July 01, 2007
Almost from the time it was announced at E3 2005, there has been buzz around Dead Rising. A next-generation zombie experience from the house that Resident Evil helped rebuild, helmed by the man behind Mega Man and more recently, the Onimusha games. Not only that, but Dead Rising along with Lost Planet represented proof positive that the Xbox 360 would not get the same cold-shoulder treatment from Japanese developers as the original Xbox did. While early screenshots of the game didn't have the same graphical pop as it's sister game Lost Planet, it had something special. Something most people would call the 'x factor'. I call them zombies.
Let's face it people, killing zombies is fun. There is nothing quite as satisfying as killing a zombie, and it's completely guilt-free! They're already dead! Dead Rising is not the first game to have zombies, but the sheer number of the undead the game throws at you make it different from any other zombie game out there. It's literally like playing a George A. Romero movie, complete with shopping mall setting and the appropriate level of cheese to the story.
You play as Frank West, photojournalist extraordinaire (hey, he's covered wars, man!) who is on a mission to find out just why the national guard is sealing off a sleepy little town in rural Colorado called Willamette. Frank bypasses the blockade around the town by hiring a chopper pilot to fly him around town. Upon cursory glance, it appears a savage riot is underway but as Frank sees more, it becomes abundantly clear something altogether different is going on here. These people are attacking each other with no remorse or hesitation. Almost as if they weren't human. Frank focuses on a large shopping mall located in the town and tells the pilot to drop him there and come back in three days. In the mean time Frank plans on getting to the bottom of this story and if he gets a Pulitzer for his work in the process, all the better. Continuing into the mall, Frank comes across a group of survivors that have barricaded themselves into one wing of the mall. Unfortunately things quickly go pear-shaped as one of the more stupid survivors breaks through the barricade to save her poodle, oblivious to the fact that she has just doomed them all to be torn limb from limb by the undead masses shuffling back and forth just outside the door. Frank barely escapes with his life, thanks in part to Otis, a mall janitor, and two Homeland Security agents, the grizzled veteran Brad Garrison and his comically big-breasted rookie partner, Jessie McCarney. The group barricades themselves in the mall security office, but Frank hasn't come all this way to just sit by on the sidelines. Oh no, he intends to cover the story the only way he knows how, and that is to get up-close and personal with the people, both living and dead, trapped in the mall. And he has exactly 72 hours to do it in.
But, like anything in life, this is easier said than done. To get the story Frank will have to deal with a horde of seemingly never ending undead, save some wayward shoppers, and combat some less than stable individuals running amok in this pristine church of commercialism, including but not limited to a cult of raincoat-clan wackos operating out of the mall's movie theater and the aforementioned Carlito who seems to be searching the mall for someone. All this would surely be enough to make any regular photojournalist pack it in and call it a day, but not Frank West. So dedicated is Frank to getting the story, he takes on these insurmountable odds without much coercion. Either that, or he really wanted to try on that dress in the Entrance Plaza. Luckily for Frank, the Willamette Parkview Mall is a state-of-the-art shopping experience and as such, just about every consumer good you can think of is on hand and just waiting to be used to smash some zombie faces. The unprecedented number of weapons in the game is probably the games biggest claim as there are literally hundreds of items that can be used to vanquish your undead foe as they quest for the ever elusive 'BRAAAAINS' all zombies so crave. Pfft, someone should have told them the mall is the wrong place to look. If you see something while running around the mall, chances are you can pick it up and do some massive damage to those pesky stenches. Found some comically over-sized garden sheers in the department store? Time to make those zombies a little shorter. There are bats, golf clubs, bowling balls, chain saws, weights, jewels, faux-lightsabers, frisbees, guns, pipes, katanas, antique vases, hockey sticks, lawn mowers, CDs, pies, sledgehammers, hunting knives, benches, trash cans, guitars (both acoustic and electric variates), and cans of soda the name a few.
But giving zombies a good 'what for' isn't the only thing to do in Dead Rising. As a photojournalist, Frank West has come prepared with his camera and plenty of film, although it seems he forgot to bring batteries. It's always something, ain't it folks? Anyway, you can use the camera any time during game play to take pictures. Depending on the type of picture you take you will get a different category for each picture including Horror, Comedy, and Erotica. There are also certain context sensitive moments where a 'PP' image will pop up over the heads of certain characters. Taking a picture now will give you extra Prestige Points for a picture than normal, usually when the character is doing something interesting. Taking pictures plays heavily into the game experience and ties into quite a number of the games achievements, but more on that later. Taking pictures is one of a couple ways to earn experience points or 'XP' in Dead Rising which will 'level up' Franks abilities. The other way to level up in the game is by saving survivors stranded throughout the mall. Doing so will earn you XP and in certain cases, change the outcome of the story. In fact, Dead Rising has taken multiple endings to the nth degree with no less than six different endings, all dependant on which survivors you save and which psychos you battle throughout the game. How many of few side quests you want to take up is completely up to you. You could save every survivor, defeat every psychopath, find every PP Sticker (more on those later) and get the best ending, or you could spend the entire 72 hours running zombies over in the parking garage. It's entirely up to you.
Dead Rising is not a game without fault however. While the presentation of the actual game is top notch, the menu system and in-game HUD look like they were thrown together at the last second by a Photoshop novice. It's a small gripe, but for a game that gets so many little things right, it's a quite a glaring oversight. The control system is pretty mediocre and could have stood some tweaking. Odd button combos for more advanced melee maneuvers can get frustrating when you are in the middle of a group of zombies and only have a couple health squares left. Also, the mechanics for escorting survivors is pretty hit and miss as well. The survivor AI isn't very smart and often you'll end up telling your companions where to go multiple times before they finally get a move on. Especially annoying are survivors that must literally have their hand held the entire way back to safety. Too often while running through thick groups of zombies you'll inexplicably lose your hold on the person you are escorting and getting back to them and taking their hand again can get really frustrating, especially when they have to spin around once to face the same direction as you and you lose them again as soon as you get them back. However the biggest gripe most people are going to have with Dead Rising is the save system. In a world where most games let you have as many save slots as your memory device can hold, Dead Rising limits you to one save slot per memory device. This in and of itself isn't so bad until you realize you'll go literally hours without saving sometimes unless you go out of your way to visit the rest room regularly (yes, you save at a urinal). Maybe this is Keiji Inafune's way of doing his part to do away with people peeing in their pants in our lifetime. Who knows. What I do know is the first time you die and realize you haven't saved in nearly three hours, the feeling isn't good. It's downright annoying.
Graphically however, Dead Rising shines quite well. Dead Rising uses the MT Framework engine, which it shares with the other Inafune/Capcom game for the Xbox 360, Lost Planet. While both look great, Dead Rising does not have much of the extra detail that Lost Planet does. Textures look flat compared to it's sister game in fact and while Lost Planet wows you with detailed enemies and environments, HDR lighting and some of the best explosions in a game ever, Dead Rising trades all that in for an insane number of enemies on screen. Up to 800 characters on screen at once and without so much as a hiccup. While 800 enemies on screen is rare even for this game, there are plenty of times were the screen will be packed from front to back and side to side with the undead and the game never falters. That is an achievement in and of itself, especially as you spill metric tons of blood as you mow down zombies like you're cutting grass.
The sound is another standout. While there is nothing too impressive about the audio in a technical sense, each weapon has sounds specific to it, to a staggering degree of detail. For instance the when hitting a zombie with a guitar, the sound will be different depending on whether its an acoustic or electric guitar. The game also features some hilarious music that sounds like something you would find at your average mall in the midwest and serves to set the mood perfectly for a campy zombie romp, straight out of a George A. Romero movie. Even the voice acting has the appropriate level of cheesiness to it. The sound definitely is a big part of the experience in Dead Rising.
Replay value for this title is high with no less than six different endings to experience, plus a bonus mode, Infinity Mode, in which the name of the game is to keep Frank alive as long as possible while your health is constantly draining. The game is Xbox Live enabled but features no online multiplayer. Instead, there are leaderboards for completing the game in the least amount of time and for surviving the longest in Infinity Mode.
The game's achievements also serve to extend the games replayability by challenging you to do things like save 50 survivors, walking 33 feet across the back of zombies, or killing all 53,594 residents of Willamette, CO in a single play through. The achievements are definitely unique and generally add to the fun of the game, encouraging you to try different things you might not otherwise think to do, like take pictures of all ten psychos roaming the mall or try on every piece of clothing in the game. The one complaint that could be made about the achievements for Dead Rising is that the point values aren't very well distributed. Each achievement is worth 20 points and while some achievements like dropping from a height of 16 feet or more are incredibly easy, others such as 5 and 7 day survivor are time consuming and unfairly difficult for the same 20 points. 7 day survivor, for instance, will require you to play through the game's Infinity Mode and survive for 14 real-time hours without saving or stopping. That is quite a feat to ask someone to do for 20 measly achievement points. It would have been nice if some of the more difficult achievements were worth more points as a reward for taking the time to do them.
Great sound effects and music and voice acting that fit the mood of the game perfectly. It would have been a mistake for Dead Rising to take itself too seriously and the audio helps make sure that is not the case.
While lacking the impressive level of detail of other Xbox 360 titles, the game still looks great and any short comings it has in the graphics department are soon forgotten because of the sheer number of enemies on screen at any given time.
Controls that are sometimes a little clunky and a save system that is sure to enrage plenty of gamers keep this game from achieving the heights it could have. Again what Dead Rising lacks in quality it makes up for slightly with quantity though, with more than 250 different weapons to use in the game.
A fairly by-the-numbers zombie outbreak story that is so similar to Dawn of the Dead's that the game actually comes with a disclaimer that it is in no way affiliated with George A. Romero's zombie opus. The unimaginative and downright ugly menu and HUD don't help any.
An entertaining and original set of achievements are hindered by point values that are completely out of whack with the difficulty of each achievement.
If you can get over the antiquated save system and the fact that Dead Rising is nothing more than homage to all the B-movie zombie flicks of yester-year complete with laughable and corny acting and plot and buckets full of gore, it's a great time to be had. If all that sounds like positives to you, then you are going to freaking love this game. Zombie-haters need not apply!