Platform: Xbox One

Dead Rising 4 brings back fan-favorite Frank West as protagonist (with a different voice actor this time) as he uncovers the mystery of another zombie outbreak at Willamette. The game is set around the new Willamette Memorial Megaplex, frozen in time during the Christmas season. The snow-covered streets and the Christmas decorated mall and houses will slowly turn red as you take out zombies with an array of different weaponry.

After playing Dead Rising 4 for roughly 50 hours, I no longer care to save survivors. They no longer present any reward for me and there’s no challenge in saving them. If you simply clear out the zombies in their surrounding area, survivors will suddenly become invincible as they make their own way back to the safehouse.

That's just one example of how Dead Rising 4 has dumbed down the experience to the point where there’s no longer a sense of urgency or any real stakes involved in the game. Gone are the days of holding a survivor’s hand (both literally and figuratively) as you guide them back to the safehouse. Instead, survivors are now a poorly performing currency used only to level up Emergency Shelters, the games new form of safehouse.

A zombie apocalypse without stakes

Dead Rising’s appeal wasn’t due to its ability to satisfy everyone, it was the series’ humor, quirks, and sometimes frustrating difficulty. Whether you loved it or hated it, Dead Rising’s original survivor concept was rewarding. When you finally got the survivor back to the safehouse it was an achievement. You would push the limits of how long you could keep a survivor with you as you searched for more weapons, health, and even other lost survivors.

Each survivor had a name and would always spawn in a set location. If pressed, I could probably even recall some of them. I can’t say the same for Dead Rising 4. The survivor mechanics, among other things, are completely forgettable.

Whether forced or not, the feeling of loss was always evident in the first two Dead Rising games. Whenever a survivor died it meant something, for better or for worse. In Dead Rising 4, I now ignore survivors as they’re pointless once you level up your Emergency Shelters. Granted, you still gain PP for saving them, but not enough to warrant stopping if you’re already heading somewhere else to do another task.

Which you’ll be doing often, as Dead Rising 4 loves giving you task after task to keep you moving. However, these tasks don’t carry the same weight as having to balance a schedule to ensure you complete tasks in a timely fashion. Even the opening section lacks urgency and is merely overwhelming.

17 laser swords

The game tries to quickly teach you the new mechanics as you stumble through an impressive amount of zombies. The inventory system has been revamped. Melee, thrown, and ranged weapons now have individual slots and are assigned to the D-pad, while health items sit in their own expandable section.

It’s a pleasant change that makes accessing and collecting the weapons you want easier. At the same time, I often had slots unused because I don’t want to use throwing weapons, I want to hold 17 Laser Swords. In the other games, that was my prerogative. I’m not allowed to do that in Dead Rising 4, because it could be confusing or cumbersome to scroll through 17 different weapons in order to reach the health kit. Again, it’s a system that has been dumbed down.

Dead Rising 4 is so easy to pick up and so simple to master that there’s almost no resemblance to the original games. It looks like Dead Rising and quacks like Dead Rising, but with none of the mechanics or zany Psychopaths... is this still the series that was released back in 2006?

Suit up

Speaking of mastering the game, and not to sound needlessly arrogant, I’ve yet to die in Dead Rising 4. I’m not the greatest gamer, but this feels almost too easy. Getting attacked by a zombie was dangerous business in the previous games where you were often forced to weave between the undead. But with a health bar (not blocks) that regenerates over time, there’s no longer any risk involved. Couple this with the inclusion of the Exo Suit, and you become an unstoppable force.

Granted, the Exo Suit does break up the gameplay by allowing you to stomp around and consume items on the ground to turn into Exo Suit compatible weapons. For instance, you can pick up beer kegs and strap them to the Exo Suit arms, thus changing your attack patterns.

If you struggled with the first two games, but enjoyed the third, you will have no problem with Dead Rising 4. However, if you loved the first two games (despite their shortcomings) and disliked the third game, you won’t be pleased with the direction the series is going.

Fun despite the flaws

All this isn’t to say the game isn’t fun. Dead Rising 4 is certainly a treat to play. The central Willamette Memorial Megaplex has all the gaudiness of a shopping center preparing for Christmas. While the mall isn’t as large as the first game’s, the story expands and takes you out into the other surrounding areas. There’s Old Town, an urban area with apartments, City Hall and the bus station, West Ridge, a housing and school area, and North Peak, an industrial outskirts type area.

As Frank West pushes forward, the story guides you into the new areas, never to venture back into the previous areas. That is, unless you wish to hunt for collectibles or kill Maniacs, Dead Rising 4’s version of the Psychopath, albeit without the zaniness and cutscenes.

The story itself is mildly interesting, and now includes a very helpful recap after completing a case. While the narrative won’t entertain you, Frank West’s new sassy humor will have you laughing. It can definitely be overdone in parts, but Frank’s new glib dialogue matches the thought processes of the player. Frank will just as soon comment on the outrageous and dangerous situation just as quick as the player would.

Also gone is the timer system. There is now no reason to rush or to make difficult choices on what to do and where to go. You can theoretically do everything in the first playthrough. The timer system was, aside from the various ways to kill a zombie, quintessentially Dead Rising. A lot of players hated it, but many others swore by it.

Whether you think it’s a cheap means of forcing more playthroughs or a tool to keep gameplay focused, the timer system created structure. There was something gratifying about starting what was essentially New Game and deciding what you would do this playthrough. Would you, instead of focusing on the story, try to save 50 survivors to unlock that achievement, or would you try to kill 53,594 zombies for another?

Dead Rising’s previous  level-up system has also been replaced. As a quick refresher: in the first game, almost every level was rewarded with a new move, ability, or health upgrade. In Dead Rising 4, there are four skill trees focusing on four different areas: melee, gun, crafting, and survival.

Each time you level up you receive a point to spend in one of the trees. Unfortunately, none of the skills are even remotely interesting. There’s no more zombie walk or zombie crawl, where Frank could shuffle around like a zombie to disguise himself or crawl across their heads. Instead, you get weapon ammunition upgrades, health increases, and health regeneration.

Conclusion

Despite all this, Dead Rising 4 is still entertaining. Carving through zombies is still as gratuitous as ever. Creating Combo Weapons has been a welcome addition to the franchise and continues to offer interesting gameplay moments. The game’s atmosphere, featuring Christmas tunes and decorations, are perfectly garish. As far as Dead Rising games go, Dead Rising 4 may be dumbed down, but it’s still dumb fun.

Gone are the days of challenging decisions and tough encounters. Instead of improving the Survivor AI and including escort missions, they’ve scrapped the AI altogether. It’s almost as if what’s happened to the survivors has happened to the series. It’s not only easy to pick up, it’s also a little too easy to put down.