Dead Rising 4 is the ultimate zombie-slaying power fantasy. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The goofy open-world action series has close ties with the Xbox brand. The original Dead Rising was an Xbox 360 exclusive, and Dead Rising 3 was one of the launch games for Xbox One. Each entry gives players the freedom to kill the undead as they see fit — and to look good while doing it.
For Dead Rising 4 (out December 6 on Xbox One and PC), developer Capcom Vancouver brought back two key pieces from the first game: hero Frank West and the fictional town of Willamette, Colorado. One of Frank’s journalism students lures him back to where the outbreak began, and together, they have to stop a more dangerous version of the zombie virus. As Frank, you’ll travel all over the town to piece the story together while also crafting bizarre weapons to defend yourself.
Dead Rising 4 is at its best when it comes to the sheer number of ways you can slaughter your foes. I lost track of time in the first big area, the Willamette Memorial Megaplex mall, because I kept running into all the different shops and finding new ways of cutting down the horde.
But the experimentation lost its appeal as the body count racked up into the tens of thousands. It became too tedious.
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What you’ll like
Finding your favorite weapons
Part of the fun in Dead Rising 4 is seeing all the crazy weapons Capcom created. While you start off with normal things like chairs or knives, you’ll soon find blueprints for combo weapons, which teach you how to combine two objects into something more powerful. My favorites are the silly but highly effective Blambow, a crossbow that uses fireworks as arrows, and the Nut Blaster, a machine gun hidden inside a large Nutcracker mask that actually plays the theme song from The Nutcracker ballet.
With 47 different combo weapons and eight combo vehicles, you can spend a lot of time finding out what each one is like. And as in past games, Dead Rising 4 contains a lot of references to other Capcom franchises. I was excited when I discovered that the Blanka costumes I was seeing around town were also a part of the combo system.
Known as Roaring Thunder, this weapon dresses Frank in a rubber Blanka mask and a pair of green claws. He can electrocute his enemies with the same hunched-over attack that Blanka uses in Street Fighter. It’s a great addition.
Diving head first into the horde
After you learn the basics of combat at the mall, you’re free to roam around the town. That’s where Dead Rising 4’s gameplay really shines. Throngs of zombies fill the different streets and bridges, sometimes numbering in the thousands. Seeing so many of them packed together felt a lot like going to a pool on a really hot day — I just couldn’t wait to jump in.
I sometimes forgot where I was supposed to go next in the story because I was too busy slicing my way through a herd and causing as much damage as possible.
Multiplayer is a great alternative
I didn’t expect much from the online multiplayer mode, but it’s surprisingly enjoyable if you’re looking for a challenge. Up to four players can team up and try to survive a couple of in-game days in the mall. Each day has missions that your group needs to complete in a limited amount of time, about 15 minutes or so. The episodes gradually become harder and harder as they introduce the different zombie and human enemies from the main game.
But the most important difference from Frank’s adventure is that your weapons break more easily, forcing you to constantly scrounge for random items just so you have something to fight back with. Since you don’t have a lot of time to plan ahead, the multiplayer mode also tests how well you know the basic ingredients behind your blueprints. I created combo weapons whenever I could, even if they were ones I didn’t like or just didn’t use much in the single-player offering.
That sense of urgency is a refreshing change from the lackadaisical pacing in Frank’s story. I’d love to see Capcom Vancouver expand on this mode in the future.
What you won’t like
Dead Rising 4 can render thousands of zombies on-screen without a hitch, but it does have a few nagging issues. Sometimes, the button prompts that let you know when you can open a door or pick up a weapon disappeared, and the only way I got around that was by walking away for a few seconds before coming back to the object.
Every once in a while, human survivors popped up in the middle of a big horde, and that made it almost impossible to rescue them. Actually, I’m not sure if that counts as a bug. But it was still annoying because saving people helps you level up emergency shelters, which in turn gives you more items you can buy from their vendors.
Dead Rising 4 also crashed twice (once in single-player mode and once during a multiplayer match), abruptly sending me back to the Xbox One’s dashboard. But the most egregious hiccup was during the last mission, which was missing half of its dialogue and subtitles. The characters still mouthed the words, but nothing came out. The awkward silence ruined one of Dead Rising 4’s few emotional moments.
I reached out to Microsoft to see if an upcoming patch will address these problems, and I’ll update this if I hear back.
It’s too easy
Dead Rising 4 doesn’t want you to fail. Even if you wanted to, you can’t change the difficulty level. I only died three or four times, and all of those deaths came from a challenging point toward the end of the game. The forgiving gameplay is fine if you only hop on for an hour or two at a time, but it becomes boring if you play in long chunks (like I mostly did). I was never in any danger, even when zombies cornered or surrounded me. The different types of enemies — faster zombies, smarter zombies, and paramilitary soldiers — helped break the monotony, but I was still just mashing buttons to kill them.
The outlandish Maniacs, human survivors who lost their minds after the outbreak, were also disappointing. They more or less followed the same formula. First, you hear a few lines of dialogue that show how crazy they are. Then, you fight the Maniac’s minions. And finally, you face the flamboyant leader.
I’m not sure how many of these optional encounters exist in Willamette, but the handful of battles I found were all over within five minutes.
Frank West isn’t the most well-developed character. But, he does have a tangible history with the town, and his constant barrage of sarcastic comments — perhaps a way of coping with the fact that he’s stuck in his second zombie outbreak — is somewhat endearing. The rest of the cast, however, is underwhelming. Brad, who you meet in the beginning, is absent for most of the game, mostly talking to Frank through a walkie-talkie.
It’s a similar situation with Vick, the student who dragged Frank back to Willamette in the first place. I never understood her intentions. You can hear more of her backstory in collectible audio files, but I didn’t find them all.
And I didn’t care much for the antagonists or the town’s citizens. Their interactions with Frank were so brief that I just didn’t have enough information to form an opinion on them. Most of them were there to move the plot along.
Dead Rising 4 is like a digital stress ball. It can be cathartic to let loose and kill thousands of zombies whenever you want, but it doesn’t have much else going for it, even with the charming Christmas setting and a compelling multiplayer mode. If you’re a diehard Dead Rising fan, you might get more out of the story than I did. Like the characters mentioned earlier, the narrative is not very interesting and mostly served as a way to push me to different parts of the map.
Without the technical oddities, Dead Rising 4 is a mediocre experience. But, I have to dock it down a few more points just for that baffling performance in the last mission.
Dead Rising 4 comes out on December 6 for Xbox One and PC. Microsoft provided GamesBeat with a digital copy of the game for the purpose of this review.