Dead Rising 4 is Not a Winter Wonderland

Dead Rising 4 is a lackluster holiday romp through a zombie outbreak.

By L.B. Lubomski

Image via Capcom / CC BY

In 2006, I made the switch from Playstation 2 to Xbox 360. The sole reason for this transition was the console exclusive Dead Rising. The game was like a dream come true and playing through a zombie outbreak in a mall just like in George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead was exhilarating. I have many fond memories of running through that game multiple times, trying to save every survivor and uncover each secret. In 2014, when I upgraded to the Xbox One, Dead Rising 3 was the first game that I bought with my new machine. I went on to play it for nearly a month straight, soaking up all of the undead carnage in high definition. So when Dead Rising 4 was announced, along with the return of the series' original protagonist Frank West, I was thrilled. However, once I finally sat down to play the game, I was sorely dissapointed. The once-great zombie survival franchise had become nothing but a shell of its former self.

Dead Rising 4 takes place twenty years after the first game. The original protagonist, photo journalist Frank West, is recruited by the head of the Zombie Defense & Control agency, Brad Garrison (returning from Dead Rising 3). Frank's job is investigate and collect evidence linking the U.S. government to a new zombie outbreak. To do so, he returns to where it all started: Willamette, Colorado, where a new strain of zombie-ism has emerged and has spread throughout the city. It is up to Frank to figure out uncover the truth, save any survivors, and break the story of a lifetime. Frank also is tracking down a former protégé of his, Vick Chu, who has a head start on him and is after the same story. I won't go much further into the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but by the end of the game, the story falls flat and leaves much to be desired.

Dead Rising 4's characters get very little meaningful development. The mistreatment of Frank is also a huge issue. He was once a relateable "every-man," but the game completely transforms him into a stereotypical action hero. He makes terrible puns and reacts to many serious situations (inappropiatly) with humor and wise-cracks. This is not the Frank that I played as and came to love over ten years ago, which shows how the series has become nothing but a satire of itself. The story also abruptly ends in order to make room for a downloadable content chapter that players must purchase seperatly in order to find out the true ending. Gone are the days when we could get an Overtime mode included in the game for free to see the ending. Now we have to pay a fee to get the whole truth.

While the game looks great visually, it is marred by a lack of variety in character models. During the game's first quarter in the mall, almost all of the zombies were dressed up in green elf outfits to the point where I felt like I was drowning in a sea of green death. Things got much better for a while once I made it out into the town itself. However, within an hour of playing, the game had blended together into a repetitive mess. Willamette is a large area but everything looks too similar. The same assests are used over and over again. Another other thing that really bothered me was the human survivors. Most of them were wearing these ridiculous holiday-themed outfits such as a snowman or gingerbread man costume. It was clearly done out of laziness so Capcom wouldn't have to model unique faces onto their characters. It was really out of place and totally ruined some of the game's immersion. There were seriously only about ten or fifteen survivors that actually had unique appearences, everyone else was hidden behind a mask of some kind.

The gameplay feels very clunky. Capcom attempted to streamline the action by introducing a new player interface. There are three different weapon slots now for thrown, melee, and firearms, but this severely limits the player's actions. For example they can no longer pick up a cash register and throw it; it can only be used as a blunt melee weapon. Melee and unarmed combat is by far the worst aspect of the gameplay. I found myself relying almost exclusively on firearms the further I got into the game. Most melee weapons felt weak and even with combo weapons I felt like I had to hit zombies multiple times to put them down. Another issue that I had was that I contstantly felt like I was running in place. In previous Dead Rising games you could push through the hordes of zombies and make it to the other side with ease, but this time you just seem to constantly get stuck and grabbed. By the end of the game, I began to feel clausterphobic and just wanted it to be all over.

The classic Dead Rising timer is gone and with it any sense of urgency. On one hand, this allows the player to take their time exploring the massive enviornment and all of its secrets, which includes a huge amount of different collectibles. While some collectibles provide some background information on events of the game, most of them don't do anything. Players are able to drive vehicles around, but the controls don't feel as crisp as they did in Dead Rising 3. One positive change that I liked was the addition of high tech military Exo-Suits. Frank is able to find and use these on occasion, and even upgrade them by interacting with specific items in the environment. Using the Exo-Suit actually made me feel powerful and I was able to destroy human and zombie enemies alike. Sadly, the suits can only be used for a very limited period of time before they break down, but at least they are great fun while they last.

One of the coolest parts of the Dead Rising series has always been the psychopaths - the game's equivalent of bosses. They are human characters that have either gone crazy due to the stressful situation or are simply using it to indulge in their evil ways. In previous games, players would be treated to an opening cutscene explaining the psycho's motivations and they all had a unique theme song that would play during the fight. In Dead Rising 4, psychopaths are replaced by maniacs. They are very generic and have very little lead-up to their introduction. Gone are those cool theme songs and the introduction cutscenes. You just show up, beat them to death, and that's it. The final boss is the only boss that had any real depth and, while he was interesting, one decent enemy is not enough to make a great game.

Dead Rising 4 has two pieces of DLC. The first is called Super Ultra Dead Rising 4 Mini-Golf and is just that - zombie-themed mini-golf. It's a one-trick pony where what you see is what you get. It was fun for about ten minutes before I realized I'd rather go out and play mini-golf in the real world instead. You can play it in online multiplayer with three other friends if you so desire, but why would you? The second piece of content is Frank Rising, a continuation of the game's story. It was just horrible, I had no fun playing it whatsoever. The entire chapter forces you to use melee only and brings the previously-missing timer back with a vengeance. Except this time, there's not enough time to do everything that needs done before time runs out and it's game over. Neither one of these extra pieces of content is worth your time other than Frank Rising, but only if you want to see the (series?) conclusion after ten years of investment.

Dead Rising 4 was originally exclusive to Xbox One and PC, but recently a new version of the game called Frank's Big Package has been made available also on Playstation 4. From what I have read, many improvements have been made to the game and many of the issues I brought up in this review have been fixed. It is too little too late, though. Over a year has passed since the original release and I refuse to buy the game a second time. If you have yet to play Dead Rising 4, I recommend looking into "grabbing" Frank's Big Package instead. As for me, I need to go sit in front of the fire, have a drink, and relive my glory days with the original game in the series. Frank may have covered wars before, but this is one battle he most certainly has lost.

The Good

Dead Rising 4 doesn't do much right this time around. The addition of the Exo-Suit is pretty cool. The game also does a good job of tying up some plot points dating back to the original game in the series, particularly the origin of the zombie virus.

The Not-So-Good

Dead Rising 4 has become a parody of itself. Series protagonist Frank West, once a grounded every-man, has been turned into nothing more than a wise-cracking shadow of his former self. The game play actually feels like a step backwards from the third game. There is not much substance here.

Our Score

6.5/10

Dead Rising 4 is not a good game. As a long-time fan of the series, having played each previous release, I was very disappointed. Capcom has focused on too many over-the-top elements from Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. The game also feels very rushed and has little in the way of interesting character development or story. Only hardcore Dead Rising players who have stuck with the series this long, and who want closure and answers dating back to the original game, will find any enjoyment here. After Dead Rising 3 in particular, the fourth installment feels like a huge step backwards.

About the Author

L.B. Lubomski

Lawrence "L.B." Lubomski is an avid horror movie fan, gamer, musician, historian, and aspiring author. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, L.B. was exposed to the works of local filmmaker and godfather of zombie cinema George A. Romero early on. He has since developed a particular fondness for Italian zombie/cannibal and slasher films. This passion for horror extends into other media, from survival horror video games such as Resident Evil to horror-inspired musical artists. In his spare time, L.B. pursues many interests including building his collection of vinyl records, action figures, and vintage video games as well as drumming in various local bands.

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