Remember ten years ago when the first Dead Rising released on the Xbox 360? The game was downright revelatory: Why didn’t anyone Grand Theft Auto the hell out of zombies sooner? An open-world sandbox full of zombies came at the right time in the mid-2000s, just as the internet began to meme zombies before the explosion of The Walking Dead. But Keiji Inafune, the eccentric video game producer who designed Mega Man and Onimusha, boxed in his George Romero homage with a polarizing mechanic: a time limit. Suddenly, there was an economy of time in a zombie survival game.
On paper, a time limit is smart design, adding tension to what would have just been a kooky zombie killing game. Time limits force players to make actual decisions about helping survivors, fighting bosses, and to feel a sense of dread that would actually be present in a zombie outbreak. But the presentation of Dead Rising didn’t jive with that notion. What’s the point of selling mayhem and chaos on the box when the game requires critical thinking and survival instincts from its players? In execution, it didn’t add up.
Time limits have been a mainstay feature in the games, through 2009’s Dead Rising 2 and 2013’s Dead Rising 3 (I will admit ignorance on my part for the DLC and arcade games, I didn’t play them) until this year’s installment. Although Dead Rising 3 was produced without Inafune, Dead Rising 4 is the series at its least Inafune-like. While such design allowed the games to stand apart from the countless other open-world games out there, it doesn’t mean it was always a fun experience. Yes, it was a challenge, but like those who find Dark Souls exhilarating, I don’t buy it.
Freedom from time isn’t just adhering to the spirit of what Dead Rising should be, it’s also beneficial to the overall experience. In the prologue inside the Willamette Mall, lax time allows boundless exploration and experimentation that wasn’t afforded in previous installments. No time restrictions means veterans and newbies alike can test the intricacies of improvised weapons: Is there a difference between MMA and boxing gloves? (Yes.) What about wooden and metal baseball bats? (Sort of.) Are machetes actually worth the trouble of picking up? (No.)
The developers have explained that the decision to axe the time limit came from players who were frustrated they couldn’t explore all the content. It isn’t gone completely — it’s in the four-player multiplayer co-op mode — so longtime Dead Rising fans need not worry the game is catering to any perceived casual audience, even if a chunk of the game’s own fans were the ones who demanded it. Rather, zombie survivalists should take comfort knowing they have all the time in the world now to goof off, something that’s always been at the core of Dead Rising but was never really possible until now.
Dead Rising 4 is now available on Xbox One and PC.