We are drowning in zombies. You cannot walk into a store without seeing some variant of zombie merchandise for The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead, or even Minecraft. You cannot check the Steam store page without being flooded with 15 different hardcore zombie survival games where just catching a glimpse of a zombie means you’re dead. And I’m bored with them. There’s so much zombie related media that I’ve got zombies shambling out of my ears. But the shining beacon in this figurative wasteland of necrotic flesh for me has always been the Dead Rising games, joyous and beautifully stupid smorgasbords where you dismantle zombies with a teddy bear strapped to the teeth with machine guns while you run around dressed as Mega Man. Dead Rising 4 continues this tradition while improving on the previous iterations’ flaws.
Frank West returns as our hero this time, having missed the second and third entries and only appearing in a standalone Xbox Live Arcade spinoff and a few fighting games He’s older this time—it’s been 15 years since the events of Dead Rising—and a little more cynical, but all in all he’s the same wise cracking, cocky journalist everyone knows. Except now he has a different voice actor who does an excellent job spouting corny dad jokes and adding gravitas to the dour surroundings when the mood calls for it.
He’s also a little more nimble. This Frank West believes in stealth a little bit more, sometimes taking out zombies and humans like quietly and subtly, although I rarely approached the game this way. Upon arrival to the town, Frank must sneak in under the cover of night, which serves as the official introduction to the new gameplay features and mechanics. His camera has been upgraded with both a night vision mode and a spectrum analyzer, which are both used to solve investigations you’ll encounter. Weapon combining returns but its much improved—you no longer have to take your items to a workbench but are free to combine them in the field.
I never played Dead Rising 3 so I can’t speak of the improvements that game made, but I did play a whole lot of Off The Record and the improvements since then are much appreciated. Overall the game is easier to control, the user interface is nicer to look at, and the game has eschewed the time limits of any previous entry. The freedom to traverse the town without having to worry about getting to a specific place to continue the story or returning to a safehouse to give your daughter medication alleviates the stress of rushing through missions—you are more than welcome to take your time. Along with this freedom, the game gives you more to do besides following the main story. You are free to lay waste to as many zombies as you want anytime you want, unlock new safehouses around the city, or tackle any of the event side missions that pop up from time to time. In these missions you are tasked with either rescuing survivors from zombies who thankfully no longer have to be escorted, defeating military groups in order to get weapons and healing items, or taking out Maniacs— this game’s version of the Psychopaths from previous games. These missions will net you Prestige Points that you can use to upgrade Frank’s abilities like weapon handling and health regeneration and other things like how much Scrap you receive, which is used for buying clothes, weapons and vehicles from vendors.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll get distracted by these side missions on the way to the bigger story parts because killing zombies is so much fun. What other game is going to allow you to outfit the fists and big foam head of Street Fighter’s Blanka, so that your every melee attack shocks the enemy with lightning, all while dressed in the costume of Bass, from Mega Man? Or wearing a full suit of knight’s armor and rampaging through vast crowds with a Blambow, a crossbow that shoots bolts that are fireworks? Shooting a bolt at a zombie’s chest and watching it explode and take 20 other zombies out with it while they all fly through the air is a sight to behold. Speaking of sights to behold, they are so many zombies on screen at one time with no noticeable slowdown. I jumped into a car and plowed down 500 zombies with blood and guts flying here and there and the game held strong.
Set after a Black Friday zombie outbreak at the brand new Willamette Memorial Megaplex Mall, the main story missions consist mostly of investigation bits where you must travel around a zombie free area using your camera to find clues about why the zombies are back and who exactly this weird new military group is. It’s an enjoyable story, with a legitimately intriguing mystery and a varied, likable extended cast. You’re often in contact with Colonel of the ZDC, Brad Park, whose seriousness plays well off Frank’s almost indifference to the dire situation presented to him. Brad is a good bellwether for other characters you’ll encounter that deal with the serious side of the game, but it’s not all dry. You’ll also meet characters such as a horror podcast host who idolizes Frank or a crazed former farmer now turned cult leader.
The game isn’t without its flaws, though. Numerous times Frank would get caught in a corner or on some game geometry that I couldn’t immediately free him from for unknown reasons. I encountered an electrical fence at one point that, instead of blasting Frank backwards, shot him out sideways, where he became stuck until the game decided to randomly launch him out in the right direction. During some of the final moments of the game the audio stopped working for certain characters, going so far as to not even include the subtitles. And it wasn’t that the cutscene had no sound, it was that Frank would be talking to someone and the other character made no noise. Only after restarting the game did it return to normal. And while I did enjoy the story, the ending hit with a disappointing thud and felt unnecessary.
While I found myself frustrated at points few and far between, I enjoyed my time with Dead Rising 4. It’s a charming, fun romp through a zombie wasteland who sets itself apart from other zombie stories with a sense of humor while still paying homage to those that came before it. If you’re looking for a merry time this holiday season, don’t be caught dead not checking out this Christmas slay ride, as Frank West would probably say.
Dead Rising 4 was developed by Capcom Vancouver and published by Microsoft. Our review is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available for PC.
Terence Wiggins is the co-host of the podcast
Whatever We Call It
, the creator of the videogame online zine
We ? Video Games
, the cookie wizard behind
The Black Nerd’s Baked Goods
, and the Internet’s best friend. He’s on Twitter @TheBlackNerd.