Wake me when the game gets weird again.
Dead Rising 4 is the Saltine cracker of the Dead Rising franchise. It's just bland.
Yes, there are zombies, lots and lots of zombies. Yes, there are a ton of over the top weapons to cut up, electrocute, and burn huge swathes of the undead with. Yes, you can still wear silly outfits while doing such violence.
But, otherwise, not much of what set Dead Rising apart from the ludicrous amount of zombie-related media out there has survived in the latest sequel. The Dead Rising series was kinky, perverse, bizarre, silly, and disturbing. It had a tone, not so much in its main plotline or its protagonists, but in the offhandish side quests and absurd tone that it frequently struck to shake up its action.
Wandering the world of Dead Rising and experiencing the eventual sameness of slaughtering hundreds or even thousands of zombies in single uninterrupted combo chains was always broken up with some oddity, be it a very kooky survivor or a very sick, twisted psychopath that would come out of nowhere to make you feel weird, to titillate you, or to make you feel just a bit squeamish. There is next to nothing in Dead Rising 4 that is kinky, perverse, bizarre, silly, and disturbing. It feels sanitized, and it is all the more boring for doing so.
For a game about mindless carnage, Dead Rising 4 feels a little too thoughtful and a little too safe. It feels calculated not to offend, which is hard to understand in a game that celebrates the gory and the grotesque.
Dead Rising 4 feels like a game made for non-fans, made to be accessible and unintimidating, and as a result, it doesn't stand out in any way. Perhaps some of the draining of its more traditionally absurd content was, like the removal of the countdown timer from the game, intended to broaden the series's audience, but it is hard to imagine what a new player would feel differentiates the game from others like it at this point.
The countdown timer of the Dead Rising series was one of the major mechanisms in the game that differentiated it from other horror games, like the Resident Evil series. As both games know, zombies, while perhaps frightening looking, are slow moving monstrosities, useful for creating tension, but not seemingly much of a combat challenge in a video game. Hence, Resident Evil's use of scarcity (of ammunition, of health) as the true challenge of the game, and the way to create tension in the game. It isn't the zombies that are so much scary in the Resident Evil games. It is not having sufficient resources to battle the zombies that is the real threat.
Likewise, with the near removal of a timed element (you had to complete the first few Dead Rising games within a limited amount of days in order to win) from Dead Rising 3 and its complete absence from Dead Rising 4 any real sense of danger or threat has been largely removed from an ostensible horror game as well. As my colleague Nick Dinicola once wrote, “In Dead Rising, your main antagonist is time” (Dead Rising Does Zombies Right”, PopMatters, 24 September 2010). Without the threat of running out of time, the slow crawl of the zombie horde just doesn't seem so worrisome. You can get to that later, after all.
Horror is not safe. Its audience knows that going in. It's what they signed up for -- to experience some moments of feeling threatened. Horror is not safe. That's why it has often been interwoven with the kinky, perverse, bizarre, silly, and disturbing. Horror is not safe. That's why it thrives on tension, suspense, and distress.
I liked Dead Rising in the past for all of those unsafe reasons, so, please, just wake me when the game gets weird again.