Dead Rising 4: Back and Better Than Ever

LOS ANGELES — Frank West is back in Willamette, Colo. for Dead Rising 4 — just in time for another zombie apocalypse. Scheduled for a holiday 2016 release, the Xbox One-exclusive title features more than a little mayhem involving festive decor such as a candy cane gun.

Developed by Capcom the irreverent horror title retains many of the hallmarks of the previous series (an inordinate amount of the living dead and crazy, fantastical weapons with which to dispatch them). However, this old dog has learned a couple of tricks that will affect gameplay for the better. I went hands-on with the open-world survival horror at E3 2016 and now I'm counting down the days until I'm wielding an ice sword and mowing down waves of zombies again.

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Dead Rising E3 2016 Hands-on

Dead Rising 4 takes place 16 years after the original entry. Photojournalist Frank West returns to the scene of the first zombie outbreak as another undead disaster breaks out. Once again, West will have to face down the shuffling horde and uncover the cause of this latest catastrophe without becoming zombie chow.

Larger Play Area, Just as Pretty

Frank will definitely be returning to the Mall-of-America-esque Williamette Mall. However, it looks like similar to Dead Rising 3, he'll have a few areas in town to explore when he isn't fighting through the labyrinthine shopping center. Capcom representatives stated that the open-world is a little larger than Los Perdidos in the last series, so be prepared for a lot of running.

If you get a moment to to stop and smell the rotting burning flesh, take a moment to look around. Besides there being weapons, lying in every nook and cranny, the town and its undead denizens look great. After setting a crowd ablaze with a flamethrower, the reddish-orange flames danced merrily over the zombies reducing them to charred black masses. Freezing an enemy opens it up for a free shot, which will more often then not, lead to a shower of frozen bits. In the words of one Capcom rep, the game has "more giblets, guts and blood" than ever before.

Choose Your Weapons...Quickly

Once I took control of Frank, I was armed with a crossbow that shot flaming fireworks, an electrified axe and a flaming projectile. To create smoother gameplay and more absurd combos, the Dead Rising team has broken weapons down into three categories: melee, ranged and thrown.

I soon learned I could seamlessly switch weapons by pressing the up, right or left buttons on the D-pad. My initial volley began by shooting a few well-placed fireworks into the center of the swelling crowd. Once the combo counter rose to an acceptable level, I unleashed the game's version of Mjolinir, sending out an electric attack and finished up by tossing an explosive canister.

As you progress through the game, can still craft new weapons. But Capcom has ditched the crafting tool bench in favor of letting players craft on the fly. As long as you have the necessary blueprint to make said weapon you can create it while you're on the run to your next destination.

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Meet the Exo Suit, Your New Best Friend

It wouldn't be Dead Rising without some souped-up weapon that does unheard of damage. This time around, havoc comes in the form of the Exo Suit. Clad in a large metal exo-skeleton, this suit allows you to pick up railguns and flamethrowers, two heavy weapons that you'd normally be unable to wield. Now you can pick them up with ease, which I used to great affect with the minigun as I turned a group of zombies into bloody compost.

The suit also allows you to rip parking meters from the ground and bash enemies with it or punch cars into a crowd (Let that soak in, you can punch cars.). Alas, like all weapons in Dead Rising, the Exo Suit does have a limit. After a certain amount of wear and tear, the armor will simply break down, returning you to your usual non-superhero state.

Evolution of the Undead

Although it's always been fun to bludgeon zombies to death, it could get old after awhile. Outside of your human Psychopath enemies, zombies don't pose that much of a threat. Take away their sheer numbers and you've really got a bunch of shuffling corpses who's only attack is to lunge lackadaisically in your direction. Not this time. For Dead Rising 4, Capcom is rolling out three types of undead pursuers. You've got your regular old, slow-moving horde and the quicker, more agile freshly infected.

You know that trick of just standing on a car and blasting away? That's not going to work here. The freshly infected are fast and will climb up obstacles to snack on your tasty flesh. The Evo class zombie is even more fiendish. Similar to the raptors in Jurassic Park, they'll communicate and coordinate to take you down. That stated, I'd advise never letting your guard down, ever.

And if that wasn't enough, you've still got your regular human enemies to contend with. However, everyone won't be focused on killing you. If you're fighting a human opponent where there are zombies around, don't be surprised if the undead start attacking both of you.

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Photo Finish

As a photojournalist, Frank's best weapon is his trusty DSLR. Similar to the first game, when he is culling the undead herd, he'll be trying to get to the bottom of what caused the epidemic and capturing photo evidence. For one of these missions, I had to track down a missing squad of paramilitary soldiers. Once I found them, I switched to camera mode and captured the necessary shot. And since I'm a millennial, I took full advantage of the new selfie mode so Frank can have some great, but tasteless shots of himself for his social media fans.

Holding down the left stick caused him to make a few funny faces, including sticking out his tongue, puffing out his cheeks or just grinning extra hard. Photo mode also feature two additional modes that will help you identify clues that can be seen with the naked eye.

Bottom Line

Dead Rising has always been one of my favorite horror series. It's never been afraid to laugh at itself or the zombie apocalypse, subverting tropes at every turn. Even though it's an early build, Dead Rising 4 promises to push the bar even further with slick gameplay and more of the funny writing and fantastical weapons I've come to know and love.