What is it about zombies that we love so much? They’re disgusting, repugnant walking dead serving no useful purpose to society. That is, unless useful translates to a swarming plague that terrorizes society by building its rank through gnawing on defenseless victims. Whenever these undead are featured in a new film, we mindlessly whip out our wallets in anticipation of what new ways a small band of initially reluctant heroes can conjure up to dispose of their former friends-turned-mindless parasites.
The same holds true in the video game world where Capcom has become synonymous with the zombie genre through their big money Resident Evil franchise. These games’ success even spawned a moderately enjoyable series of films with another entry on the way. Logic would suggest Capcom’s first dabble in next generation gaming would be in the form of another ‘Resident Evil’ game tied into the new movie’s release. But the venerable publisher has instead flipped a proverbial predictable coin and developed the new intellectual property Dead Rising with a healthy dose of influence from recent zombie theatrical hits “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later.”
Dead Rising’s similarities to “Dawn of the Dead” are so abundant that Capcom has included a disclaimer in every fathomable location of the game’s boot-up sequence and manual stating the two properties are in no way affiliated. My gut instinct upon hearing of this “unofficial” link between the properties was fraught with negativity; however, after being dropped off in zombie-infested Willamette shopping mall with an unknown mystery to solve, that outlook has taken a 180 degree turn. What Capcom has accomplished with original storytelling, professional cut-scenes — especially the boss encounters — believable voice acting and spot-on eerie sound effects is the antithesis of mediocrity we’ve come to expect from games based on films.
What catapults Dead Rising above and beyond typical third-person hack-n-slash games and the monotony and camera issues that plague them are customization and reporter scoop decisions required to successfully leave the mall alive. As reporter Frank West, you’ve got 72 hours before your chartered helicopter returns. Within minutes of arrival, the zombies are everywhere leaving the security room manned by a janitor and a pair of shifty, mysterious secret agents as the only safe haven. While the clock ticks, Frank must venture out into the mall to quickly get his story. Or should he answer scoop calls from the janitor and save numerous survivors trapped in various locations throughout the mall?
Whatever Frank decides, the entire mall and its inhabitants continue to live and breathe on their own. Escorting survivors back to the security room is an easy way to accumulate large quantities Prestige Points required for Frank to level up and carry more items and notches in the health bar. Time wasted escorting survivors could mean a missed case in the hunt for the truth and prematurely end the game. Theoretically all survivors could be blown off and Frank will be notified as each dies a gruesome death, either by zombie or a self-inflicted gunshot blast to the head. There’s never a right or wrong answer on what decision to make when, but always the running clock to keep in mind.
The death of survivors can’t stop Frank if he manages to uncover all the cases in time and escape the mall in one piece. Dieing on the other hand reveals Dead Rising’s questionable Achilles Heel. There is only one available save slot available for use, and saves can only be initiated from either restrooms or a couple select sleeping locales. Without the ability to juggle multiple saves, it becomes impossible to complete all the scoops, cases and concentrate on completing Achievements like snapping choice photographs within a single 72-hour game. The save system design forces multiple trips through story mode with one saving grace. All Prestige Points, level-ups, weapons/items and stat accumulation required for Achievements carries over when the game is restarted. With this knowledge collected, I willingly built up Prestige Points, killed myself and started over with a stronger Frank. By doing so, the once difficult bosses become more manageable and the game flows more freely. I still would prefer a straight-up “save wherever you are in multiple slots” approach, but this quirky system grew on me as I became accustomed to using it.
Typical hack-n-slash games have different weapons, special attacks and various health items to collect. Dead Rising has all these, including tons of fantastically gory weapons like chainsaws and lawn mowers, but then takes customization to a new level by making many items interactive. For example, books can be collected in stores in the mall that boost the effectiveness of certain weapons and, when coupled with other books, can almost make a weapon indestructible. Various food establishments have working microwaves, blenders and ovens where ingredients can be mixed to create special food that boosts various skills. A great example of a detailed interactive touch is the ability to heat a frying pan on the stove then use its scolding hot bottom to take a zombie out with a single blow. Another is throwing cooking oil onto the floor then watching zombies slip and slide all over it. Seeking out creative uses for numerous items found throughout the mall is a big part of Dead Rising’s unique draw.
The real stars of Dead Rising are of course those pesky zombies. Kameo: Elements of Power utilized hundreds of characters on-screen simultaneously but it was more for show than to add any value to the game. In Dead Rising’ hundreds of zombies provide a legitimate challenge to navigate and eliminate in the hunt for elusive Achievements. More than enough zombie forms have been modeled to avoid the trap of identical “quadruplets” popping up in every other room. And these zombies don’t ‘mess around. The female ones go straight for the crotch like a hungry prostitute and others attack either slowly or in a mad rush for fresh meat. My first excursion into the packed maintenance tunnels and parking garage is now one of my favorite gaming “wow” moments of all time and a tip of the hat to the mayhem conclusion of “Dawn of the Dead.”
There would be little incentive to constantly restart Dead Rising if it didn’t include arguably the most robust and diverse Achievements offered to date. Forget about scoring Achievements while each case is identified and completed. These Achievements range from killing 1,000 zombies to killing the entire town of 57,000+ zombies, from staying alive for five straight days in an extension of story mode to eating every available food in the mall — and there are a lot of them! It will take a seasoned zombie hunter to unlock every Achievement.
I found beating Dead Rising is akin to enjoying a lengthy zombie genre film, only I was in control and had more fun exterminating the zombies myself rather than watching some heroic Hollywood schmucks go at it. I sincerely hope gamers initially turned off by what may have appeared to be mindless hack-n-slash action from the demo available over Xbox Live to give the full version, and more importantly the save system a legitimate chance. I’d love to see Dead Rising spawn a George A. Romero-esque sequel along the lines of “Dead Walking” to portray what happens when tens of thousands of zombies take over an entire town. I’ll gladly mindlessly whip out my wallet for that.
- Overall: 8.7
- Deeper than your typical button masher, and it has the best Achievements list yet. The quirky save system can be a total annoyance, though.
— Dan Bradley