Dead and Bloated
Written by Jessie Seilhan
Microsoft has a few pillars to rely on when it comes to Xbox software: AAA sure-things like Halo and Gears of War, the beloved Forza series, and a few oddball titles that help build character around the edges. Starting with the original title way back in 2006, the Dead Rising series has been one of the best examples of a weird third-party exclusive that is both charming and formidable, with each title more refined than the last. But with Dead Rising 4, the first since the Xbox One’s launch, the things that made this series great and sometimes controversial seem all but forgotten, replaced by collectibles and monotony. So should fans flock back to the zombie herd or maybe wait until Capcom figures it out and tries again?
When cooking a Dead Rising game, there are a few key ingredients: zombies, wacky humor, timed missions, combo weapons & vehicles, and an overwhelming number of enemies onscreen. Dead Rising 4 scraps the time limits, but upgrades the actual gameplay mechanics, mapping melee, ranged, and thrown weapons onto face buttons as opposed to forcing the player to swap through them while being mauled by the living dead. But that abandonment of the timed missions removes one of the key driving themes of DR, forcing the player to choose between free roam and story missions. When balanced properly, it created a fun decision-making process and when abused, created unneeded strife. Capcom ditched it entirely and made the story progress as streamlined as can be, broken into story chapters with a marked beginning and end. While this makes the game much more accessible, it doesn’t make it much different than any other third-person action adventure game and it certainly doesn’t make it like any Dead Rising.
The story focuses on the worst of DR lore, specifically involving scientists, armed forces, and idiot citizens. Frank West is back, as is the Willamette Mall, but gone is West’s hilarious dialogue and beaming personality. Instead, the beaten war photographer seems more over-the-hill than someone tasked with killing thousands of zombies should be. It feels like Capcom tried to walk the line between realistic survivor and a Bruce Campbell-type, but instead of hailing to the king we’re huffing and puffing from half-baked story beat to the next. Sadly, one of the series’ greatest assets, the hyper-difficult Psychopaths are gone, meaning no more interesting boss fights sprinkled throughout the game. There is the occasional fight that requires a little more firepower than the rest, but there aren’t any cutscenes or story moments tied to these.
Dead Rising is a silly franchise, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Prior iterations have balanced wacky characters with tense moments without losing the charm and quality the series is known for. But Dead Rising 4 feels more streamlined in a way that should definitely welcome new players to the series, but leaves fans missing the things that make the game so unique. Still, it does look and run great even with thousands of zombies surrounding you. The holiday theme adds an extra layer to the mall setting and the menu music plays some jazzy Christmas music while you’re upgrading your character or checking out the map.
The Xbox is hurting for exclusives right now, with Scalebound being canceled and Lionhead Studios, makers of the Fable franchise, being shuttered. Microsoft needed Dead Rising to be a hit in order to sway more people back to their console while the PS4 is on a runaway train toward unreachable sales. Sadly, Dead Rising 4 is not that game and is instead another example of Microsoft making the wrong bet, as they did with ReCore and Quantum Break. Still, the series has plenty of life left in it if it just went back to its roots in more ways than just the main character and setting. A pinch more of humor, character development, and a renewed focus on the survival aspects would make for another successful Dead Rising. Sadly, this just is not that game.
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