When Dead Rising hit in 2006, players got to experience something special. Open-world games at the time were trying to keep up with Grand Theft Auto, but Capcom wouldn’t have any of that. They went a totally different route with the still-budding genre. Players were dropped in a mall full of zombies with a cast of eclectic characters and told to do one simple thing—survive. Under a strict time limit and against an oppressive environment, the Inafune-headed title was a bizarre open-world survival horror game, with elements of beautifully tasteless, sometimes unintentional humour thrown in for good measure. It was different and unlike anything else on the market. Unfortunately, it’s a different game than the latest sequel, Dead Rising 4—one of the most ill-conceived, poorly-executed excuses for a game I’ve had the displeasure of playing this year.
This entry is different because it feels like Capcom Vancouver went the opposite route of the original developers. You see, instead of trying to be different, Dead Rising 4 liberally cribs from the competition in the most half-baked ways possible. Every bit of personality that the first two games had has been gutted, and in their place is a thoroughly repugnant, stale and monotonous slog.
The issues start with the story, which is an unmitigated train wreck. Taking place in Willamette once again, players get to explore the small town during the holiday season. See, another zombie outbreak took hold of the town, and it broke out on Black Friday during the opening of America’s largest mall. As it turns out, there was some kind of human experimentation going on nearby, under the pretense of making zombies for cheap labour. If that wasn’t heavy-handed enough, there’s a self-aware zombie antagonist in a robot suit who gives monologues about humans being the real monsters. Get it, guys? Consumerism and greed were the real evils all along! Oh, also, there’s a malicious paramilitary corporation and a redneck cult.
It took three writers to come up with this, by the way, along with the fact that West is now an unrepentant jerk-off and an alarmingly evil sociopath who leaves hostages to die and laughs at human experimentation. I was kind of rooting for him to die.
But the game can’t even deliver that. From a gameplay perspective, Dead Rising 4 is a simplistic exercise in repetition. The once tight brawling mechanics have been replaced by sloppy, imprecise button mashing and some of the most abhorrent shooting mechanics in literal years. Frank’s health bar also starts at an absurdly high amount, and levelling him up just makes it bigger. There’s never a real threat, and through the pitifully short campaign, I only died a handful of times, usually from an unclear hitbox or artificial difficulty spikes.
Rarely were the deaths at the hands of zombies. Most of the meaningful opponents in Dead Rising 4 aren’t brainmunchers. Instead, you’ll find yourself beating up cultists, getting into firefights with soldiers, and fighting other people in Exo-Suits. In this game, zombies are practically nothing but cannon fodder, and to me, that’s a mistake. This series has historically been about the struggle to survive against zombies. Players didn’t pick up a guitar or a chair to kill zombies because it was “wacky” or “quirky”, they did it because they had to survive. But now, with the emphasis on “zany” carnage, with players able to use a slurpee machine to conjure ice tornadoes or use a lightning axe to basically become Thor… well, the whole pretense of survival has been dropped. It’s now just a hollow, empty slog with the occasional firefight or one-on-one duel with another Exo-Suit wearer.
It’s a linear slog as well, with the joy of exploration taken away entirely. The much-advertised mall doesn’t even have much to explore—it’s actually very tiny and players don’t spend any real time in it. Instead, they are handheld through grey corridors and led through a dull, podunk town for 90% of the game. Go from point A to point B, kill something and then go back to point A. With the exception of the laughable Exo-Suit fights (which can be won simply by walking in a circle because the AI is too dumb to stop you,) that’s all there is to the game. Sure, the tiny town of Willamette can be explored, but there are really just audio logs to collect, repetitive encounters to clear, or shelters to liberate. You can fight an evil football team, or a furry cult, or kill a deranged high school drama teacher. That’ll add about, oh, an hour or so to your playthrough, at most. But that’s it, and these encounters are all the same, with the added kicker of none of them being any fun. Once a world teeming with life and exploration, and in just one mall no less, Willamette has been reduced to a boring, pointless, ugly sandbox.
It really is ugly, too, as is the rest of Dead Rising 4. This game is an eyesore, and that’s being kind. Almost constant pop-in is around every corner, and the scenery routinely tears. Frame stuttering plagues several boss encounters, with the final boss actually locking up and freezing at times. Even when everything’s popped in and as it’s supposed to be, the visuals are dull, flat, and plagued by some really bad aliasing. It looks akin to a budget game.
This is on top of behaving like one—expect checkpoints to not pop, forcing you to load a save, or to get caught in the scenery a fair deal, on top of myriad other technical issues. Your scope flat out won’t work sometimes, and hit detection remains dodgy throughout the majority of the game. There are countless odd physics bugs, chief among them constantly dodgy and laughably inconsistent collision detection. On top of being ugly, Dead Rising 4 downright acts ugly to players.
Perhaps most offensive here, speaking as a longtime fan, is just how little soul Dead Rising 4 has when compared to the rest of the franchise. The morbid, perverse humour has been replaced with a cringy, tedious Saints Row imitator. The tense scramble to survive has been turned into an easy, breezy massacre. The interesting settings and worlds are now linear and greyscale, the maniac encounters now unmemorable side missions. Throw in some bad vehicle controls, recycled boss encounters, and audio logs (ugh,) and you’ve got yourself a real loser. It’s a thirteen year-old’s idea of “wackiness” siphoned through dated design choices, broken gameplay, and ugly design philosophies.
Somewhere between watching Frank soak up machine gun rounds like a bullet sponge and getting in a twenty-ish minute fight with a robot zombie at the game’s climax, I realized something—Dead Rising has officially lost its way. Everything that made this series so beloved, and everything that made me fall in love with the first game when I first bought my Xbox 360 a decade ago has officially been murdered. Dead Rising 4, then, is its zombie—something that bears a vague resemblance of what it used to be, but is, in fact, a putrid, oozing mess that’s too far gone for any chance of survival.
Aim for the head, Capcom – this one’s too far gone.