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

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