Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising is one of my favorite games and I've been keeping up with the series since it's inception. I remember seeing early screenshots of the game prior to obtaining an xbox 360 and imagining what a game like that could possibly be like. I still remember fondly the days of playing it for the first time, in my first apartment, with whom would later become my wife. We instantly fell for the charisma of the Frank West character and enjoyed the game thoroughly. It really showed off what was capable with the gaming hardware of the time and I greatly admired it's unique and interesting game design, so much so that I remain more than willing to overlook whatever execution related flaws the game had.

I begin to think Dead Rising was surely well...dead, but lo and behold a sequel came down to us courtesy of a Canadian studio that would later become known as Capcom Vancouver. I had my concerns about what might happen with such a unique game design when put into the hands of western developers after having waded through the deluge of ignorant criticisms laid at the feet of the first game by many gamers on this side of the ocean. Would they give into these stupid complaints about the time limit and about saving survivors? Would they remove the tongue and cheek humor and ridicule?

No! They nailed it! They really, really nailed it!

Dead Rising 2 remains perhaps the most objectively polished game in the series, in fact, It's difficult for me to identify a single element from the first Dead Rising that was not objectively superior in the second. Sure, there are things I consider better as a matter of sheer preference; I happen to find Frank more charismatic than Chuck, but I really liked Chuck too, and it's only those sorts of very subjective claims to superiority on behalf of Dead Rising one that I can make.

Well, except for the jump kick. If I remember correctly, I recall that being far more effective in the first game.

Then, along came Dead Rising 3. Surely this is where things go wrong. Look at the colors! Look at the marketing! They've gone too serious!

...Nope! Dead Rising 3 was good too! No, it wasn't on par with the first two, but it did manage to open up the game to a much larger environment with out completely sacrificing what makes a Dead Rising game work. There were even some improvements; This one handled survivors the best by far. I chalked up some of the decisions made here as concessions, perhaps to Microsoft, to make the game as palatable to as many as possible.

Then along comes Dead Rising 4, featuring none other than Frank himself, back in Willamette even. With a proven track record under their belt, CapVan left me feeling confident walking into DR4. I barely even paid attention to the game prior to release, despite being set on an early purchase (I reserve this behavior for only very, very special games. I really like Dead Rising.)

And, well...I'm having fun with it so far. It's good. It even has some improvements none of the previous titles could lay claim to. But, it also seems that CapVan has finally taken that brutal axe swing at the foundation of the Dead Rising design I have been fearing since the second game was announced.

DR4 has omitted two absolutely vital elements to the DR design and weakened or confusingly altered some of the tertiary elements. The exceedingly important timer mechanic is finally removed and people everywhere who dislike Dead Rising 1, 2, and 3, and probably aren't interested in buying Dead Rising 4, can finally rejoice. Additionally, survivors have been completely removed as a dynamic game mechanic and have been relegated to a collectible upgrade for the game's new vendor system, which in itself is of dubious desirability in a game that ostensibly challenges you to make due with whatever you happen to find.

Less critically, the challenge has been significantly lessened. This is the easiest Dead Rising by far and although there is some cleverness to the way items are now handled, some functionality has been lost. Frank West himself looks very different, inexplicably so, and the new voice actor increasingly distances the new Frank from the one you'll remember. He's written a little differently too; oftentimes I enjoy the writing here, but he also makes some decisions that seem a little out of character to me. Frank was always kind of an asshole, but an asshole with a heart of gold...or at least silver. Frank actually straight up leaves a guy to his potential death and I couldn't quite tell if they were playing it up for humor or if Frank genuinely didn't care if this guy died.

I could go on for some time, but this is starting to get pretty lengthy. All in all, these sorts of decisions have arguably taken Dead Rising 4 out of the survival horror category. This is starting to sound pretty negative, but like I mentioned previously, I am enjoying it and I continue to play. I just find it striking because 1) I love Dead Rising 2) CapVan has consistently impressed me and 3) I've been worried about these sorts of changes since the second game was announced. As things stand currently, it may be my least favorite in the series and I'm a little worried about what this might mean for a potential Dead Rising 5, but it's still fun to see Frank back at it again and it's fun seeing some actual "investigation" mechanics. I'll keep going and we'll see how this one turns out.

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