Wot I Think: Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising – that being the third-person action game where you murder a million zombies in a shopping mall – has always had an identity crisis. It’s like a guy who writes Christmas cracker jokes for a living then runs dog fights in the evenings. A game about dressing up in stupid clothes and bopping infinite monsters with cartoon weapons, but also a game that must be completed within a fixed time limit, with massively challenging boss fights and absolutely zero compunction about killing off NPCs if you don’t happen to walk in the right direction at the right time.

With Dead Rising 4 [official site], that identity crisis is at an end – for better or worse.

It seems absurd to be claiming that only now has a series in which you can strap chainsaws to broom handles, bash heads in with zimmer frames or run around in toddler’s clothing gone Full Saint’s Row. Thing is, Dead Rising has never been the straight-up party it looks like from afar – yes, you get to bosh a gazillion zombos in a wide-open space in which almost anything can be used a a weapon, but if you stop to enjoy it for too long you will fail sub-goals and quite possibly even the main storyline itself.

It’s this combination of sandbox and extreme pressure that motivates Dead Rising’s fandom – but, according to the developers in pre-release hype mode, that’s not what attracts the largest consumer horde. And so Dead Rising 4 disposes of a great many of its predecessors restrictions – no time limit, no need to find a cure to save yourself or others from infection, no even-worse zombs at night, no real-time find ’em or let ’em die survivor sub-missions.

It’s tilted far closer to sandbox, albeit with a campaign that guides you into new areas, leaving players free to experiment with using its many weapons on its, inevitably, bigger than ever hordes.

The result is a game that somehow feels both more like Dead Rising than Dead Rising ever has, and less like Dead Rising than Dead Rising has ever been. A dial that has been set to 11 since 2006 gets wrenched even further to the right. Whereas before a four digit kill combo counter was a big achievement, now it’s a regular occurrence, with the really big numbers now far more about patience than endurance, let alone strategy.

A new weapon blueprint (i.e. the proper crazy ones, like acid-spraying Santa gnomes, ice swords or a Halo rifle made out of an old PC) is now barely even an event, but just one more piece of candy sprayed from the bottomless pinata. Dead Rising 4 is a game that spoils you rotten. Even the boss fights are in the main now more about how excessively you can kill ’em, not whether you can even survive them.

I’m on the fence here. I’ve broadly always enjoyed Dead Rising, although will admit to feeling that the dawn of the dead++++++++++ joke is thinner than it was, but I’ve tended to be in the ‘good times, but the boss fights are a pain in the gluteus maximus’ camp. There’s a certain amount of release to a Dead Rising sequel that just lets me get on with it, finding the weapons (and weaponised vehicles) I most enjoy and the outfits which seem most ridiculous rather than having to grind against arbitrary time limits and sudden difficulty spikes. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

To play Dead Rising 4 is to be a wrecking ball. A dozen hours in and I’d only died twice – in both cases simply because I’d taken my eye off the health meter ball as, by and large, it hadn’t otherwise been a problem. Weapons, vehicles, outfits and rescued survivors had been, more or less, simply a matter of choice rather than challenge. The infinite pinata.

I don’t begrudge Dead Rising this, and I even welcome it to some extent – without the old barriers I could rack up incredible kill counts with ridiculous devices, and so end up in a place where a tired joke became funny again. These last two days of play have been something of a lost weekend – it boils down to me sat inside some Mad Maxmobile ploughing through endless hordes. This seemed transgressive once upon a time, but now it just seems like Videogames.

Returning protagonist Frank West, photojournalist/surrogate Ash-from-Evil Dead, is more or less in on the joke – he never asks that the player takes this nonsense seriously. He’s venal and quipping, with the joke that he is obnoxious sometimes simply becoming a tedious fact, but by and large he’s not bad company.

Though it’s belching gags a hundred per second, the game’s nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, often resorting to shouting and swearing (or both at once) in the absence of actual jokes, but at least this suits the general tone of sadistic excess.

Still, I’ve been watching Ash vs Evil Dead, a gloriously horrible and hilarious show, and so much of it is carried by Bruce Campbell successfully being a total dick, genuinely funny and a real human being at the same time. West can’t hold a candle – and the game can’t hold a candle to the show’s gore overload.

Yes, game vs TV is not a fair comparison, but I was haunted by a certain sense that Dead Rising 4 has turned up to the horror-farce party too late and with only the most obvious gags.

I’ve enjoyed dicking around in it, though. It’s big and stupid and just pretty enough. I particularly dig the fidelity and scale of its environments, expanded far beyond the initial shopping centre and into a impressively large section of infested city. I particularly appreciate that this is that rarest of things, a full Christmas game. It’s set just after Black Friday, see, as part of a toothless and characteristically obnoxious satire of consumerism. (Given that our times have made Romero’s worst nightmares real, there’s much it could have done here, but it’s too busy being that pinata).

This means that the halls are very much decked, and we get Christmas tree lots and snowy mountain backdrops to boot. The menus play cheesy Xmas choons. There are elf outfits and exploding fairy lights. Honestly, I love it. It comes across as both a sincere love of December chintz and a wry understanding that it is entirely suited to being offset by extreme gore.

We get so many glossy games this time of year, with so many of them destined for a 190mm by 135mm parcel underneath a dying fir tree, but so few of them offer season’s greetings. They all aim to be seasonless, all the better for a long sales tail. Dead Rising 4 embraces its release date wholesale. It shouldn’t be so unusual to be running around murdering endless zombos in a winter wonderland, but it really is, especially at this kind of budget. And, this being Dead Rising, it gets to write it off as simple wackiness – like its random medieval cosplay zone – at any other time of year.

A decent enough lost weekend. But I don’t think I’ll be coming back afterwards. I don’t have purpose – or, rather, my purpose has repeatedly been ‘kill everything with everything’ and there’s only so many times that can retain its pull. Even finding new weapon crafting blueprints largely seems pointless after you’ve got a handful in the bank, as you’ve seen the outside margins of lethal potential so very early on and understand that new kill-tools won’t really achieve anything new.

DR4 goes peak power fantasy right out of the gates, and though it tries to break through (with more angry human factions and some mega-monsters) it’s up against its own ceiling.

It’s gone too far in the other direction, basically. I definitely welcome non-nightmarish boss fights and a little more freedom to explore, but I wish there was more escalation, and a little more challenge – that it wasn’t just a matter of going wherever I please and killing a thousand of whatever I please. Hoovering up every blueprint or upgrade has become completism for the sake of completism, and reaching a new area feels inconsequential because I was already a god of death in the existing one. Unless you somehow invest in the thin story, there’s no real purpose here, only sandbox.

You’ll have a good time with Dead Rising 4. But you won’t feel as though you earned it.

Technical addendum: Dead Rising 4 has a few issues, the most frustrating one being that several of its cutscenes cause it to crash to desktop. The only way to avoid this was to skip the cutscenes, which I was able to do with zero regret. It also has a number of bugs, such as clipping errors, disappearing items and friendly NPCs which spawned half a dozen duplicates of themselves who then spoke in a terrifying chorus. Bar the crashing, none of these things meaningfully interrupted the experience, but it could definitely use a patch or two.

Dead Rising 4 is out now. At present, it is only available from the Windows 10 store.

14 Comments

  1. eqzitara says:

    I understand shit happens in development so even though story, characters, gameplay are worse then dead rising 3…

    Why does it look a lot worse. I actually played DR3 for a second time right before it came out to get caught up [not that it mattered]. Graphics/textures are a lot worse. You would think its to get more zombies on screen but there are less. Makes 0 sense.

    • caff says:

      I’ve only ever played Dead Rising 3 – which I loved – so even thought I’ve read Alec’s thoughts carefully, I’m still not quite sure if I should go for this. Part of me is saying yes, but the in the last story about DR4 someone commented that it was a downgrade in every respect.

      I welcome more opinions from people who have tried this vs DR3.

      • eqzitara says:

        At least wait for steam release. No one is even talking about it on PC cause no one bought it. Maybe they will at least improve it graphically by then + season pass inclusion.

        Yea, its a downgrade from 3 in every respect. I played the others and 3 was easily my favorite.
        I really dont think I am going to be able to sit through this one and I played them all.

        Its not just as a fan of the series. Its just not a great game. Gameplay of bosses/psychos wasnt really great in ANY of them. I will admit but the humor/cinematics made it so worth it.
        This one likes heres a psycho. Kill it. No story, no dialog, just a dude you kill.

      • Alphabet says:

        It’s shit. It’s so disappointing. My favourite in the series is DR2: OTR, which was great. I also really enjoyed DR3. This one was going to be Frank West with DR3’s graphics and weapons, I thought, and I would have loved that. Quick, weird edge-browser store, take my $60!

        But oh my god. It’s janky as all get out. It looks horrible. The sidequests and events are like Fallout 4’s settlement X is under attack! quests. You have to rescue X+3 survivors per zone to level up safehouses to open up some gated content like maps and skills, and in a full playthrough I only got one safehouse to level 3 (of 5) and so couldn’t spend all the currency I’d accumulated.

        The story is serious rather than funny, and Frank is a superman rather than a out of shape photographer with a heart of gold. The other characters have no character. So not only is it somehow technically a huge, huge step back from DR3, it’s also a step back storywise from DR3, and DR3’s story was a waste of words.

        But worst of all, and I mean really worst of all, the combat is like fighting with pom-poms. The reach of a gigantic acid-dripping maul is about two feet in front of you. Zombies, the clever buggers, hang in that zone 2.1 feet in front of you so half the time you swing the thing and miss. Then the zombie comes in and nibbles on you for a second, doing 20 damage to your 500 starting hitpoints. Compared to the sheer joy of blasting the traffic-cone+foghorn weapon from DR3, or some of the broadsword weapons in DR2, this isn’t comparable. I ended up using ranged weapons almost exclusively. The vehicles are all variations on a tricycle with chariot blades, though not as funny, or as fast.

        No solidity to combat, no threat to combat. It’s Dead Rising as cow clicker. Do not buy it. Do not rent it. Do not play it.

        • caff says:

          Thanks eqzitara and Alphabet for the feedback, and sorry you had to go through some of that to tell me it! Sounds pretty awful, all things considered.

          I’ll wait and see what happens on the Steam launch, but I’ve a bad feeling it won’t fare well.

  2. SenorRoboto says:

    The only way to avoid this was to skip the cutscenes, which I was able to do with zero regret.

    Hohoho

  3. Shinard says:

    I… actually kind of like the boss fights. At least in Dead Rising 2. No, not Leon or the Chef, I’m not crazy. I hated them with a burning passion, like any normal human being. But the rest – once you accepted that these apparently normal humans could take a shotgun to the face without flinching, I actually enjoyed them.

    They’re unfair, obviously, but they’re consistently unfair, so you can adapt to it relatively easily. And it’s just nice to use all these insane tools of death you’ve been building up against something that can’t be defeated with a light breeze. They’re kinda thrilling, and a decent challenge. Far from the best bosses in gaming, but I still enjoyed them.

    On the flipside, screw those timers. It’s just my completionist tendencies, but I feel like I can’t screw around in the mall, try on clothes, play games, hit zombies with golfballs, without letting some poor sod die. Cutting them does seem extreme, but I would be entirely behind lengthening them so that I can enjoy myself a bit more.

    • Neoviper says:

      I liked the timers, because when I want to tryhard and save everyone it’s a good challenge, and when I want to just wander around killing and exploring as I please then I can ignore them. Cutting timers was a terrible choice, and probably signals the end of the franchise.

  4. Drib says:

    What I liked about the first dead rising is that you were always in danger. No matter how ‘powerful’ Frank got, if you stopped paying attention it was super easy to just get straight murdered.

    Well, except I guess once you got the zombie walk.

    But anyway, making it so that he’s just Rambo makes it a lot less fun-looking.

  5. malkav11 says:

    I feel like stripping out the time limits, limited saves, and so forth pretty much destroyed anything interesting about the series. I’m not saying they were always fun things to deal with, but they gave it personality and really shaped the design. Dead Rising 3 was already largely a shapeless gelatinous mass of “wacky” sandbox and pushing even further in that direction does nobody any favors. Unless you -really- just want to run around in a silly costume and mindlessly mow down unthreatening enemies with some ludicrous stitched together weapon, in which case, well, here’s your game, I guess.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Yeah…I felt like #2 went just the right amount in the wacky direction. Then #3 went way too far and lost a lot of the paradoxical charm of the first two, becoming a game of confused zombie killie funtimes. Too bad they decided to fix the “confused” bit, rather than dialing it back and being truly unique in some way.

      I hope we’ll see a spiritual successor to DR 1/2 someday, because I really miss playing ’em for the first time.

  6. Zombra says:

    Every game in the series has been easier and dumber than the previous one, so this is no surprise. I’ll play it just as a thank you to Capcom for making Dead Rising 1, and I may even enjoy it while it lasts, but it sounds completely unmemorable.

  7. Unsheep says:

    What ‘identity crisis’ ?

    Only people who don’t enjoy a particular frachise to begin with will claim that the said franchise suffers from an ‘idenity crisis’.

    It’s also odd that we never hear the ‘identity crisis’ argument from these people when it comes the most trendy of franchises, like Dark Souls, Fallout, Elder Scrolls and so on. People are rather convenient with what franchises they attach this tag to.

    The gameplay and premise behind each and every Dead Rising games is highly consistent and clear: kill hordes of zombies using crude or ingenious weapons. Add an survival elements, open-world, lots of gore and quirky bosses, and you have a Dead Rising game.

  8. neofit says:

    Time limits are an instant no-sale for me, now it’s worth picking up on a Steam sale, still too many non-console-y not-checkpoint-y games in the wishlist.