Dead Rising 4
PC, Xbox One
We like to think that, what with all the practice videogames have given us, we’d be pretty handy in a zombie apocalypse. We’d know basic evasion and barricading tactics, how to knock together a few weapons, and would have a grasp on the fundamentals of crowd control. But in the unlikely event of a viral outbreak that transforms the population into a teeming mass of unthinking, shuffling drones, we don’t suggest turning to Dead Rising 4 for any kind of training manual. Capcom Vancouver’s latest frames the dawn of the dead as no more threatening than the average Saturday afternoon at the shops.
Well, things will claw at you, grab you and sometimes try to bite you, so perhaps the first day of the sales is the more appropriate comparison. Indeed, the latest zombie outbreak to affect Dead Rising’s longsuffering United States kicks off on Black Friday, a narrative caution against the perils of rapacious consumer capitalism that is delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer with a power drill gaffertaped to the end. The streets of Willamette, Colorado – the scene of the first Dead Rising, to which Capcom Vancouver has controversially chosen to return here – are overflowing with dozens, hundreds, thousands of zombies, but in the 20 hours it took us to finish Dead Rising 4’ s campaign we can count the number of times we felt truly imperilled on the fingers of one hand.
This absence of danger serves to almost completely undermine the entire basis of the zombie fantasy, but then Dead Rising’s take on the fiction has been steadily building towards this: a game that is not about avoiding trouble but causing it, the undead hordes not there to scare you but to instead serve as fodder for a suite of unfathomably bonkers weapons, combined from items that are conveniently slathered across the open world and based on blueprints hidden in its little corners. With so much attention paid to how you can administer death, Capcom Vancouver holds no interest in making you fear it.
So the skill system delivers upgrades that see you end the game with double the health pool you started out with, your damage output massively increased, your damage taken significantly reduced. All healing items have the same effect, a pot of coffee bestowing the same restorative effect as a medkit, some headache pills, a burrito, or a bottle of absinthe. Look at the teeming masses of zombies in this sizeable open world and Dead Rising 4 feels like a great stride forward from the compact, spartan original game. Think of its tight time limit – absent here – and the way a single zombie could ruin your entire game, and it feels like a huge step back.
Still, once you learn to take Dead Rising 4 on its own terms, there is fun to be had, at least for a while – and assuming everything works as intended. The combo weapons have never been so ludicrous, and carry capacity can be greatly upgraded using the skill system. There’s a good pace to missions, where you steadily accrue a ridiculous (and ridiculously powerful) arsenal before unloading it all on the end-of-level boss. And there are frequent set-pieces that see you step into the new Exo suit, which lets you stomp about the place using exclusive weapons while being even closer to invincible than you are in your regular duds. Speaking of which, clothing is, as always, a joy, and it’s hard to complain too much about the absence of peril when you’re wearing the bottom half of a chicken suit, Sir Arthur from Ghosts ’N Goblins’ helm and beard, and a Street Fighter II- themed Christmas jumper. Yet even once you’ve grown accustomed to Dead Rising 4’ s thematic niggles, there are plenty of problems elsewhere. It’s buggy, with mid-mission scripting failures prompting checkpoint reloads, gates refusing to open, side-missions failing to complete, button prompts declining to appear, and even the occasional failing with the basics of combat. The Evolved zombie, the most annoying rank of enemies, which zips around the place at speed, has also been blessed with a disappearing hitbox; you’ll finally pin the flighty swine down, only to watch your melee weapon pass clean through it. There are similar problems at range, when clean shots inexplicably miss targets. You’ll quickly learn to rely on area-of-effect weapons – an RPG, perhaps, or the Laser Slicer, which deploys a series of energy tripwires that deal continuous damage – but these are nonetheless damning failures in a game that seems to exist solely to extol the virtues of killing things.
Clearly the need to get a game with such a heavy Christmas theme onto shelves in time for the holiday season has meant Dead Rising 4 has shipped with a few unpleasant, and entirely avoidable, tics. The festive setting is used well, at least, with Willamette’s mall decked out appropriately, combo weapons following a similar theme, and some jarringly cheerful muzak renditions of Christmas classics awaiting in the menu screens. Indeed, it’s as we head into the skill menu to further boost our already tremendous destructive power, and pick upgrades to the sounds of a lounge-jazz version of Jingle Bells, that Dead Rising 4’ s real message becomes clear. This is not a caution against mindless consumerism, but a celebration of it, a game where the world and all its contents are yours to do with as you see fit. It’s an endless stream of toys, clothes, currency and upgrades you’re invited to do play around with, then throw away before the novelty has had a chance to wear off – and with virtually no consequence or prospect of failure, Capcom Vancouver has repositioned the zombie apocalypse from your worst nightmare to the ultimate power fantasy. Invincibility, we must admit, would be a cool Christmas present.
It’s hard to complain too much about the absence of peril when you’re wearing the bottom half of a chicken suit