The Many Faces of Frank West
What do we see in anti-heroes that reaches inside of us and gives our heart feelers a little ping. My first and most adored anti-hero was and still is Ash Williams from the popular Evil Dead series. In my young life I had never saw a hero so self absorbed yet fearless, stumbling through one achievement over darkness after another. In a day and age when I was surrounded by the He-mans, Ninja Turtles, and Ghostbusters of the world, heroes were meant to be pious in their convictions. Doing things for themselves was not a motif that was resonating with the hero archetype of the years gone by in my early childhood. Due to this not so subtle deviation from what I would consider the “normal” hero put Ash on a special pedestal.
As flawed human beings we can only wish and hope to hold ourselves up to a fraction of selflessness displayed in most of our beloved heroes but with Ash and other anti-heroes their flaws resonate with us because we share their brokenness, their humanity shows through just a little bit more. Ash wasn’t the only anti-hero to steal our hearts in recent popular culture. It was August 2006 when the world was introduced to Ash 2.0 in the form of Frank West. Instead of deadites it was zombies, instead of a cabin in the woods it was a mega mall, instead of a boom stick and a chainsaw…wait who I am kidding it was still about the boomstick and the chainsaw. The parallels between the two anti-heroes ran deep, both share the same bravado, dripping with machismo only when the right audience was present. Both enjoyed the sounds of their own voices and were quick to nail perfect one liner after one liner, and both had the same favorite past time, themselves.
Self absorption isn’t the only character trait that runs parallel between Frank West and Ash, in truth the more time I spent with Frank in Dead Rising (DR) 1 and 4, the more commonalities these two renowned anti-heroes had. But like any good hero, anti-hero or otherwise, there is character growth. In DR1 we got to know and love a Frank that was in it for himself, to be on the front page of life, Pulitzer in hand, notoriety on the backs of all the victims of the original Willamette experiment gone wrong. This is the face of Frank West that we know the best, the face of the anti-hero.
Flash forward to DR4, and the focus of this review/commentary, we have a different Frank, one troubled by his actions past, one that was made example of by a corrupt shadowy government complex we all love to hate. From a setting perspective DR4 brings us to the heart of a town we only imagined when looking through the blood tinted mall windows of the franchise’s beginnings. Bringing back a mix of nostalgic memories of saving survivors and making examples of cult leaders/maniacs as we carved our way to an “A overtime” mode finish, one government conspiracy at a time.
What Capcom was able to do this time was to take what is in my opinion the best elements of all three previous installments and put them into one game. We have the open space mall jam packed with anger management outlets from DR2 which built on what felt small and cramped in the original. Then we had aspects of DR3 that had a focus on the real life impact of a town where an outbreak took place, giving the player the freedom to explore outside of the mall settings and into one ripe with side quests, survivors and victim stories, and the ability to take the building system far beyond anything we saw in previous installments. Of course not to leave the original out, we have Frank and all his wit, charm, and glass half empty humor. Finally lets not forget the town the started it all, Willamette, the town who’s sprite population has been sacrificing themselves to the “user” for over a decade, without them our Blam Bow shots wouldn’t have a cadaver to call home — cue the Christmas fireworks.
For me this combination of the three previous installments found its mark when it came to bringing this franchise full circle, Frank West, the alpha and the omega, the first and the last. Without going into too much detail it’s not hard to see where the franchise is going from here as the proverbial torch is passed onto the next generation of investigative photo journalists and gamers. Searching for truth in unanswered questions around deep seated government shadow operations, but for many reasons this is a transition that won’t involve Frank West. This is at the heart of this write up, taking time to pay homage to a hero who has generally fallen under the radar before he disappears into analogs of video game history. These are the many faces of Frank West.