Monday, June 12, 2017

Dead Rising 4 review

    I love the Dead Rising series. I didn't play the third game but that's more due to bad timing more than anything else. However, a opening appeared in my schedule which I've decided to devote to finishing off Dead Rising 4 after starting it before Christmas and then move on to doing reviews for the Starcraft series that I'm only now catching up on (after it being almost 20 years since I last played it).

    So, what is Dead Rising about and is this installment any good? It is a satirical series set in a world where periodic zombie outbreaks occur that destroy whole cities. The games have a strong conspiracy element to them with the government and corporations aiming to profit on zombie-ism. In a very real way, it's kind of a more George Romero-esque version of the Resident Evil franchise. Despite this "realism", at least in the context of the corporations and governments actually wanting to make money from the zombies rather than for EVIL, it's still a hilarious series. You can dress in bizarre costumes and put funny masks on the zombies. The characters are often over-the-top with the Psychopaths (Bosses) routinely being bizarre caricatures of American culture.

Willamette is a wonderful Christmas horror show.
    The premise is Frank West, protagonist of the first game and a spin-off of the second game, has returned as the protagonist. Now 52 years old, he's squandered his fortune and been reduced to being a community college teacher. His student, Vic(ki), ropes him into investigating a private military corporation called Obscuris which is conducting experiments back in Willamette, Colorado. Willamette is the location of the first outbreak in the setting. After a disastrous attempt to investigate them, Frank West is labeled a terrorist and is roped in by the government's non-corrupt branch to investigate another outbreak. Once there, Frank gets caught up in a conflict between zombies, mercenaries, intelligent zombies, and the town's survivors.

    This plotline already is a bit over-complicated because Frank being labeled a terrorist has no effect on the plot. Also, Frank and Vic's characterization cross the line from being sarcastic to unlikable then keep going. Frank makes frequent jokes about the horrifying circumstances survivors are enduring while Vic does horrible things while claiming the moral high ground.

The camera portion of the game is one of the most fun.
    So how did Dead Rising 4 do, gameplay wise? Eh, for everything which Dead Rising 4 improves upon the previous games, it also removes something which made them great. I genuinely enjoyed the game but I also admit it has some serious flaws. One of these flaws is the game is really-really easy. I mean, even on harder difficulties it's nothing like the previous games that depended on time and resource management. They've removed the timer which forced you to choose between rescuing survivors, playing around, or fighting bosses.

    I think this was a good thing as I never liked the timer and felt it prevented me from enjoying the game as much as I could. However, for a lot of gamers, the timer WAS what made the series unique. In Dead Rising: Off the Record, they had the option of turning off the timer so you could level up and explore the setting. If they'd gone with that then I think the response to the game would have been much better.

There's a lot of mecha suits scattered around. Why? Because Dead Rising, that's why.
    The availability of weapons in the game is inverse to the way it should be. You can no longer pick up anything and use it as a weapon. However, there's a lot of weapons which can be combined into combo weapons that can last forever with the right perks. While you need to get blueprints for these, you won't need to switch your weapons very often and that's against the spirit of the game. Swinging around a blazing sword is great and all but Dead Rising is the kind of game where you should have to switch between golf clubs, guitars, swords, and kitchen knives as they get used up so fast. Taking away scavenging for supplies is a much bigger blow to my enjoyment than the loss of the timer.

    I'm ambivalent on the changes to how you rescue survivors as well. In the first few games, all of the survivors you rescue are unique and have to be escorted back to safe rooms. Here, the survivors are procedurally-generated characters who can take care of themselves if you rescue them from a swarm. While I was often frustrated by the escort missions, I think they were a big part of the Dead Rising experience. I would have preferred making them able to defend themselves or make them all unique encounters than get rid of the escort element entirely.

The Food Court of DOOM!
    Speaking of unique encounters, the worst change to the game is the transformation of Psychopaths to Maniacs. Maniacs are basically psychopaths without their cutscene introductions and deaths. They're also, generally, much easier than the previous games' bosses. Almost all of them are optional with only the barest minimum of story content, which bothered me as the bosses were one of the most colorful elements of the franchise.

    Finally, if I have to complain about the game, I will say that it lacks the "Overtime" mode of previous efforts. Kind of. You see, Overtime mode is still present. Dead Rising 4 has the main game end on a downer note and you have to do a specific series of actions to get the "real" ending. Unfortunately, the specific series of actions in this respect is to shell out $9 at the online store to download "Frank Rising." This is ridiculous as there's no way that wasn't vital video game content cut off to rip off the consumer.

Electric battle-ax!
    About the only thing which Dead Rising 4 did right was the handling of the mall and surrounding Willamette environment. While the mall is unnecessarily dark, it's still beautifully rendered and a wonderfully designed slaughterhouse for zombies. Willamette has many different parts from winneries to farms to army bases. The Christmas theme may feel out of season if played other than during the holidays but I played it during the summer and saw no reason I couldn't enjoy beating the stuffings out of people with light-covered-trees. The dissonance of popular Christmas tunes as the soundtrack for zombie murder also felt right in the commercial world of the setting.

    Villains-wise, I like the character of Fontaine and wish she'd had a bigger role in the game. I also felt Vick would have been an excellent final boss for Frank but I believe the game treated her as less like a Psycho and more woefully misguided--which I feel was a mistake. The character of Calder is a clear homage to George Romero's "Bub" from Day of the Dead and makes a strong impression despite his small role. I also had a lot of fun with the photography elements of the game and got quite a few "S"-ranked pictures I enjoyed. There's nothing like filming the hundreds of zombies you've slain all in a pile.

    With all these complaints, it may sound like I didn't enjoy the game. Quite the opposite, it's a relaxing festival of zombie slaughter with a lot to recommend it. I slew something like twelve thousand zombies during the main campaign and it never got old. It was just the antidote to all the stress going on in my regular life.


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