It’s interesting to see a franchise set itself up with another entry held so firmly in a holiday theme like Dead Rising 4. What’s less interesting is the game itself. The gameplay of the series has grown stagnant in the decade since the original’s release, which then already relied on schtick and gimmicks over substance. But it was at least original then to mow down zombie hordes with an actual lawnmower. Now? Not so much.
The setting itself is perhaps indicative of this unswerving oeuvre. We see the return not only of photojournalist Frank West from 2006’s Dead Rising but also the sleepy Colorado town of Willamette and its trademark mall. Frank is aged now at 52, grown more gruff and haggard over the years (we pick up 16 years after Dead Rising 3), but is dragged into exploring the freshly infested town once more through both personal and governmental pressures.
And I mean super fresh. He visits a military compound some months before with one of his students and discovers they are conducting zombie research. A scant few months later during Christmas, he is forced to return to Willamette to find everything has turned to (more) shit. And with almost inexplicable speed and purpose, survivors have grouped up into savage tribes that have each picked a Sunset Overdrive-esque theme. One such example: Arthurian knights, complete with swords and spears.
The game isn’t particularly interested in explaining how or why this happened, and that’s fine. It’s actually kind of funny to think that one zombie shows up and instantly everyone points to someone and says, “Tribe?” The new/old Frank has also grown into an oddly goofy dude, popping selfies at the most inopportune times and throwing quips around just for the hell of it. The ‘tude of the game’s setting has finally grown into the game’s schlock.
But there’s the problem: it’s still schlock. Everything that you’ve done before is back and, for the most part, unchanged. Hand me a scalpel and I’ll cut out moment for moment what you do here in any past game. The only substantial changes have been simplifications to the formula, reductions that only end up damaging the structure.
It has become exceptionally linear, removing any and all impetus to explore beyond finding and crafting more weapons. There’s no timer system, so any urgency is gone. And there’s no story co-op, which makes pretty much any action-oriented video game instantly better. And each one of those only forces you to focus on everything not bad but bland with the series.
Without survivors or whatnot scattered around to gather, what’s the point of straying from the critical path? Worse yet, with exploration off the table, it somewhat coincidentally removes the desire to even interact with the zombies. It was kind of amusing just plowing through hordes just to see what would happen, but it in an absent minded sort of way as you worked your way across the map.
And without a time constraint, there’s nothing left that’s a challenge here. Sure, Dead Rising has never presented zombies as a terrifying foe in any other way beyond causing frame rate drops, but they were at least a physical hurdle to clear when you had seconds left and approximately a billion of them left to clear. With that gone, so left the challenge and the stakes.
There’s only so many times you can fire lightning at a shambling mass until it just becomes rote. There’s only so many times you can crash a car into a walking, brain-hungry lane of bowling pins before it’s exhausting. It stops being a game at some point and just becomes a slideshow of what someone thought would be fun to put on a zombie. It’s a joke of a joke, and that’s one layer too many to be anything but tiring.
+ Plenty of weapon combos to try out
+ New, aged Frank West is way more fun than the old, younger one
+ Still incredibly satisfying seeing 50 zombies explode at once
– Combat quickly becomes exceedingly boring
– Plenty of space to explore but very little reason to do so
– No more campaign co-op in lieu of an unimaginative multiplayer mode
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Game Review: Dead Rising 4
Release: December 6, 2016
Genre: Survival horror
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Available Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Players: Single-player, multiplayer