Dead Rising 4 is a silly Christmas game. It’s like one of those straight to video films you’d see at your local rental store right around this time of year, fun while it lasts but not really something you’ll be thinking about too much, or coming back to later on.
Though there is a short prologue featuring Frank West (now apparently a professor of journalism) and his student uncovering a conspiracy at a military base, the game proper starts back at Willamette Mall. This being the same mall where the Frank gained his fame by uncovering and documenting the first zombie outbreak, which will bring some nostalgic feelings on for long time fans.
After these nostalgic feelings wear off, you’re presented with a game full of characters that aren’t interesting and a hackneyed storyline. The basic premise, according to the developers, was to make players see parallels between the mindless consumerism of Black Friday and the mindless behaviour of zombies in a shopping mall. This would be an interesting concept if it hadn’t been done to death already in what could be called the progenitor of the modern zombie film, Dawn of the Dead. But it’s even worse that the same concept was already explored in the very first Dead Rising game.To be fair, looking beyond the grand concept there is a little more to Dead Rising 4 than a slapdash consumerism satire. The story follows Frank West as he uncovers a government conspiracy behind a new zombie outbreak.
You see some exploration of how people react in extreme circumstances, many people hide or seek leadership, some rise above to lead and others take the opportunity to exact more extreme measures. DR4 calls these people ‘Maniacs’. In earlier Dead Rising games these people were meaningful encounters. Difficult enough to stop your play through in its tracks and their motivations and actions actually seemed maniacal. I just didn’t get that same feeling in DR4.
The maniacs are just events that you can walk into, and every single encounter I found ended in a minute or two. They never had time to develop a fearsome persona and as such felt more like padding rather than an integral part of the fall of Willamette. Frank is still a standout character though. His goofy personality still shines through with funny one-liners and playing dress ups with ridiculous costumes you find in the environment, brings some nice levity to an otherwise dark atmosphere.
Moment to moment gameplay is where Dead Rising has traditionally been strongest, and Dead Rising 4 succeeds here to some degree. There are hordes of zombies to deal with, hundreds on screen at any time. You’re given a huge range of options when it comes to decimating the walking dead. Basic throwing, swinging and shooting weapons can be found all around the environment if you’re happy with vanilla zombie slaying, but the real fun comes with combo weapons.
Similar to the last few games you can find blueprints around the world and learn to combine different objects into ridiculously powerful weapons. Found a sledgehammer and a grenade? Tape them together and you have a sledgehammer which explodes on contact. A knife and some flammable liquid? Time to have some fun with a flaming sword! You’re encouraged to build up combos of hits, as when you land enough hits in a short period of time you can unleash a powerful weapon specific attack which can cut a swathe through the hordes ahead of you.As the environment expands outside of the mall you can find drivable cars as well which can be used to get around, as well as weapons in their own right. Vehicles can be combo’d too, with things like a tricycle/lawnmower combo making for a hilarious way to cut through large groups.
There are EXO Suits to find as well, big mechanical exoskeletons which allow you to wield much larger weaponry or fuse with objects you find in the environment for extra power. Things like industrial vacuums bolting onto the suit to let you wield the awesome power of cyclonic winds.
As fun as this all sounds, though (and it is fun for a while), it becomes clear quickly that there isn’t much here when you look deeper. For all the combo weapon possibilities, there’s rarely any reason to deviate beyond a few reliable standbys, when most weapons have the same ‘swing and kill lots of zombies’ or ‘shoot and explode lots of zombies’ end result. For completionists, there are many combo weapons to find, but I didn’t find much incentive to do so besides pushing the completion stats closer to 100%.
Many story events require you to enter ‘investigations’, where you use your camera to explore an area and find clues. You can see that Capcom has tried to further incorporate Frank’s journalist profession into the game mechanics, but what results is a tedious pixel hunt which breaks up gameplay. These scenes feel out of place, and the game would have been better without them. Missions regularly force you to navigate from one end of the game’s map to the other and these seemed to happen more often later in the game. It felt like they were padding the game out, and just got frustrating by the end. I encountered a bug where character dialogue just didn’t play in some cut-scenes too, which might be fixed with patches later on, but were nonetheless, was jarring when trying to pay attention to story scenes.
Above all, Dead Rising 4 feels uninspired. Most of what we have here has been seen before, from the unoriginal satire on consumerism and government zombie conspiracy story, to the combo weapons and combat in general, it’s all been done better before by previous Dead Rising titles. I’m not sure if straight to video, shallow Christmas film was what the Capcom Vancouver were aiming for here, but it’s what we’ve got. Dead Rising 4 might be fun as a once off if you just want a mindless way to grind through zombies with goofy characters, weapons, and a Christmas theme, but you’ll be disappointed if you expect any more.
The Xbox One version of this game was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.