‘Dead Rising 4’ (Xbox One) review: Gore (and jokes) galore

If carnage and graphical errors is what you seek, ‘Dead Rising 4’ will provide

When it comes to the “Dead Rising” franchise, my knowledge is limited. I took a short zombie-infested foray into “Dead Rising 2,” and I’ve watched the two live-action films made by the Crackle streaming service that were inspired by the original “Dead Rising” game.

So I’m not really sure what compelled me to try “Dead Rising 4,” especially after I realized that its story co-op component (one of the main reasons I wanted to play it) was stripped away.

But after I violently bludgeoned my way through about 11 hours of story mode (and a few hours more of just putzing around) and some rounds in the multiplayer mode, I decided that this wise-crackin’, Christmas-infused zombie fest in the most commercialized setting possible wasn’t such a terrible decision after all. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy hearing mall-style Christmas music in their game menus?

“Dead Rising 4,” the latest entry in Capcom’s beat-’em-up zombie franchise, comes as a true sequel to the original “Dead Rising,” with one quippy photojournalist Frank West returning to take photos and slay zombies with increasingly ridiculous weapon combinations — sometimes at the same time. “DR4” takes place 16 in-game years after the events of the 2006 release, with Frank a bit wiser if ever so predisposed to asinine one-liners and completely untrusting of the government (though, to be honest, for good reason). His journalistic need to get the scoop leads him back to Willamette, the site of the first zombie outbreak, where, unsurprisingly, another zombie outbreak has occurred.

This time, however, the original mall of the first game has been given quite the upgrade, becoming the Willamette Memorial Megaplex, a massive symbol of consumerism. The complex serves as the game’s central hub, but there’s plenty of areas outside it that are explorable. Thankfully, traveling in this game is done in one of two glorious ways: fast travel in the mall and generally short treks outside of it during which you can mow down hundreds of the undead in spectacularly gruesome fashion.

The story mode’s central premise is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind experience for most of the game, as you simply lose yourself in the simple, cathartic pleasure of destroying zombies (and some not-so-good humans) with the bounty of weapons you either find or craft along the way. There may be a government conspiracy, but Frank is more interested in finding a student of his who finds herself in less than ideal circumstances. (Though, if you’re in a zombie disaster, wouldn’t you want to be trapped in a mall decked out for the holiday season? No? Oh.)

But, to my surprise, there is an actual plot here, if it’s unintentionally subtle. It’s not in-depth, but it was enjoyable to watch it slowly unfold, to interact with characters you thought would be important only for them to fade away plot-wise and to become enamored with others who seemed only peripheral when you first met them. Oh, and did I mention this game is really funny? Like, actually intentionally humorous. I wasn’t expecting that, and I found myself laughing out loud more than once.

Still, the plot is hardly the reason anyone enjoys a “Dead Rising” game, right? You want to craft the most absurd creations to mow down as many zombies as you can, especially because you’re rewarded for doing so (both in game achievements and experience for Frank). In that matter, “Dead Rising 4” shines. No longer are you forced to adhere to an in-game timer (72 hours) in which you had to complete everything as quickly as possible in order to complete the game and get a “good” ending. Some have bemoaned this change, but I applaud it. The rushed aspect of “Dead Rising 2” was the main reason I stopped playing it. So the ability to roam at my leisure, to explore all the nooks and crannies this game offers (and there are a lot), was a definite plus in my book. Besides, how else am I going to learn to make machines of zombie death if I’m too rushed to find all the blueprints and materials I need to make them?

Along with all the weapons you could ask for, Frank has quite a nifty camera to use during his “Batman”-style investigations. Instead of just taking selfies with zombies (which is amazing, by the way), you can use different filters to see what the normal human eye might miss while you try to solve the mystery of Willamette.

Oh, and if the camera changes weren’t enough, we have a “Call of Duty”-esque Exo Suit you find throughout the game. And the devastation you can unleash when you don that heavy mechanical armor is fantastic. You can combine the suit with certain items to deal out more punishment, but I more enjoyed the ability to simply to rip environmental items from the ground to beat zombies to a pulp with.

As mentioned earlier, “Dead Rising 4” does away with its story mode co-op, instead creating a four-player multiplayer experience that’s separate from the main game. It’s a disappointment, because this is the type of game best played with friends because of its outright silliness. But my major contention is that if you’re going to remove an element most players want, you need to replace with something of equal value. The multiplayer here doesn’t satisfy that requirement.

It’s split in episode-based missions during which you run around the mall. Each episode gets progressively tougher, which is nice, and you do get a separate skill tree in this mode. The challenge will help those who thought the main game wasn’t difficult enough. But it’s also riddled with stability issues. More often than not something went wrong that wasn’t me being eaten by a zombie; players were kicked, missions didn’t load, etc.

Speaking of technical issues, “Dead Rising 4” has as many of them as its does zombies, and the game has a lot of zombies. I’m thinking because there’s so much happening on the game on any particular moment that the game’s engine simply couldn’t handle it. Textures popped in and out like magic, Frank clipped through entire objects (I literally could walk through walls) and the frame rate all but died during certain segments. I can understand some issues under the stress of so much geometry, but it was shocking to see how poorly the game managed its own parameters.

In the end, “Dead Rising 4” has its flaws, but for the most part they can be overlooked because of how much fun its simple premise is: Kill zombies, and do so in the most ridiculous way possible. Its story won’t particularly compel you, and its technical issues make me wonder how rushed Capcom felt getting this game to market, but all can be forgiven as long as I get to wear an Exo Suit, slay the undead and crack wise. Because isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Three “How do I combine these two items into a death machine?” stars out of five.

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