Zombie survival stories don’t have to be as bleak or tragic as AMC’s television series The Walking Dead. Capcom Vancouver wants to remind you that the apocalypse can be fun, too.
To commemorate Dead Rising’s 10th anniversary, the developer is delivering another helping of the series’s wacky zombie-slaying humor with Dead Rising 4 (coming to Xbox One and PC on December 6). The latest entry in the open-world franchise brings back two major stars from the first game: hero Frank West and the fictional Willamette, Colorado.
Sixteen years after Frank survived a zombie outbreak in the town’s Parkview mall, the former photojournalist returns to Willamette to help stop a new and more dangerous strain of the virus. In addition to the shambling horde, you’ll face two new types of zombies: the Fresh and the Evos.
Fresh are newly turned zombies who are faster (like those in the movie 28 Days Later) and more aggressive than their decomposed counterparts. The Evos are intelligent creatures who hunt in packs and can summon the slow zombies as reinforcements.
While the stakes are high, and the story (according to executive producer Bryce Cochrane) has an important lesson to convey, Dead Rising 4 still has plenty of ridiculous weapons and vehicles that you can use to defend yourself against the undead.
“We’re the game-y game,” Cochrane said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We didn’t take ourselves too seriously when we were making this, even though it has a serious message underneath it.”
Weaponizing the Christmas spirit
One way Dead Rising 4 stands out from past entries is in its Christmas setting. Many of Willamette’s citizens (and deal-hungry shoppers) succumbed to the deadly virus when it started spreading on Black Friday. Frank can still pick up everyday objects to help fight off his rotting foes, and the winter wonderland gives him new toys to play with, including Christmas bells and arrows made out of candy canes.
Frank can combine one or more of these items into “combo” weapons by finding different blueprints all throughout the town. For example, you can attach grenades to a sledgehammer to make the Blast from the Past, a melee weapon that packs a fiery kick whenever you hit someone with it. One of Cochrane’s favorites is the Christmas ornament launcher, which is a special grenade launcher that fires explosive tree ornaments.
“That’s one of the great things about Dead Rising: We’re the fun zombie game,” said Cochrane. “It makes no sense in the world to take a sledgehammer and attach two grenades to it. It seems like a very bad idea to me! But because we’re Dead Rising, we’re able to do that and have a lot of fun with it.”
Some of the combo weapons come from Maniacs, Dead Rising 4’s outlandish bosses. Maniacs are human survivors who lost their mind in the aftermath of the outbreak. During our demo, Cochrane showed off Sadistic Claus, a Maniac who lives in a Christmas tree lot.
Before you can fight the not-so-jolly man himself, you have to deal with his small army of elf minions that pop out of presents and attack you with toy guns. Sadistic Claus’s weapon of choice is a giant medieval axe pulsating with electricity — and it can be yours if you defeat him.
Dead Rising 4 takes the combo system a step further with the introduction of exo suits, experimental military armor that you can find around Willamette. Wearing an exo suit gives Frank super strength, enabling him to toss cars, rip parking meters out of the ground, and carry heavier guns.
You can also gain additional abilities — like creating frigid tornadoes that freeze zombies in place — through the combo system. But all that fancy technology comes with a price: Each exo suit only lasts for two minutes.
Deck the halls with consumerism
Despite Dead Rising 4’s comical amount of blood and gore, Cochrane told me that the story does touch on some serious themes.
“Really important to us was playing up the Christmas theme of the game and also the idea of consumerism,” he said. “Consumerism was a very big part of the original game and why the outbreak happened. … I like to think malls full of shoppers are very much like zombies, and the perfect place for this outbreak to happen.”
The first Dead Rising borrowed that metaphor from the seminal 1978 flick Dawn of the Dead, which also took place in a mall. The idea isn’t as fresh as it was almost 40 years ago, but in Dead Rising 4, Capcom Vancouver uses it as a springboard to tell more realistic tales. The studio wanted to balance Frank’s antics and the absurd Maniacs with ordinary people who are just trying to survive.
I didn’t see any examples of these side stories during the demo, but Cochrane said players can figure out what happened to some of the survivors through “visuals” and other “different pieces” found throughout the world. It sounded like Dead Rising 4 is growing up a bit without going too far in the direction of The Walking Dead.
But for Capcom, it’s still the humor — and laughing about all the silly things you can do with your character — that helps the series stand out from other zombie games.
“That was a big thing for me when I started [working] in video games … playing with your friends and just laughing,” said Cochrane. “That’s a big thing for us at Capcom Vancouver and Capcom in general. We want to make fun zombie games.”