Dead Rising 4 is a good zombie game, but maybe not a good Dead Rising
I am the danger.
Maybe it's way the demo is tuned, maybe it's the fact I'm watching someone simply playing it well - but despite a vast sea of zombies on screen, Dead Rising 4 never once conveys danger.
It's an odd feeling, especially when Dead Rising 4 squeezes more of the undead into your view than ever before. The series' trademark huge enemy count remains impressive, but even at a glance it seems easier to deal with, armed with an arsenal of weapons outlandish even by Dead Rising standards.
Dead Rising 3 had some of its own issues - a loss of the series' humour and a bland cast of characters on a mission to do something we've already completely forgotten. Capcom Vancouver has solved both of these problems by reintroducing fan-favourite protagonist Frank West and returning to a more colourful game - this time wrapped in a cohesive Christmas theme. But at the same time the studio has tinkered further with the formula in other, unexpected ways that may introduce problems that are entirely Dead Rising 4's own.
It's odd to see the previously camera-clad Frank out of his claustrophobic shopping mall and roaming the world in a military-grade exosuit, for example, armed with James Bond-style visor gadgets and eye-catching special moves. Sure, Frank's a veteran at the whole zombie thing now. 16 years have passed since Dead Rising 1. The US army has been spending serious money on fighting the undead - hence the exosuit. And, fair enough, Frank doesn't need to stop at work benches anymore to craft the series' trademark DIY weapons - which is good. That was always a bit fiddly.
But Frank being better at staying alive means Dead Rising 4 isn't quite as much fun for me. There are the ridiculously powerful weapons, for example, which somehow spawn dozens of exploding garden gnomes or let you slice swathes of zombies with a magical Thor hammer. Then there's the radical switch to regenerating health, a huge shift from previous games when you were forced to explore the environment for snacks and other resources.
On a more divisive note, I miss the series' other staple - the countdown timer. Some players hated it, and felt it forced them to rush through areas they would have preferred taking more leisurely. I loved it - it helped with that feeling of danger, as anyone who only just finished a mission in time or who missed a Zombrex dose will remember. Without that, knowing you can just stand around, it's hard to see the regular undead as anything other than a decomposing inconvenience, there to be sliced up simply because there are some fun things to slice them with. Even if you do now have a modded ice cream maker to turn them all into icicles, or a novelty fire-breathing dinosaur head.
There are two good reasons why Dead Rising 4's general zombie horde should stay dumb, though. Capcom Vancouver is introducing a pair of harder enemy types to add variety to gameplay: Freshly Infected undead which have only just turned, are faster and more aggressive, and Evo zombies who are still partly human due to lingering Zombrex immunity. This latter type are smart, will use cover, leap to attack and be able to temporarily retreat to regroup. It's an interesting addition, although again I'm left a little unsure of whether it fits the Dead Rising I remember.
There are some other neat touches, also. The world has moved on from cameras to camera phones, and Frank can now snap pictures with his mobile, including GTA 5-inspired selfies. Other characters from past Dead Rising games will also be referenced, although won't be making an appearance.
Will Dead Rising 4 be fun? I think it probably will be. And perhaps this high-octane take makes sense now that Resident Evil 7 is going in completely the other direction, back to its deliciously scary survival horror roots. But will it feel like a Dead Rising game? I'm less certain. There are so many zombie games out there, yet Dead Rising 1 had a certain something which helped it stand out - it was tough, it was different, it had that sense of danger. I've still yet to see that formula at work in Dead Rising 4.