You were right. Everyone who constantly defended the timers and everyone who decried Capcom Vancouver’s insistence of having a new actor take up the mantle of Frank West. You could see the writing on the wall where I was blinded by shiny new toys and a hope that Dead Rising would follow in the same footsteps of Saints Row. Instead of embracing the irreverence that this game brings to the table, the developers of Dead Rising 4 instead doubled down on the worst elements of Dead Rising 3 and piled more excess on top. The core gameplay, that hack and slash with crazy weaponry and vehicles—that’s still a blast. However, this gameplay can’t sustain itself under a mountain of bad plotting, out of place mechanics, and enough open world jank to make even the most jaded player wonder what happened before release.
Frank West is old. Dead Rising 4 makes that clear from the jump. One of his college students drags him back to Willamette for a night of investigative mischief, and Frank soon finds himself trapped in the mall again to discover why the zombies have returned after all this time. What follows is a narrative filled with uninteresting characters and bizarre storytelling choices being told in a game that is hesitant to force any story down your throat. I was left with a bunch of named side characters that I had almost no connection with and a conclusion that legitimately had me yelling at my screen in frustration. One of the few who did leave a mark was Frank’s protege Vick Chu, but she was only memorable for the number of turns her character goes through whenever she’s on-screen. Considering how integral she is to the game’s car crash of an ending, the fact that I was never sold on her as a hero or a villain speaks to how slapdash everything about this game’s story feels.
Still, let’s not focus too hard on one of the least important aspects of the game, as much as I might like to. Dead Rising 4‘s gameplay is much more important to the overall package, and it is enjoyable on the surface level. The same thrill you got from destroying zombies in the mall a decade ago is everywhere, and the combo weapons and combo vehicles make a glorious return. Once you get into the game just a bit, you’ll find that the novelty that this combat provides can only take the game so far, and it left me with many questions. Why does a game with black hole launchers and mech suits still have a rigorous weapon durability system? Why does crafting weapons and vehicles require items so specific that the designers often have to either hand you combo weapons or place items specifically to be combined in the environment? When I never run out of combo weapons to use in my inventory, does the crafting even have to be in the game at all?
Indeed, the game at times feels like it plays itself. Frank West must have covered a lot of wars by now, because it feels here like he could take a tank shell to the chest and brush it off. The only times I died in my playthrough were when I misunderstood what the game wanted me to do, and it never took more than twice to conquer any challenge it threw at me. The side missions are a bit more difficult, but the game never gave me any reason to seek them out. The rewards for these missions are usually just a dropped combo weapon and some currency. The currency is really only useful for buying maps to find the collectibles, which you’ll want to focus on to engage in the crafting system since the vast majority of the combo weapon blueprints are off the beaten path. Combo weapons should be front and center in a game like this, but I felt like I had to have the initiative to go out and find these items to make the game more fun.
Instead of focusing on weapons, Dead Rising 4 has a few other mechanics it’s trying to introduce to the formula. There are detective mode sections where Frank pulls out his camera and snaps photos of evidence while commenting on them. These fit in thematically with the rest of the game, and the idea of Frank hacking computers with his camera’s “spectrum analyzer” is enjoyably ridiculous, but I also never felt as if I was getting anything out of these segments being interactive. The game also has a number of sections that seem to push the player into being stealthy, and other sections featuring chest high walls and soldiers shooting at you. There is an entire section of upgrades devoted to making guns more powerful and a branch devoted to making sneak attacks more effective. These wild stabs at other styles of gameplay seem completely out of place, muddying the already confused identity the game is suffering from.
The highly touted exo suits fit in a bit better, and it’s still highly enjoyable to roam around and wreck giant mobs of enemies with a single blow. However, much like with the weapon durability, the mech suit’s potential is hamstrung by unneeded limitations. Almost every boss fight in the game forces players to get into the mech suit, giving them unlimited power to use it, but railroading them into combat that is less varied and exciting than figuring out what combo weapons to use. Outside of those fights, it’s rare to find an exo suit, and the initial joy of receiving one is quickly extinguished by realizing just how quick their power reserves drain. You have ten minutes to play around with it if you’re lucky, and taking damage drains the meter further. Worse still, there are collectibles in the open world that require the exo suit to unearth, and hunting one down and then rushing back to that spot only to run out of power seconds before getting a new blueprint is nothing but a frustrating way for the game to obfuscate that it has race missions.
Co-op, a staple of the franchise since Dead Rising 2, has been moved out of the main story mode in this game, relegated to a tacked on online multiplayer component that reminds me more of Call of Duty Zombies than Dead Rising. Up to four friends play as some of the expendable side characters of the main story, each with their own separate progression to go through. You are dropped onto the campaign map and given random tasks to perform on a time limit. Your goal is just to rack up points and survive, with your leveling progress being retained from game to game. Seems like an inoffensive diversion, although I wasn’t able to get a complete picture of the mode simply due to the fact that I was playing on Windows 10 and I couldn’t find a single person to play with over the course of a week of trying.
All of this speaks to one of the biggest issues I have with the game. Despite what I wrote in the intro, I know that Capcom Vancouver wants to make a very different experience, one not shackled to the past. In this, I think they’ve failed, because the gameplay systems and narrative structure of the franchise are still impeding the type of game that Dead Rising 4 desperately wants to be. The crazy weapons and invincible protagonist suggest a Saint’s Row-style lunacy that should lead to irreverent characters and off the wall antics. Instead, Dead Rising 4 expects you to ignore the game’s ridiculousness and pay attention to its deep lore, to feel for the plight of its characters. I’m sorry, that’s a bridge too far, and I can’t go from driving in a hearse with a corpse launching crossbow mounted on top to suddenly engaging with human drama that fails in any way to make an impact. It’s clear that the caretakers of Dead Rising care nothing for either its ongoing lore or its gameplay quirks, but they’re not brave enough to shake up the formula in a meaningful way. The product of this contradiction is a game that feels generic despite itself, and that’s a worse outcome than even the most ardent defender of the first game could have imagined.More About This Game
Dead Rising 4 lacks both the conviction to truly strike out on its own and the features and mechanics that will please franchise fans. As is, it's a game that is bland at its best and downright contemptuous at its worst.
- Combat Still Fun
- Insane New Combo Weapons
- Frank's Sense of Humor
- Overwrought Plot
- Incongruous Mechanics
- Meaningless Open World
- The Worst Ending Of 2016