Hero Frank West in Dead Rising 4.

Game review: Dead Rising 4 – back to its roots for a revamp that makes killing zombies easier and more fun

Zombie-killing game easier and more enjoyable thanks to creative reboot that gets rid of outdated mechanics and annoying elements. Wisecracking hero Frank West returns

Dead Rising 4

Capcom Vancouver

4 stars

When a franchise starts to stumble, it’s wise to go back to the basics and look at what made the original so fun, then try to recapture that magic.

That’s what Capcom Vancouver has done with Dead Rising 4. The team’s previous game wasn’t as well received as the earlier ones, despite being bigger and more expansive. With Dead Rising 4 (for the Xbox One and PC), Capcom Vancouver brings back original hero Frank West in the Colorado town of Willamette.

But Dead Rising 4 isn’t a remake. The famed journalist is a professor now, and his student Vicky Chu drags him to a military installation to investigate rumours of zombie experimentation. Unfortunately, their attempt to infiltrate the installation goes awry, and amid the chaos Frank gets framed for attacking the base.

On the run, West is tracked down by Brad Park, a government agent who offers him a chance to clear his name. The catch is that he must return to Willamette in the wake of another zombie outbreak – a request that would be like asking John McClane to head into Nakatomi Plaza yet again to dispatch more terrorists. Reluctantly, Frank agrees after learning that Vicky is still in that death trap.

Throughout the six-case Dead Rising 4 campaign, players uncover the mystery behind the repeat outbreak, and explore Willamette, including the mega mall that has replaced the original.

Capcom Vancouver’s goal for Dead Rising 4 was to heighten the level of fun by removing outdated mechanics of the earlier games, streamlining controls and eliminating annoying elements.

Thanks to dedicated buttons for shooting and smashing zombies with melee attacks, the combat is more fluid than before. In the blink of an eye, Frank can go from firing a rifle at hostile survivors to bashing the undead horde. The fighting feels more natural, and Dead Rising 4 has become less about Frank using objects around him during combat and more about crowd control of the zombies shambling towards players in wave after wave.

These changes make the game not just easier but more enjoyable. Skilled players hardly ever die, since they can quickly patch themselves up with med kits or restore Frank’s health with the touch of a button.

As players win points by killing zombies, taking photographs or finishing side quests, Frank’s abilities and powers grow exponentially. He’s so strong in the end that the final case is a cakewalk.

A scene from Dead Rising 4.

The team has changed up the gameplay by introducing a stealth mechanic and more powerful adversaries. But each has problems. The stealth gameplay is unforgiving, and enemies can easily spot that tactic. Players quickly learn it’s more efficient to just blast away adversaries with a Blambow.

The new foes make some parts of the game more difficult. But Capcom Vancouver has given players so many tools, such as exo-suited soldiers, that dealing with speedy Evolved zombies isn’t a huge issue.

With the changes, Dead Rising 4 relies on West’s wisecracking humour and the game’s exploration and collection mechanics for fun. Willamette has changed over the past 16 years, and players get to explore the town’s Main Street as well as suburbs and industrial zones.

Although Frank is at first confined to certain places, players soon have the freedom to search the whole town for cellphones, podcasts and other tidbits that reveal more of the Dead Rising 4 back story. The biggest reason to rifle through rooms, though, is to find blueprints for combo weapons.

The real stars of Dead Rising 4 are these guns, vehicles and ordnance, which give players creative ways to dispatch the undead. The pinnacle of zombie killing is use of the exo-suits found throughout the Dead Rising 4 world. They enable Frank to punch cars into zombies or transform himself into a giant mech when combined with an arcade machine or slushy maker. The one drawback is that these suits fall apart as soon as they run out of energy.

Dead Rising 4 does suffer from bugs and glitches. Voices sometimes drop out during the dialogue, and rescued survivors occasionally disappear unaccountably. In addition, the game’s end seems abrupt without the Overtime mode, which had been a staple of the series.