did. There’s also the Frank Rising DLC, which adds an epilogue to the main game and allows you to control a Frank who possesses a very… different set of abilities. This mode also reintroduces a two hour time limit, which series purists will no doubt see as a welcome addition. It’s fun and it’s nice to see Capcom Vancouver using the DLC to explore different ideas.
Capcom Heroes mode is also a fun addition. This mode allows Frank to transform into various Capcom characters, at different points in the plot, each with their own variety of special moves. By far my favorite addition, however, is Super Ultra Dead Rising 4 Mini Golf, which allows you to play mini golf as various characters from the core campaign on zombie-infested courses. Frank and a zombie named Bob provide color commentary. Your characters are all sporting exo-suits, which means you can hit the ball exceptionally far, and on-course power-ups called Ball Busters make life more difficult for your opponents (or you) should you snag them. And of course, there’s lots and lots of zombie killing. The mode is an absolute blast, especially with friends, and features a wide variety of courses. It’s the perfect expansion of Dead Rising’s concept, and I know I’ll play it long after I finish wrapping everything up in the base game. I only wish there was more of it.
"It says something that my favorite part of the game is the mini golf mode, and that’s probably not a positive. Still, this is a game that is crammed full of content, and, despite all of its flaws and steps backward, it is good. It just isn’t a good Dead Rising game."
Dead Rising 4 is a difficult game to review. On one hand, it’s a legitimately well-made, funny, and irreverent zombie killing good time in a genre that seems far too eager to take itself seriously (see: the upcoming Days Gone). On the other hand, it isn’t a very good Dead Rising game, discarding much of what has made the series unique in the seemingly never-ending chase to attract a “wider audience.”
You would think that, by now, publishers would realize that this simply doesn’t work, and only alienates the core fanbase, but it’s a lesson Capcom has yet to learn. It says something that my favorite part of the game is the mini golf mode, and that’s probably not a positive. Still, this is a game that is crammed full of content, and, despite all of its flaws and steps backward, it is good. It just isn’t a Dead Rising game so much as an imitation, shambling along in a silly outfit, trying unsuccessfully, like Frank West, to convince us that it’s something it’s not. The difference is, this time, it isn’t funny.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Genuinely funny. A good story that doesn't take itself seriously. Frank West. A ton of content. Varied and exciting DLC packs. The mini golf mode is a triumph.
Bland color palette. Removal of time limits. Weak melee and ranged weapons. Checkpoint system replaces old save system. Many changes that simply didn't need to be made. Doesn't feel like a Dead Rising game.
Dead Rising 4 is a good game, but a poor Dead Rising game. Fans will likely bemoan many of the changes, but underneath that, there's a very good, very meaty game, albeit one that's far more generic than previous entries in the series.