Dead Rising 4 is a profoundly stupid game. I’m tooling around a Christmas decorated (complete with hilariously incongruous elevator music) Mall of America knockoff in a Power Wheels car, cosplaying from spiky red head to bare foot as Akuma from Street Fighter and brandishing a bootleg version of The Walking Dead’s now famous Lucille, mowing down both hordes of zombies and hostile survivors with a “flying brick” resiliency that the game never even wastes its time bothering to explain away.
It’s at times like this, and many others, the vast majority of which are not actually dictated by the canned, scripted gameplay missions, that DR4 achieves a sort of zen of absurdity that’s difficult to grasp in many, if any, widely available mainstream entertainments. And to put it in the most inelegant terms possible: zombie shit is played as fuck. Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland were a long time ago and The Walking Dead’s constant dour seriousness with little or no cathartic, violent, heroic payoff or even genuine and unforced comic relief (on TV anyway, the comics are still great) has been nothing but a slog for at least a season and a half now.
A zombie apocalypse fiction that’s funny, cool, ridiculous and bad ass, all while still selling the very real danger that a zombified populace, however slow and Romero-like, would represent in great numbers? All wrapped up in a Christmas video game (of all things), a system exclusive (timed, but still) and a Capcom game that isn’t a rerelease or remaster? Maybe Dead Rising 4 isn’t so stupid after all.
Okay it’s still pretty stupid.
Eschewing the usual tight time management and weird Majora’s Mask-esque day/night cycle of the past games, DR4 adopts the very light, somewhat linear open world action formula of the Batman: Arkham games and is all the better for it. Returning flagship protagonist Frank West’s photography is even folded into the gameplay cleverly as he uses different filters to search for clues a ‘la Batman’s detective vision.
Frank’s a little older and wiser since his last outing, less the catchphrase spewing, fat Elvis looking Poochie of the past and more like a down to earth sad sack with a heart of gold and bad luck, more Paul Rudd’s Ant Man and less Deadpool. He’s been drawn back into the zombie apocalypse game in order to clear his name and track down a former student (from when he was laying low as a college professor under the hilarious pseudonym of “Frank East”), but it’s mostly just an excuse to get the original hero back to the original setting for a zombie bashing good time that finally lives up to the potential of the series’ concept without being mired in so much hard assed time and materials management RPG bullshit.
Graphics look great, the game runs smoothly with few hiccups even with thousands of zombies onscreen, and the aforementioned Holiday themed muzak that plays over your bloody exploits is just ironically detached enough to work. I initially found the slightly loose and floaty controls off putting but warmed up to them once I fell into the game’s Dynasty Warriors on acid melee combat groove.
Yes, selfies are a part of the game now. Because: 2016.
That was probably the thing I liked most about Dead Rising 4: un-adjustable default difficulty has been dialed all the way down allowing you to approach the game with just as much of an asshole attitude as Frank himself. Take on flame thrower wielding Iron Man wannabes wearing a Girl Scout dress and toting nothing but brass knuckles? Fuck yeah! Get into the game’s surprisingly deep crafting system and things get even dumber, weirder and more awesome.
Exploding mallets? Sure! Fire breathing Blanka masks? Why not? Lightning axes that are essentially off-brand Ultimate Mjolnirs? Absolutely! Go ahead and wade into a crowd of the game’s feral, aggressive red eyed “fresh zombies” (yes, Resident Evil fans, those are basically just Crimson Heads) in a sharp tuxedo and Servbot Mask combo, mowing them down with a giant ice sword that first freezes, then shatters their wretched carcasses in true Sub Zero form. Tell ’em Riot Nerd sent ya.
“Make the Zombie Apocalypse Great Again” may have been too controversial a tag line for a triple A console exclusive holiday video game release but that’s exactly what Dead Rising 4 does, give you the most shameless, bang for your buck undead fun this side of an old VHS copy of Return of the Living Dead. Johnny come lately Walking Dead fans, enjoy crying over mush mouth crossbow guy having to eat dog food sandwiches. I’ll be over here slowly bludgeoning a glowing green super zombie to death with a plastic toy lightsaber. Just because I can.