Dead Rising has always been an oddball series, mixing in semi-serious takes on consumerism with absurdist humour and some downright disturbing moments. It may not have be the most polished or popular series, but it's always had a distinctive identity despite its moments of clunkiness and frustration. Dead Rising 4: Frank’s Big Package, however, ditches many of the series’ stalwart mechanics, and while it’s arguably a more enjoyable game for it, fans of the franchise will feel left behind.
The headline change, of course, is that the property’s infamous timer has been removed, allowing you as much time as you want to explore the re-zombified town of Willamette, Colorado - giant shopping centre and all. While it’s detrimental to Dead Rising 4’s character, we can’t help but admit that the lack of a time constraint allows for a far more fun experience without the threat of failing and going back to square one constantly breathing down your neck. It certainly allows you plenty more time to scour the world for blueprints and secrets, allowing you to try and test the game’s vast array of weird and wonderful weapons as you please, but again, it’s a move that some series fans won’t appreciate.
Said weapons fall in line with the series’ usual fare - which is no bad thing. The Blast from the Past, a sledgehammer with grenades attached, packs a real explosive punch, while the Fish Launcher shoots out swordfish, allowing for some gruesome kills. Capcom takes full advantage of Dead Rising 4’s seasonal setting in terms of armaments too: the Nut Blaster (nice) takes the form of a wearable nutcracker helmet that shoots bullets, and the Electric Wreath can be placed on zombies’ heads in order to shock an entire crowd of the buggers at once. While lacking in character in many respects, the festive backdrop helps the game recoup a sense of identity and is a nice touch.
Of course, chief among the new weapons is the new Exo Suit, found in various places around Willamette, and boy does it pack a punch. The suit feels weighty, and each punch sends zombies flying for miles. As well as being able to grab giant swords and chainguns, Frank can also use objects to modify the suit: grab onto a slushy machine, for example, and you'll be able to shoot ice blasts to freeze enemies before smashing them to pieces.
Gunplay is much tighter this time around: aiming feels a lot more responsive, meaning that the huge lineup of base and combo guns are a viable option for taking down the undead. In fact, combat in general is the series’ best yet thanks to the sheer amount of zombies on screen. It’s insane how so many things can be displayed at once yet the game almost never drops a frame, and while Dead Rising 4 isn’t the best looking title out there, the bright, punchy effects of weapons such as the firework-shooting Blambow coupled with an abundance of zombie guts can lead to some excellent looking moments. Using each weapon’s special move - activated after getting a certain amount of kills in succession - can clear out entire crowds of the undead, and often looks as good as it feels.
The game's campaign provides plenty of opportunities to do this, and some of the set-pieces are seriously impressive - the ending boss battle in particular makes great use of the exo suit, and there are loads of moments were zombies swarm the screen, allowing you to get huge combos. There are showdown with Obscuris mercenaries, hostile survivors, and new types of undead, with each type being switched around enough to keep things interesting. A big portion of the campaign is spent gathering clues with Frank’s camera, however, and while it is nice that the game slows down every now and then, the combat is so fun that you'll be raring to get back to it.
The story is more bog-standard fare, however, with Frank being forced to go back to Willamette after another outbreak happens on Black Friday 2021. While the characters that Frank interacts with aren't too interesting, Frank himself is consistently funny throughout - something that may grind the gears of series fans, as new voice actor Ty Olsson is noticeably different to previous incarnations of the journalist. Still, Frank’s new personality goes in hand with the game's new, sillier tone, and while it's a marked departure from previous games, we can't deny that it sure is entertaining.
The only really disappointing thing about Dead Rising 4, then, is that its boss fights are much more generic. Previous games in the series have focused on the broken humans that the apocalypse has affected as much as the apocalypse itself, but the Maniacs in this incarnation aren't particularly interesting. In previous games we had a psychopathic clown dual-wielding chainsaws, a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD, and an overprotective store owner. In Dead Rising 4 there's a guy dressed up as Santa who wants to kill Frank, a guy dressed up as a pirate who wants to kill Frank, and a guy dressed up as a scarecrow who wants to kill Frank. There's a lack of character to any of them, and they just seem like lazy add-ons.
But apart from that, Dead Rising 4 is a game that'll not only keep you entertained, but keep you entertained for a long time. The amount of content in Frank’s Big Package makes for excellent value. Aside from the main game and the multiplayer (which sadly is only made up of timed co-op missions and not free-roaming) there's Super Ultra Dead Rising 4 Mini Golf, a fun multiplayer golf mode with some twists on standard mini-golf, and the Frank Rising story DLC, which adds a new gameplay style and concludes Frank’s character arc - though it is relatively short. Last, and definitely best, is the Capcom Heroes DLC, a revamped campaign that eschews weapons in favour of 16 Capcom character-themed costumes - Ryu, Mega Man, and the rest - that each have their own abilities. It's a really fun way to journey through Willamette again, although it would've been nice to have the option to use these costumes in the base campaign, too.
Though Dead Rising 4: Frank's Big Package has noticeably distanced itself from its predecessors - a move likely to alienate series fans - Capcom's latest is still a damn fun game that doesn't take itself too seriously. Its Christmas setting benefits the game's character as a whole, and the wacky weapons and great gunplay, coupled with the new exo suit, ensure that combat is as punchy and enjoyable as ever, and while there is a feeling that it lacks identity, it certainly doesn't lack comedy. Frank West has risen again, and while he isn't as recognisable as his former self, he's been revamped in style.