Throw a log on the fire, grab a plate of gingerbread people, and pour a tall glass of eggnog, because you’re going to need supplemental material to enjoy the Christmas-themed Dead Rising 4. Despite a few new features and the return of signature elements, Capcom Vancouver’s latest is a mediocre attempt to breathe life into a series that has lost the interest of average gamers and die-hard fans. Dead Rising 4 fails to deliver a satisfying zombie-slaying experience and is not the kind of present you want to see under the tree.
In the broad strokes, Dead Rising 4 is a lot like previous entries in the franchise. It’s an open world game about killing hordes of zombies using a variety of improvised weapons, and there are a few things that the game does well, including the well-written dialogue and story. Photojournalist Frank West, the protagonist of the first Dead Rising, returns to investigate and resolve another zombie outbreak in Willamette, Colorado, and the tongue-in-cheek humour helps elevate the serious tone of the subject matter. The narrative is quite easy to follow, with most of the laughs coming from West, as many would expect.
The Christmas theme also puts a fresh coat of paint on the otherwise ordinary setting. Players have been to the Willamette mall before, yet with the holiday décor, it feels entirely new, and the town’s enthusiasm for Christmas during a zombie outbreak is hilarious in concept. It would have been nice for the holiday theme to play a larger role in the actual narrative, but the change in aesthetic still adds a positive element to the game.
Unfortunately, that’s where the praise ends. The series is best-known for its weapon crafting system and it’s still a solid feature, but there’s nothing new about it in Dead Rising 4. More weapons and vehicles do not equate to more fun if they all feel similar, and the novelty of outrageous combinations wears off quickly. The game does nothing to evolve its customization features, and ultimately suffers as a result. Dead Rising 4 should be a step above its predecessors, but instead it feels unfinished and unimaginative, and that applies to the game’s new features.
Since West is back (although he might sound different since the original voice actor has been replaced), Dead Rising 4 revives the journalism meta-theme, and even introduces a new photography mechanic. Players can use West’s camera for night vision and to investigate areas for clues, and while the idea feels fresh at first – it’s a nice break from the hordes of zombies – it becomes tedious and repetitive as the game progresses. Too much time is spent scanning rooms for highlighted items, and not enough time is spent using night vision as a means to explore dark areas. It would add more suspense to the light-hearted game, and would also make the detective elements feel less forced.
Similarly, stealth is heavily encouraged for the first time in the series. Certain missions reward you for not engaging in a firefight, though pulling off a perfect execution is difficult due to poor mechanics. When ducking, West is not fully hidden behind cover, and there are no abilities that help you sneak up on enemies – you can’t even peek around corners. Dead Rising 4 fails to meet the fundamental standards of the genre, let alone offer anything new.
The addition of over-powered Exo Suits at least adds a degree of novelty, but they appear too sparingly. The suits allow you to destroy zombies with giant swords, flamethrowers, and jackhammers, so it’s a shame that one of the game’s best features is not utilized more often. The power-ups usually appear once per case/chapter, which isn’t enough time to appreciate the ridiculous combat.
While the new features are disappointing, the lack of gameplay and graphical upgrades is even more so. Dead Rising 4 looks and feels primitive, sometimes dipping in quality below some Xbox 360 games. That should simply not be the case with a major title released at the end of 2016. Dead Rising has never been the most technically advanced series, but the new installment doesn’t show any signs of improvement over its predecessors. Dead Rising 4 controls as poorly as ever. Movement feels sluggish and exaggerated, and hit detection is also an issue. Sometimes weapons will pass right through enemies without connecting. At other times swings will hit from too far away.
Meanwhile, there is a lack of freedom when it comes to combat. Players can kick, swing a weapon, or tackle, but cannot combine them fluidly. A hack-and-slash game with massive numbers of enemies should have a few combos, or at least some fluidity. Taking on hundreds of zombies at a time should be fun, not a chore, but here it feels like busy work.
The game’s visuals are equally unimpressive, and at times are downright embarrassing. Useable items can be seen floating above tables. Mouths barely open when dialogue is playing. NPCs disappear immediately after their deaths. Dead Rising 4 struggles with in-game rendering, so even with a modest-sized map, new areas still load and change as you approach them. It’s one of the major reasons that Dead Rising 4 feels unfinished.
The few things that Dead Rising 4 does right are outweighed by everything it gets wrong. The new features aren’t fully fleshed out, graphical and gameplay issues plague the experience, and signature elements feel outdated. Thanks to that lack of evolution, Dead Rising 4 is not the Christmas diversion that many ho-ho-hoped for.