It’s the end of the year, and I’m pretty much mentally bankrupt. Everyone around me is suffering from a Black Friday hangover and going outside reminds me just why I prefer to stay inside and shun humanity. It’s the time of the year when I genuinely do want to be left alone just so that I recharge my batteries enough to deal with another year of work, imbecilic internet comments and the awful awful truth that 2017 is the year of Donald Trump,
Thank the seven deities of Broken Matt Hardy for the arrival of Dead Rising 4 then.
I’m going to be downright honest with you: Dead Rising 4 isn’t a perfect game. It handles somewhat like its 52-year old protagonist after a night out on the town, its visuals are passable and the action repetitive. It’s all that, and then some. Because it might just be my favourite Christmas slaughterfest since the first Die Hard movie made its way to cinemas so many years ago.
Let me paint a picture for you quick. Frank West, star of the first Dead Rising game and the saviour of Willamete is back in the town where the first zombie apocalypse began all those years ago. He’s older, has fallen out of the public grace and just about everyone hates him. He’s also public enemy number one after a certain incident at the start of Dead Rising 4, living life on the lam until he’s offered a chance to break the mother of all stories. If he can survive long enough that is.
It’s a setup familiar to just about any game in the zombie apocalypse genre. A scenario that is ripe for drama, the question of where we draw the line between humanity and monster. The idea that we might not be much better than our recently deceased pals who are busy snacking on some yuletide leg of Larry. And by the power of Scrooge, Dead Rising 4 does a superb job of ignoring all of those clichéd setups.
Dead Rising 4 is a silly game. It’s absurd to the degree where you’d expect Graham Chapman to pop by and tell Frank that he’s acting too silly for his audience. You’ll kill and kill and kill your way through Willamette, racking up a bodycount in the thousands before the end credits roll. You’ll do so dressed in a gaudy Christmas jersey and Luchador mask, taking a few selfies with the dead while you can.
It’s gleefully stupid stuff, and I couldn’t be happier. Dead Rising games have always revelled in pursuing the brutally bonkers, but the fourth entry kicks things up a notch. Gone is that horrid timer, a feature which some fans loathed and others hated. It’s hard to deny that Dead Rising 4 has lost some of its identity without that countdown to the end, but I’m dead happy to see it gone. To actually have time to breathe and plot my next move, exploring a town filled to the brim with flesh eaters and slaughter all of them at own my pace.
Maybe it’s the release date of Dead Rising 4, but the timing is perfect.I utterly detest having to step foot in a shopping mall at this time of year, my mind usually finding safe refuge in a genocidal fantasy when I find my path blocked by yet another family of shoppers who fill up an entire corridor side by side without any thought for their fellow man.
Having the keys to a toybox where I can murder my way across a mall of undead Black Friday sale shoppers looking for a discount on your brains…is disturbingly cathartic. Will the formula get old after a while? Probably, but then again I’m scavenging various blueprints out of hiding and using the plans to build liquid nitrogen enhanced swords and vehicles of mass destruction.
Dead Rising 4 is at its best when it leaves you to your own horrid devices in Willamette, mowing down the undead by the hundreds as you test out your new toys. Exo-suits are a particularly handy new edition, exoskeletons that can mow through a zombie horde like bad acting in a local movie. These powerful suits of armour aren’t just temporarily durable, they’re also easily outfitted with extra death-dealing enhancements that range from oversized axes to mobile artic tundra dispensers, glorious flights of fancy in a world gone mad.
And through it all, there’s a wry sense of humour that somehow works when it happens to be chest-deep in blood. Let’s be honest here: Frank West is an asshole. But he’s my kind of an asshole, the one who still has a few redeeming qualities to him and a a dry wit at any given time. It’s little touches like a fist bump during the apocalypse or an offhand comment about the US government that makes Frank so great. Frank himself is hardier than usual, now able to level up and work his way across four distinct skill trees as he becomes a meaner and deadlier zombie-killing photojournalist machine.
“But Darryn,” I hear you shout. “I want a timer system! I need it! I’ll bite your face off if I don’t get it!”
Well good news pal, because that system is still present in Dead Rising 4. Kind of. See, if you’re looking for the most traditional of Dead Rising experiences and desire to have that symbolic sword of Damocles hanging over your head, you can head on over to the co-op section. Here’s where you’ll be able to throw down with pals, venturing out to achieve objectives, fight bosses and scurry on back to your safehouse over the course of two days.
Kill zombies, get points and keep the action competitive as you scavenge for handy stuff. It’s wholly seperate from Frank’s story, with players unlocking skills along the way that’ll only be valid for that mode. It’s good stuff, and classic Dead Rising in its execution of having a persistent reminder above your head that the world will soon end.
And maybe that’s what really makes Dead Rising 4 so great. It’s the fun version of the zombie apocalypse, a ball to play during the end of days. It’s the Ragnarok-inspired silliness of This Is The End compared to the downright depressing tone and direction that every other game in the genre has taken.
Sometimes, you don’t need to be scared to within an inch of your life or asked to think of the ramifications of the dead rising from their graves. Some days, you just want to attach a pair of hand grenades to a sledgehammer and swing for a home-run. And that’s an itch that Dead Rising 4 scratches perfectly.