Dead Rising has traveled a long road since 2006, and, while everyone thought the series had officially gone off the deep end in the forgetful Dead Rising 3, Capcom had an A in the hole, so to speak. This a-hole's name is Frank West. Ever since his return as the protagonist was announced, all anyone has been wondering is whether or not the wise-cracking photographer would be enough to resurrect this undead franchise.
While Frank West re-administers a heavy dose of comedy to the franchise, Dead Rising 4 is largely a dud, turning almost everything we loved about the franchise into your standard-fare AAA nonsense.
The Right Direction
No matter what I say in the coming paragraphs, I liked the direction Dead Rising 4 was heading – particularly the West direction. Get it? Frank West? No?
Anyways, Frank West gets duped by his favorite journalism student into returning to Willamette (the setting of the previous game) under the guise that they're going to play minigolf, which Frank loves. When their first excursion goes south, Frank West has to hide from the federal government, and, if you think my direction pun was bad, it turns out Frank has been evading attention under the alias "Hank East."
When a member of government sees through his clever ruse, they track him down. But, rather than arrest him, this man needs Frank's help. Why? It's very unclear, and I think Capcom would rather you didn't ask too many questions. Suffice it to say that, while the reasoning for which they bring Frank back is dubious at best, we're sure glad they did it.
Frank is all at once sincere, casual, serious & insensitive, and I loved every minute of playing as him. The problems lie with … virtually everyone else.
A Bloody Mess
As was illustrated by the way they phoned in Frank's return, Capcom made a bloody mess of Dead Rising 4's plot. They seem content with recylcing the old "government conspiracy wants to create the virus for X, Y & Z and protagonists A, B & C want to stop them for JUSTICE" plot, which is decaying faster than the zombies populating Willamette. Turns out that several people are after this story, but rather than working together, a'la Spotlight, the way professional freelance journalists would be happy to do in pursuit of a greater story, they all seek to get the story on their own and commit violence against the other should it happen.
It's just stupid. Contrived might be a more accurate word, though, considering how Capcom clearly went out of their way to make this the most Wonder Bread, linear plot ever. Go here, do this, go there, do that, fight this baddie here, save this survivor here, fight the big boss, have a cinematic ending, sell millions!
And, I can already hear people saying "Dead Rising games aren't about plot, it's about killing zombies en-masse with science-defying weapon creations." But that's not true. In fact, Dead Rising games have always been structured around plot. With the previous games' 72-hour mode, you would have to do as much as you could in a short amount of time, and there were several different endings depending on how much you did. This put the onus on the player to really play the game to its fullest extent in order to get the best experience.
Of course, there are two things wrong with that picture in Dead Rising 4. There is no 72-hour mode, and you'll have to get the paid DLC if you want the good ending. Instead, the game progresses in a boring, linear fashion where the plot is predictable.
Lack of Progress
And, as if Dead Rising 4 needed more generic elements, we've gone ahead and thrown in a skill tree. Funny how a progression system can actually indicate a lack of progress. And these skills are as bland as they come. "Increased blunt weapon durability," "increased overall health," "increased damage with fire-infused weapons," blah, blah, etcetera.
And special combo moves? Eh. Not really Dead Rising 4's bag, baby. Capcom has now come around to the "light attack & heavy attack" style of melee combat, so I hope you enjoy hitting X and Y a lot. I would be remiss if I didn't also inform you that you do build up combos and are able to launch a special move for most every weapon by hitting Y+B simultaneously. But that just means all the combat in between is a boring slog of mashing X.
And, while user friendly controls can be seen as a positive, the game itself also isn't very difficult. I never once was running through hordes of zombies with one health bunny hopping to try to find some food. Food is everywher, and the weapons you use and are able to easily create are overpowered as hell. With no higher difficulty settings, Dead Rising 4 doesn't offer you an avenue to up the difficulty. I mean, heck, the final boss of Dead Rising 4 is maybe half as difficult as any one of the wackos trying to kill you in Dead Rising.
Signs of Life
I would also be remiss if I ignored everything Dead Rising 4 does so well. As generic as the combat controls are, there is still nothing quite as satisfying as moving down hordes of zombies with special weapons and even custom-created vehicles, which return and then some from the previous entry in the series.
Do you want to combine a classic car and a jet ski? Well good, because you can now make a vehicle that fires deadly snowballs and freezes surrounding enemies. How about a computer and a rifle? Great! You now have a gun that vaporizes zombies and one-shots nearly ever enemy. My personal favorite is a combining a gun with a nutcracker head to make a head that fires high-powered ammunition whilst playing a popular holiday tune. It's fun and captures the spirit of the season.
Dead Rising 4 also offers a ton to explore. Given a new type of lens for your camera that basically turns you into Batman, you can now find hidden areas. Dead Rising 4 puts several panic rooms around the city and mall that you'll have to locate and locate the appropriate key. I definitely found myself scrambling around looking for these keys more often than I did following the story.
My complaints boil down to a linear plot, a generic skill-tree system & the game's overall lack of challenge. And while these things aren't necessarily that bad, it's that Dead Rising 4 now blends in with almost every other game on the market, where the series used to stand tall, offering something that no other game did.
While the return of Frank West and the added exploration potential are good, and will likely keep you interested for the game's full duration, it's not enough to make Dead Rising 4 a satisfying experience. The real issue is that, even if you've never played a Dead Rising game, you've seen this all before.