Quick Take: In Dead Rising 4, the holiday season takes a dark turn for the returning Frank West, and players get to take out their stress on hordes of undead shoppers.
Christmas shopping, especially on or around Black Friday, feels much like a zombie movie. Large numbers of people shuffle from aisle to aisle, mindlessly looking for that perfect gift, bumping into each other, sometimes even yelling at each other — or worse. So when Capcom Vancouver used the Black Friday/Christmas time period to set Dead Rising 4, the latest in the long-running zombie kill fest, it all made perfect sense.
Dead Rising 4 brings back the original protagonist, Frank West, not only to the franchise, but back to the mall in Willamette, Colorado, where the whole series got its start. Sixteen years have passed since Frank first survived the mall and he has left his photo journalist career behind for a college teaching job. But when a bright, inquisitive student named Vicki Chu drags him back into a mysterious zombie conspiracy, Frank finds himself once again stuck in a Colorado mall, and surrounding areas, filled with thousands of undead Christmas shoppers, and the fun truly begins.
Dead Rising 4 utilizes some social commentary, much like George Romero did with his Dawn of the Dead, a film that the Dead Rising series has always been compared to. The different classes of zombies, and the specter of over-commercialization around the holidays — not to mention Frank’s constant cracks about all of it — really work to create a fun, thrilling, zombie-eviscerating experience.
Frank can use almost anything as a weapon, and can even craft new hybrid weapons after discovering blueprints scattered all over the mall and town. Crafting becomes a lifesaver as weapons wear down fast, and the player is constantly looking for the newer, bigger, badder weapons to take out the hordes of undead. Frank can also change outfits and even wear various forms of armor and special suits that give him powers. The developers created a sandbox of zombie-killing goodness here, as pretty much anything goes. A skill tree helps Frank develop into a better zombie killer, and photographer, as taking photos while trying to survive is a component of the gameplay. Including some ridiculous selfies.
Capcom Vancouver has truly outdone themselves in the fun and creative ways that zombies can be killed. Frank has some comically violent, weapon/skill-centric finishers and special moves that are earned with a constantly filling meter. Dead Rising 4 is the perfect game to play after a day out shopping, as all of the anger and rage and frustrations that you felt at your local Target trying to find an NES Classic Mini Console can now be directed to the myriad zombies stumbling outside the food court at the Willamette Mall. I cannot relay how much of a stress reducer this game is, as killing zombies in comically violent ways may have actually preserved my sanity this holiday season.
And once again, the power of the Xbox One allows for thousands of zombies to be on screen at the same time, with hundreds swarming our hero. There are some minor technical glitches here and there, but when you stop to think about the number of uniquely moving character models on screen, coupled with the holiday decorated backgrounds of blinking lights and other Christmas fare, those glitches can be overlooked. So there is never a time that there isn’t something to shoot, stab, beat or drive over to let loose the player’s stress, all the while trying to get Frank and his friends to safety.
The graphics and music are both very well done, with the former adding just enough over-the-top gore to the carnage that it makes the game humorous as much as it is horror, and the latter offering up various forms of Christmas carols and standards to add a festive soundtrack to the action on-screen.
Dead Rising 4 loses the campaign co-op mode and instead includes an episodic up-to-four player multiplayer mode. This mode is fun to play, as long as your partners are there for the right reasons, as the episodes are mission — and time — based, and a weak link can spell doom for the group as a whole if they don’t hold up their end. Also, upgrades made to characters in the story do not carry over to online multiplayer, and vice versa, so players will have to unlock skills in safe rooms between missions, even if they’ve already unlocked them in the campaign. Not a deal breaker, just a minor frustration.
Dead Rising 4 does an amazing job of offering a different take on the Holiday season. This is the best stress reliever I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I took out a ton of my stress on the hordes of undead all over Willamette, Colorado, in fun and exciting ways. The gameplay, well-written and funny script, voice acting — even if it’s a different actor voicing Frank, and the underlying social commentary make this a special game from beginning to end. This is a game that I know I will be coming back to each and every year around the holidays. It’s the video game equivalent of sitting down to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, except Linus isn’t trying to eat my brains, and I don’t have to shoot the dog in the face to keep it from chomping at my groin.
Dead Rising 4 is available now for the Xbox One. This review is based off a code provided by the publisher.