Dead Rising 4 Review (Xbox One)
After more than a few years away from being on the frontlines of a zombie outbreak, Frank West has returned to Willamette to face down another massive undead threat. Dead Rising 4 sees the franchise's original hero forced back into action in a sequel that's bigger than any entry in the series before, yet feels more empty and bereft of excitement than its predecessors. Like John McClane in Die Hard 2, West himself can hardly believe he's reliving the same situation over again, even if players have previously embraced Dead Rising 2 and 3's offshoot outbreaks.
Willamette was the source of the original zombie outbreak that started the Dead Rising series off, but the franchise had veered off into other locations to showcase Capcom's versions of Las Vegas and San Diego under zombie duress. It's only fitting that a return to Willamette also found original protagonist Frank West in such a familiar place. This time however, the holiday season is in full swing, and the Willamette Mall is decked out in full for celebration. The parallels drawn between Black Friday shoppers and zombies are immediately obvious, if not a little bit stale. Still, Dead Rising 4's writing finds ways to make the easiest joke work for the length of the game.
The mall itself is but one location to visit, though it's easily the most realized. Where the surrounding area has small hints the town is in full Christmas mode, you never quite get the same sense that Willamette itself is nearly as joyful, joyful as the mall itself. Sure, there are Christmas trees for sale and holiday music blares from any available speaker, but Willamette itself lacks any personality once you start exploring.
Often when exploring, the sights blur together. City street after city street, it's hard to pinpoint where exactly you are in Willamette without looking at the map. The residential, industrial and downtown areas have those core focuses in mind, but they have no element that makes one stand out over another. It's not surprising that so much attention was put into making the mall a living, breathing place teeming with fun design ideas. It is surprising that the same courtesy wasn't extended to the rest of Willamette, particularly since so much more of the story takes place beyond the confines of the massive retail establishment.
That puts a lot of the onus on Frank West to carry Dead Rising 4's narrative, which he does most capably. Frank is wry in his old age, and he's just as willing to dish out a classic zinger as he his zombie justice. The characters Frank interacts with along the way give him more moments to express some personality, though they themselves may not be much more than a delivery device for exposition. Most of the survivors have a single discernible trait to set them apart from the last person you encountered on a mission, again adding to the weight on West's shoulders for any kind of narrative engagement.
Though there might not be much to Dead Rising 4's story beyond the surface, it's still serviceable for the needs of putting you smack dab in the middle of Zombie Town, USA with a lot of weapons to mutilate reanimated corpses. The core of Dead Rising 4 is just as solid as any of its predecessors, and if you're here for the slaying of zombies with some rather fantastical weapons, you'll have ample opportunity. Ranged, explosive and melee combat is the foundation, and basic weaponry abounds. Things like pistols, grenades and axes can be found in any old game though, and Dead Rising's proclivity for creative combination weapons is what helps it stand out from the crowd.
Smartly, Dead Rising 4 removes the need to go into the paused inventory screen to create weapons as was required in Dead Rising 3. Instead, you can now craft weapons on the fly provided you have the ingredients and have discovered the blueprints out in the wild. Most of the combo weapons this time around are themed for the holiday, including things like cannons that shoot ornaments, a staff that fires toy elves, or wreaths that provide electric shocks. Familiar weapons like the Sledge Saw, the Blambow and the Fire Sword return as well, giving you plenty of choices when it comes to your weapon catalog.
Additionally, Dead Rising 4 introduces Exo Suits, which give you boosted strength and stamina for a short duration. The military enemies in the game make use of these in a variety of forms, and Frank too can customize them just a bit. The Exo Suits are scattered throughout the game world, and aren't something you can readily equip whenever you want. However, if you do come across one, you can merge it with things like a frozen drink maker to give it ice powers, a military chest to give it a hefty arsenal, or an arcade machine to go super meta. These are great fun to use, but you don't get to experience them for nearly as long as you should to get the most out of the Exo Suits.
Of course, with all the various items to pick up in the game world comes one of Dead Rising's most consistently frustrating elements: the inability to pick up the correct item in a crowd. This is a problem that's plagued the franchise for years, and yet here we are with the fourth entry, and picking up a vinyl record instead of the sword because they were too close to one another on the ground is still a thing. This is a problem that should have been addressed two games ago, but is still hounding the franchise.
There's also the matter of all the glitches and errors we encountered while playing. It's no small thing to create an open-world action game where players can interact with every single item. It's taxing to the game's engine, and often you find errors in games like Dead Rising or Grand Theft Auto like characters that won't spawn, weapons that don't work properly, or vehicles that just seem to be unusable. Those small frustrations don't amount to much, but the more frequently they happen, the more annoying it becomes. It's when an entire game seems to be working against you that things start to take their toll on a playthrough.
Numerous times when playing, human enemies would spawn but we couldn't interact with them since they were frozen in place. Side quests to battle Maniacs --- which now spawn in the world versus being boss fights at the ends of chapters --- would appear and disappear within moments, giving us no time to even attempt them. Random survivor missions would also appear, and even after rescuing these people, they'd stay standing still for eternity through multiple loads, never actually accepting that the mission had been completed and forever keeping their blue icons on our map. It's very hard to continue to care about completing these elements when at any time they might just cease working.
Similar problems plague the online co-operative multiplayer, which teams you up with three other players in an attempt to survive four different chapters. Unlike the single-player game which has ditched the countdown timer in favor of letting players have as much time as they want to explore, Dead Rising 4's multiplayer features chapters that take place within a two-day period. Each day ends at 9PM, whether you're ready for it to or not. The first day players simply must complete simple objectives and make it to the safe house, while day two brings about more challenge and potential boss encounters.
It's not a bad multiplayer experience when it works, and having players compete with each other for the highest score in a day adds a bit of competition to the otherwise friendly mode. We crashed several times when playing however, and experienced a range of issues including not being able to interact with objects or other players properly, combat happening to invisible enemies, and more. Again, it's a matter of being too much trouble for not enough payoff when the mode doesn't work as intended. It's a good thing combat and playing with friends is still mostly enjoyable in spite of these flaws.
That seems to be the case for Dead Rising 4 as a whole, actually. In spite of the glaring issues, there's still some fun to find in the creative ways to fend off the zombie hordes. It doesn't bring very much new to the table, and what is new doesn't shake up the core gameplay all that much. For Frank West, being put in another similarly perilous adventure brings out his most cynic side. It's unfortunate that Dead Rising 4 also does the exact same thing for players.
This review was completed using a digital download of Dead Rising 4 provided by the publisher for Xbox One.