10 Hours In, Dead Rising 4 Misses What Made The Earlier Games Great

Dead Rising 4 offers a fun zombie-bashing playground, but is not a good Dead Rising game.

Dead Rising 4 is the bloodiest the series has gotten.

Dead Rising 4 is a sandbox survival game where you explore and fight against massive waves of zombies. You move from case to case, trying to solve a giant conspiracy. You'll cut down zombies, try to take the best photographs you can and rescue survivors along the way.

Frank West returns, but the intrepid reporter has since washed up. He's now a subpar university professor with a massive chip on his shoulder. After a turn of events starts a new zombie outbreak in Willamette, the same setting as the original Dead Rising, he rushes off to get the big scoop as well as rescue a former student.

One of Dead Rising 4's biggest problems is tone. At one moment, it will toss up sight gags and quippy one-liners before weaving into a hardcore zombie thriller. The very start of the game leaps into a bloody and hilarious dream sequence where Frank chases his past self while blowing up a ton of zombies. It is followed up with sneaky infiltration of a government blacksite where your empathetic protégé gos to lengths to remind Frank that zombies used to be people. High quality voice acting keeps the jokes sharp but also adds an excessive amount of pathos to the heavier plot beats. It's a tense sequence between a teacher and student that ends only to jump into free roam zombie slaying hijinks shortly after.

Moment to moment, Dead Rising 4 changes tone so much that I don't know what the hell it actually wants to be. One second, you'll be fighting roleplaying looters dressed as knights, and the next, you might stumble into a gruesome courtyard full of bodybags. The early games felt like ironic B movies but some moments here are surprisingly sincere sometimes. It can get too serious. It never works.

If nothing else, this sequence here is amazing.

Another disappointment is the loss of essential game systems that made Dead Rising, well, Dead Rising. The series, particularly the first two games under Keiji Inafune, were chock full of unique if awkward systems that defined the play of the game. Time limits to get to the next scoop? Completely removed. Rescuing other survivors? A simple process of killing zombies; gone are thrilling escorts and distinct personalities to discover. Limited saves? Undercut by the inclusion of multiple checkpoints.

Say what you will for the clumsiness of the franchise's early design decisions, they provided an important structure that kept the pace up and made the player make meaningful choices. Do I run to stop this clown boss or do I find out what the main villain is up to? Can I afford to run and save those survivors before giving my daughter her life-saving anti-zombie medication?

Moving the series away from Eastern designers has paid little dividends. It started with the move to Capcom Vancouver in Dead Rising 3. That game retained some of the essential formula but moved away some from the original formula. The team has totally gone their own way here. Dead Rising 4 streamlines things to an excessive degree. The basic RPG-esque skill point system of past games is now a tree of potential bonuses and skills. Powerful weapons like guns and elemental swords are commonplace. Movement is faster. Finding objectives is simple and travel is easier. This might sound great but the game has sanded off so many hard edges that it lacks any defining features.

You'll use your camera less for taking pictures and more for laborious investigation segments.

An additional downside of this is that I'm just not drawn in by Dead Rising 4's world, even though the setting is arguably the series' best. Taking place just after Black Friday in a snow swept Willamette, you have access to a well-stocked shopping centre full of garish decorations and the outlying town itself. The scenery is beautiful and the occasional chime of gaudy Christmas tunes makes fighting zombies genuinely hilarious.

The problem is that the game does not ask me to learn and care about the space, because it provides tools to actively bypass sections with ease. Dead Rising 4 is an easy game and you never really need to explore too heavily to find essentials. The game always pushes you forward, leaving little time to appreciate the world around you. I remember Jill's Sandwiches in the first games Willamette mall. I remember that the Children's Castle toy shop is right near the sports store in Dead Rising 2. I don't have a sense for anything in Dead Rising 4. While part of me suspects this will change as I play more, it stands in contrast to how quickly I learned the other titles and their worlds. It is very easy push on at a leisurely pace, leaving zones behind you as you effortless walk through challenges.

The lack of difficulty frees players to focus on fighting zombies, which is good because the game does get that right. If you want to run around, dress up as a knight and bash a zombie with an electric guitar, you have come to the right place.

Frank's new song is a smash hit!

The game does crafting well too, and gives you the ability to grab a variety of items that can be taped together to create amazing new weapons. You'll run around with crossbows that shoot fireworks, fire breathing dinosaur masks and even craft some killer vehicles to help you traverse the snowy streets of Willamette. You'll even find power armour that lets you rip heavier weapons from the environment. Go ahead, pull that sword from the stone with your super robot arms!

After getting frustrated with the game's narrative, I resorted to screwing around in the sandbox. The zombies are little heartier than in previous titles but this might be the bloodiest entry into the series. It starts a little chaotic but you eventually learn special weapon combos and their attacks. It helps keep combat fresh but fun side diversions, like go-karting, also add to the experience by providing a welcome change of pace.

Still, everything feels a little bit off. When Dead Rising came out in 2006, few games had done crowds of zombies on that scale. Nowadays, zombies and ghouls are everywhere, so the novelty factor isn't really there. Without the unique systems of the previous titles, Dead Rising 4 feels painfully generic. All the zombie smashing and furiously flying viscera loses effect after a while.

The end result is a game that is perfectly competent on its own merits but feels so disconnected from its lineage it might as well be its own title or a spin off. The fun lasts for a few hours before getting tiresome.


Comments

    Well that's a shame, I didn't even know there was a DR4

    Uhm. The time limits and limited saves bullshit were all reasons that I tossed the franchise aside. These sound like improvements, not criticisms.

        Nah, think I might buy the game for the first time since DR1 to support their new direction. :D

        On a more serious note, I appreciate that the author of the article notes that the abandoned pressures were implemented in the first games to result in meaningful choices and not be able to 'do everything' in one playthrough, but the whole 'choices' thing was a bullshit illusion - the intention was actually to encourage multiple playthroughs, not being physically able to do all things in one. And frankly? I ain't got no time for that. It really disrespects my time, so I have no respect for it as a mechanic.

          It really disrespects my time, so I have no respect for it as a mechanic
          I was exactly the same, but I ended up using a Trainer to effectively remove the time limits and had way more fun as a result.

          I'd almost agree with you, but keeping the pace up while being difficult, along with the games being on the shorter side... made multiple play throughs REALLY satisfying. Smashing through hordes of zombies was never really hard to master, its an enjoyable experience, but DR3+4 are missing that additional layer of planning ahead while being under pressure.

          And that isn't "illusion" of choice. Its actually the very definition of choice. Time is a precious resource in the original DR and there is no possible way you'd be able to save everyone/kill every boss without first discovering them, which means making time to checkout different areas of the mall, during the main play through, and understanding when events happen to best utilize you're time on successive play throughs.

          It's one of the few games that make replaying the SP meaningful! Its short so it's not hard to bang out over a couple of nights, (or an after noon if you like longer play times).. There are plenty of things to discover each time. And there is something to master by trying to complete everything.

        (Dammit. Doublepost again. How does that keep happening? I only push the button once!)

        Last edited 07/12/16 12:38 pm

      Yup. That's what put me off the series

      From what I understood, the original DR was somewhat of a roguelite - you weren't really expected to hit every plot beat on your first attempt, you keep your levels or w/e between playthroughs, and each playthrough would be easier - you'd have a better idea of how to hit each time restriction, and by doing so you'd see more of the story with each run.

      Also from what I understand, they threw those ideas under a bus with DR3, so DR4's state isn't that surprising.

        Yeah. That's actually what I was getting at, above. I don't really like that mechanic in rogue-lites, either. It seems like a shortcut to disguise a lack of content in most of the indie efforts, though. Because if they balanced the game so it was actually something you could finish in one playthrough, you'd notice how little of it there is. The skeptic in me reckons they pad the game by making you repeat it ad nauseum.

          It's partly that, but a lot of it is also just the whole "look how HARDCORE our game is" and helps the people that play it feel superior/stroke their e-peen.

          It's like the worst elements of the Dark Souls community. I adore that series, but god damn some of the fans can be right asshats.

            Dark Souls is, if anything, actually one of the most forgiving games I've ever played. Because every time you die, when you come back, you can still keep all your accrued experience/currency, and you can die as many times as you want without really losing progress.

            For most games when you die, you get taken back to a checkpoint and lose all the progress you made past that. Dark Souls at least lets you go back and collect all your shit from that point.

              ... that's kinda like saying Uncle Vernon is a kind person because he occasionally lets Harry out of the cupboard under the stairs, isn't it? :P Dark Souls is so forgiving of failure purely because it's balanced in such a way that it expects you to fail a lot.

      My thoughts exactly. I found DR1 and DR2 to be the most frustrating games I'd played for years - the time limits, missing whole chunks of game, limited saving etc. I found the systems irritating as hell. Heck, I tried to get back into DR1 about 4 times before tossing the whole idea. DR4 might just be the first DR game I enjoy.

      I agree totally. The concept was interesting, but I like to take my time exploring every nook and cranny. I just couldn't do that in the previous games. I'd come across something I wanted to explore, and before I knew it, a hostage was toast. Having a finite time limit to finish the entire game just shit me too. I don't want to be rushed in to everything!

    "gone are thrilling escorts"

    If by "thrilling" you mean "the worst example of game AI ever", then... yeah, super thrilling.

      And thats a large part of the reason I couldn't be bothered with finishing the original Dead Rising. And it was something I tried, on a couple of occasions, each time ending with trading the game in again.

      So getting rid of escorts (which are almost universally acknowledged as the worst thing to put in a game ever) is a plus sign in my book and more likely to be something I'd consider playable.

    "Moving the series away from Eastern designers has paid little dividends. It started with the move to Capcom Vancouver in Dead Rising 3."

    Actually - only DR1 was developed in the East. Dead Rising 2 was developed by Blue Castle Games in Canada.

      Keiji Inafune was the producer for DR1 and DR2 and that's what Heather Alexandra is meaning from DR3 onwards it had a Western producer. Blue Castle Games is Capcom Vancouver

    What is wrong with you guys. I understand that everything is opinion but the last thing we want is to homogenise all our games. I personally disagree that the mechanic was put in there to encourage multiple playthroughs. I think it was done so you could actually have a game with a feeling of loss. I was always terrible disappointed when I missed out on missions and quests but you had no other choice. And I really don't know what you've got against the escort missions. I just recently finished Dead Rising 2 (which I've heard has the worst) and the escorts were always great. Each little minion acted differently. Some scared, some would take a weapon. Some would beat the hell out of zombies. Some would get stuck on them and then some would even get stuck beating on zombies and you'd have to keep yelling at them as to get them to move on. That is great, interesting and diverse. I'm guessing what you want is constantly competent A.I. which isn't what I want in my B-grade movie rip-off game.

    Didn't really mean to pick or fight or anything but I love the dead rising series and the crazy mister Inafune.

      welcome to the internet buddy.

      If you are looking for praise and thanks for anything, you're in the wrong place.
      Personally i agree, the time limit in DR3 made me want to go back, made me want to find out more.

      This time around though - they ditched all that made it differ.
      May as well play *generic title 6*

      ...and they pulled campaign co op - my copy is going straight back unopened.

    I got say as some people above, I skipped DR1 cause of time limits, but found the time limits in DR2 more flexible, DR3 I haven't finished yet so might wait till the price drops a bit then pick up DR4

      They’ve toned down the time limits and difficulty with each instalment.
      It’s to the point now where the first is gone and I read a review by one guy who said he wasn’t killed by an enemy his entire play through!

      I guess it’s a personal choice thing, but it certainly gives the 4th game (and the 3rd ) a very different vibe to the tense, slightly scary vibe of the first two.

      I actually stopped playing the first game because it was too hard. In the end I came back to it with a new game using the character from the first play through (with a head start in stats). I only finished the game once I unlocked a few moves (the jump-kick and the body slam) that allowed me to beat most enemies.

    I was so disheartened when I heard they removed the time limits in this game. For me that was the main thing that separated the dead rising games from the countless other zombie games.

      I thought the main point of difference between DR and other zombie games was the utterly ridiculous and comical means of dismemberment.

      I was watching a compilation video of new game trailers with my GF and the second we looked up and saw a man holding a crossbow that fired a row of candy-canes, we said in unison, "Dead Rising."

        ill always remember the lawnmower and 2x4 then watching as the guy would run up to a zone and basically drop it on them, and turning them into purre

    I honestly could not disagree with this review more.

    The tone isn't 'all over the place', they've taken a tone closer to 'Ash Vs Evil Dead'. It's serious, but with a black comedy twist. You're Frank West, back from retirement, sick of the shit the worlds lumped on you, supposed to be the hero of Willamette, but made out to be the joke of the world after you got too close to exposing the Government for what it did. You extended your middle finger only to have it cut off figuratively speaking. So basically, you start from the point of reluctant hero, but only reluctant because 'why' should you help?

    Sure you see the crazies, but we've seen in all the games so far they exist. But so far the crazies are nowhere near the level of the previous games. A psychotic santa? Well its Xmas time in the game... a bunch of knights? There's a medieval land in the shopping center so sure. It's not logical but it sure beats the twin chainsaw carrying clown from 1, or the weirdo with the tiger in the casino from 2 or the redneck snipers suddenly appearing in the strip in 2. Or hell, everyone in 3 who just *made no sense*.

    The time limits disappearing also make sense in 4. This is a secret organisation in 4 experimenting. They're not the entire government trying to cover up something, zombies have been cured, there's an innoculation, zombrex is no longer even needed (the actual plot), so that removes the time limit factor. There's also the fact it was *goddamn annoying* having to start, restart, restart, restart, restart, restart, restart all the time (which you can still do mind you). It caters to both crowds now.

    I think your main problem is 'it's just not like it is before', which was actually one of the biggest problems with 3, which was that 'it was too much like it was before, and it was too goddamn serious'. DR4 isn't perfect but it *is* fun, its combat mechanics are by far the best in the series, the map is excellent, the new voice actor for Frank is actually better than the original (surprisingly) and the facial redesign has made him look less like a damn potato and more like a human?

    All up I'd give the game a solid 8/10. A must play for any Dead Rising fan and a damn good time.

    Last edited 07/12/16 3:29 pm

      Pretty much this. Was glad the fixed some of the performance issues that were present in DR3 too.

      ...but droping psychopaths for maniacs lost some of the character of the game for me, if they used maniacs in conjunction of psychopaths of old with a longer quest or questline would of been great. It just wasnt fun walking in and disposing Maniacs like they were a named variant of the looters you see in the game already in a matter of seconds.

      Leveling also felt like i was progressing too fast too quick, but thats probably because of a higher level cap and lesser need to replay.

        Yeah there was a better balance for maniacs/psychos they coulda had. Stronger ones coulda been had for sure.

      Given the pulled everything out that made the game what it was

      4/10 - would not play again.
      Its pretty and thats about it.

        That's cool, I felt otherwise :) I don't think they 'pulled everything out' as much as they 'got rid of the stuff that hindered previous games' quite frankly.

        Last edited 08/12/16 11:44 am

          what got me is they pulled the campaign co op.
          The game (in my opinion) is to shallow to hold such interest.

          Doing it with friends is what made it (for me).

          To each his own i guess - at least you didnt berate me for disagreeing!
          That's a first round here.

          Enjoy your day

            Everyones entitled to their own opinion. DR4 has its shortcomings thats for sure. It's quite clearly made to appeal to the instant gratification crowd, that's abundantly obvious. Given my immediate lack of time (Uni, Work, fatherhood) at the moment, that's not entirely a bad thing tbh. But, it also plays well. It's got flaws I'm finding, but I'm also finding it's scripted far better than the others (the opening 10 minutes is easily better scripted than every other one put together).

            I didn't know there was no campaign co-op, that actually really blows. Not a deal breaker for me, but ah well.

            As for berating, welcome to Kotaku, where there's the old guard who don't and those who seek out aggression and conflict. Fun times ahead lol.

    Moving the series away from Eastern designers has paid little dividends. It started with the move to Capcom Vancouver in Dead Rising 3

    Just gonna point out that Dead Rising 2 was actually made by Blue Castle Games which was later repurposed into Capcom Vancouver. It was a big deal that Dead Rising 2 was handed over from the Eastern Studio to a Western one, it was apparently done to 'make it more accessible' to a Western audience (because part 1 wasn't???) but also because Blue Castle had an emulator to make more zombies appear on screen than previously had in part 1 allowing a much more immersive 'zompocalypse'. The only DR game made by an "eastern dev team" was DR1. So this info is incorrect, the move started with Dead Rising 2 not 3.

    Last edited 07/12/16 8:37 pm

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