Dead Rising Review
We finally got one. Finally. Yes, there is now a video game in stores that lives up to the classic zombie horror flicks. Hell, the developers at Capcom insist via a disclaimer on the front of Dead Rising's box that no, legendary horror filmmaker George A. Romero was not a part of this project, nor does this title have anything official to do with his seminal zombie movie Dawn of the Dead. Why even bother? Well, there are some very conspicuous similarities here: zombies in a mall, people getting eaten, that sort of thing. But if this game needs a disclaimer, then don't World of Warcraft developers Blizzard Entertainment need one disclaiming any perceived similarity to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? Or what about the hundreds of books, shows, movies, and games that borrow from popular culture?
Either way, you only need to spend a few minutes playing the game to notice the resemblance between Dead Rising and Romero's holiest of horror flicks. Dead Rising is set in Willamette, Colorado, a small town which happens to have a very, very nice shopping mall as its biggest attraction. You play as Frank West, a freelance photojournalist who has heard about something fishy going on in Willamette, and who is currently being taken in by a helicopter to investigate and get some shots. But what he sees is much more than just weird - it's horrific. The first playable scene of the game has the helicopter swooping along the city's main street as zombies tear into humans who can't fend off the massive numbers of the undead. It's not long before Frank notices that most of the activity seems to be happening at the Willamette Parkview Mall, and decides to make a deal with the pilot - come back in exactly three days to pick him up on that roof. In the meantime, Frank has plenty of choices as to how he'll spend those three days.
This begins your adventure into zombie-smushing, people-saving, and all around goofiness that the developers at Capcom have really gone overboard with (in a good way!). Dead Rising kind of feels like Dawn of the Dead meets Chopping Mall meets Grand Theft Auto, as you can just run around killing zombies all day without ever saving anyone if you like. During your stay you'll figure out who the key players in the story are, how this happened in the first place, and just what will be done about it (aside from the military quarantine that's being set up). You might have to do some of the work yourself, as you'll quickly find out that it's not just the undead that have it in for you and the friends you make at Willamette Parkview.
Now, you can just go smashing zombie faces all day, and everyone can enjoy that for a while. Eventually, you'll want to actually make Frank a little tougher, and that's when you need to start getting serious about gaining Prestige Points - otherwise known as PP, but it works just like experience points from RPGs. Sure, you can level up just by killing zombies, but it's slow. What works better is going through the game's Cases and Scoops, rescuing people and escorting them back to the Security Room (a safe spot for those who still have a heartbeat), and even take pictures. Yes, Frank is still here to make it big in the photojournalism world, and you can put away your and whip out your camera at almost any time. Getting shots of great moments of drama, violence or horror will net you big points, and even just getting together large numbers of zombies for a photo will gain you plenty of PP as well.
Now, you can just go smashing zombie faces all day, and everyone can enjoy that for at least a while. Eventually, though, you'll want to actually make Frank tougher, and that's when you need to start getting serious about gaining Prestige Points, which work just like experience points from RPGs. Sure, you can level up just by killing zombies, but it's slow going and weapons break too often early on for it to be really effective. What works better is to spend a while working through the game's Cases and Scoops, rescuing people and escorting them back to the Security Room (a safe spot for those who still have a heartbeat), and even take pictures. Yes, Frank is still here to make it big in the photojournalism world, and you can put away your and whip out your camera at almost any time. Getting shots of great moments of drama, violence or horror will net you big points, and even just getting together large numbers of zombies for a photo will gain you plenty of Prestige Points as well. Once you've leveled up some, go back to destroying the hordes of zombies with your newfound powers.
The one odd, and sometimes truly annoying, thing about this game is its three-day structure. You'll be completing Cases (essentially, quests to save or to work with other humans in the mall), but anyone in this game can die, and so you might fail certain cases and the game will just keep on going until you specifically end it. Yes, this can happen early and might screw up the rest of the cases in the game - it's up to you whether you want to just purposely get your face eaten by a zombie and start over with only your level intact.
While you can save in any bathroom in the mall or in the Security Room, these are the only places where you can do so. If you get pretty far into the game, get killed, and realize that you haven't saved for hours, then you have only two options: load from that old save or restart the game entirely with only your total PP and level intact. Items and weapons will go poof when you restart the game, and while your level makes a huge difference in your ability to avoid or kill zombies or just plain survive, you'll still find that an accidental death can set you back or just make you go ahead and restart. This is made a little worse by the fact that you may walk past many save points on the way through a Case, but it doesn't force you or even remind you to save after the first time it tells you at the beginning. If you forget, Dead Rising won't be reminding you.
While the graphics are excellent in Dead Rising, the game will stop to load data both before and after cutscenes, as well as during transitions throughout the many sections of the mall - this can get a little tiresome if you're trying to trek across the place. At least the characters, of which there are all kinds, look great and are usually accompanied by competent voice acting. Frame rates are solid even with dozens and dozens of zombies on-screen at once, and the look of mall itself is perfectly executed with tons of stores with plenty of variety, interesting architecture, and plenty of little touches and attractions. Curiously, there is no ragdoll physics system for the zombies in this game, but the animations are done well enough that the only time you'll really notice an issue is on staircases when the bodies stick outwards, completely horizontally, off of a step.
Now, let's talk a little about the weapons. In Dead Rising, Frank can pick up just about anything and use it either as a weapon or as a way to wade through zombies quickly. Oddly, most small-arms guns just aren't that great. Plus, you can shoot people and even zombies in a ton of other games - wouldn't you rather do something more original, like bash a zombie's head in with a dumbbell? Of course, those aren't the only off-the-wall things you can beat down the undead with. There's a massive list, but here are a few - sheets of plywood, sickles, chainsaws, lead pipes, toolboxes, sledgehammers, fire extinguishers, boomerangs, many gardening implements, frying pans, potted plants, shopping carts, gumball machines, dishes, CDs, park benches, cash registers, brooms, katanas, hunting knives, lawnmowers, sporting equipment like golf clubs (with golf balls!), baseball bats, and even bowling balls, and of course a good selection of guns. And this was only a small part of the list, too. You can also throw many of these items, and depending on the weapon, you'll get more usage doing so than with others.
As Frank levels up, he'll automatically get new abilities, including some comedic wrestling moves, more health capacity, a bigger inventory, more overall attack power, faster running speed, and the like. One small disappointment here is that the game dishes these out as a set bonus for leveling up - there is no RPG system in place that allows you to pick and choose what abilities you want. Maybe Capcom didn't want to add too much complexity to a zombie game, but I think the players could have handled it and would have enjoyed a bit of choice in these matters.
Dead Rising is not without a sense of humor, but the developers just put the tools (literally, in some cases - watch out for those hedge trimmers!) in your hands - you've got to come up with your own combination of ridiculous stuff to get any kind of real humor out of it. For example, you can stick a shower head into the top of a zombie's skull and watch the blood pour out of the shower head itself. Dump a bucket on a zombie's head and laugh as it walks around totally aimlessly. Put Capcom-themed stuff like Mega Man gear or Servbot heads to use for some real comedy. Hell, you can make Frank wear a pink dress and skateboard around the mall, then throw bowling balls and diamonds into zombies' faces, and then spit at them and take pictures. (Yes, you really can do that.) There are a ton of ways to have fun with the mindless, shambling dead in this game; in fact, I'd say that if you didn't even want to mess around with the story or the Cases, just destroying zombies all day is fun enough that it's still worth the full-on $60 price tag - at least, it is if you can stomach the dismemberment of upto a dozen zombies at a time.
Dead Rising also includes some unlockable stuff that goes beyond just the hard-to-find items in the mall. There's an "Overtime" mode that goes beyond the original three-day span of the game's story, and even an infinite time mode that rewrites the story completely and forces every alive human to fend for themselves. Now, if this game wasn't nearly as fun as it is, I'd say they're worthless unlockables, because a crappy game doesn't get much better the second time around. But because Dead Rising is just so gut-bustingly funny to those of us who enjoy a little comedy with our horror games, then the extras are definitely worth trying for.
Dead Rising is not for everyone, as it does include tons of violence and gore, but the sheer number of possibilities in this game make it a wonderful addition to almost any Xbox 360 owner's library. The graphics are wonderful and the massive number of zombies that can be shown on screen is ridiculous, but the ability to wade through them, wearing a pinstripe suit, swinging a chainsaw wildly is what really puts it over the top. While the three-day system, loading times, annoying save game requirements, and the need to escort helpless people through hordes of zombies do bring this game down a notch, Capcom makes up for it with its wacky sense of humor and sheer number of ways to have fun. Dead Rising has its flaws, but it's still an excellent game.