Dead Rising 4 is the kind of Christmas movie I can get behind.
Over the last five or six years, a common conversation has taken root in parts of the internet that overlap with hipster circles — and look, I'm not pointing any fingers here, or shirking responsibility or anything — over what makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie. And from those conversations, a sort of ancillary genre has emerged: the non-Christmas movie.
These are films set against the backdrop of Christmas that are not actually about the holiday in any substantive way. A popular example would be John McTiernan's Die Hard. Die Hard takes place because it's Christmas — John McClane is in Los Angeles for Christmas to see his estranged wife and family, and he meets his wife at her office Christmas party before Hans Gruber & co. barge in looking for bearer bonds and everything goes bad. But unlike a holiday-themed movie, Die Hard isn't about Christmas. It's about the heist and John fighting it off. It's a non-Christmas Christmas movie.
But arguably no director has made his stamp in the semi-acknowledged sub-genre more than writer (and now director) Shane Black. Black wrote Lethal Weapon, a movie that, like Die Hard, is set against the backdrop of Christmas and weaves it into the plot in meaningful ways that are nonetheless not about the holiday, and now, that's sort of Black's thing. His movies The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are both set during Christmas, and even his gig as writer and director of Marvel's Iron Man 3 managed to set the movie amid Christmas in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
All of this is a meandering way of saying that it feels, right now, like Dead Rising 4 is the zombie movie Shane Black would probably make, and if you and I have much in common, then you are probably as (tentatively) all-in on Capcom Vancouver's new game as you can possibly be six months before release. Set a number of years after the events of Dead Rising 3, Dead Rising 4 brings original series protagonist Frank West back to the city of Willamette for Christmas, where the original zombie outbreak started in 2006's Dead Rising.
In this respect, Dead Rising 4 feels plucked straight from the Black oeuvre. Christmas is everywhere in Willamette, though it's not clear how much it's talked about in the game yet. That said, it's the reason Frank is back, and what's more, it has the series' trademark dark humor intact from what I've seen so far. Characters are serious, but the events are a little absurd.
And other than that ... well, we don't know much about the story. Clearly, something has gone wrong, and Frank is roped in to figure it all out while once again avoiding being devoured by hordes of zombies. There's some kind of military agency involved in a cover-up of sorts, or at least, that's what I gathered during my seven-minute timed demo of the game.
Structurally, Dead Rising 4 felt very familiar, a mix of the strides forward in basic playability in Dead Rising 3 and the photojournalism component of the first Dead Rising. The demo dropped me into Willamette with an axe and a firework-firing crossbow, and gave me a waypoint with thousands of zombies in the way.
Things just kind of unfurled from there. The things in this case being, without undue exaggeration, more than a thousand zombies, I think, though I don't remember my exact body count because things got a little frantic at the end.
There's new stuff to go along with the melee combat, super moves and crafting last seen in Dead Rising 3. The most obvious addition during my demo was the apparently military-made Exo suit, a bit of power armor that not only gives Frank the ability to punch and kick zombies with a lot more force, but also allows him to wield weapons and tools that would be otherwise be too big or too heavy. In the demo, this takes the form of massive military axes, flamethrowers and miniguns. Once you've had a bit of fun in the Exo, the battery will exhaust itself, so it's a strictly temporary upgrade, but it's still a nice bit of extra zombie-smashing chaos to throw in.
After wandering through the slice of Willamette on display, saving a couple of citizens from zombies and heavily armed paramilitary types, and taking some pictures documenting the apparent conspiracy at play, I was out of time. And to be honest, I was a little sad.
At its best, Dead Rising has always provided a lot of creative catharsis and over-the-top goofiness colliding with conspiracy theories and bizarre characters, and all of that feels well in hand in Dead Rising 4 right now. The Christmas setting gives it a weird but effective hook, something to hang its hat on now that a bunch of zombies on screen seems almost routine. It might not seem like much, but maybe, combined with a little refinement of what Dead Rising has done before, that'll be enough.
Dead Rising 4 is scheduled for release this holiday season, which it won't be delayed out of if Capcom Vancouver is smart.