Dead Rising 4 [Xbox One/PC Review]

Tis the season: Dead Rising 4 brings back the original setting, protagonist and huge swarms of zombies for another round of slaughter and conspiracy chasing.

Photojournalist Frank West, “hero” of the initial zombie outbreak in Willamette is now a professor. One of his students tricks him into chasing a story involving a secret military base just outside the town, thus beginning the first case Frank will investigate.

Welcome to Willamette. Population: Mostly Dead

And investigating is really a thing this time, with Frank’s trusty camera playing a much more important role than just taking happy snaps of zombie mayhem. Alongside the standard photography mode, handy for snapping shots of notes or maps, Frank can now enable a nightvision mode for investigating dark rooms or a spectral analyzer to reveal hidden hand or fingerprints. Areas where this is necessary for progressing the story are highlighted on the map, but there are panic rooms and locked safes that can be opened in certain locations, for eagle-eyed players.

The camera is also used to document hordes of zombies, both dead and undead, along with funny situations like zombies with fireworks jammed in their heads or references to other Capcom games. These photo ops are optional, but completing certain challenges or achieving high scoring photos can give you bonus Prestige Points (PP, aka XP) and Scrap, the in-game currency used to buy things from various safehouse vendors.

Of course the meat and potatoes of the game are the zombies and the many, many ways to deal with them. In the beginning Frank will only be able to pick up items in the world, like machetes, lead pipes and baseball bats to fight the zombie hordes. These are fine when facing only a handful of foes, or in an emergency, but the key to long term survival is collecting blueprints for the game’s Combo Weapons and crafting those.

Combo Weapon blueprints are scattered throughout the newly opened Willamette Memorial Mall and the surrounding suburbs. Each one enables the creation of a specific type of weapon from mashing together one item with another. Frank presumably carries duct tape and some basic tools around with him, as you can bodge together these weapons in the field again in Dead Rising 4. Combine a canister of liquid nitrogen with a bladed item of some kind and get an Ice Sword capable of freezing, then shattering zombies where they stand. Put a crossbow and some explosives together for a Blambow, which shoots very dangerous fireworks with amazing accuracy. Or combine a toy Tyrannosaurus Rex mask with chemicals to get a barfing dinosaur head that melts enemies with nasty acid.

Blambow! Apply directly to forehead!

Combo vehicles also return, though they are not always easy to assemble, unless you buy the requisite vehicles at a safehouse. The benefits are immense, both in terms of raw zombie killing power and speed across the map. Hit streaks of over 2,000 in heavily infested areas are possible and it’s likely better players could push that much higher. The carnage left as a result is bloody, and bloody horrifying.

Hit streaks unlock special moves with different weapons, and a super powered attack of some kind with vehicles, so it’s well worth keeping streaks going, especially when surrounded by zombies. This lets you clear out the weaker zombies and focus on the faster moving, fresher zombies.

Unlike some of the previous games in the series there’s no overall time limit in play, though a few sections have a countdown until something else happens. If you’d really rather just explore and find all the secrets and blueprints and the best ways to butcher the undead you can do that to your heart’s content. You may need to complete some of the investigation cases to unlock some sections of the map, but otherwise you’re free to take as much time as you’d like.

Once you get done with the main game you might consider the Multiplayer portion, which plays out as a series of survival missions with varying goals. Players get to choose from one of four characters, though it only seems to affect your starting weapon. Blueprints and accumulated Scrap carry over from the main campaign, but the character level and chosen skills do not. Having a wide variety of blueprints available here is vital, especially with a full team of four. You do not want to be stuck with basic items because you can’t get any combo gear.

Everyone starts in a safe zone with a vendor available to buy a selection of items and a bunch of assorted basic items for the team to get started with. From there you’ll have a primary mission to complete and often secondary missions which can be completed for bonuses. Basic missions are things like clearing a particular store to use as your next safe zone, or killing a certain number of enemies with a particular weapon or damage type, like fire. If you do well you can unlock a boss encounter, like a psychotic Santa, for an even bigger bonus at the end of the mission… or you can choose not to engage the boss and instead just wait out the timer for the next safe room to open up.

It’s quite entertaining and also the only real option for continuing progress after the main campaign is complete, since your only option in that regard is to go back to earlier case files. When the main storyline is finished there’s no option to keep roaming Willamette collecting blueprints and murdering zombies indefinitely, which I thought everyone had already decided was a terrible idea in an open world experience.

Endless massacres can become tiresome and if killing thousands upon thousands of zombies with a variety of weird weaponry doesn’t sound appealing it would be hard to recommend Dead Rising 4. The storyline is very much standard for the genre and, while it’s done fairly well, you’re never surprised or particularly invested in any of the characters.

It’s not really the kind of game you play for the story though, right?

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