Dead Rising Review

George Romero. Max Brooks. Bub the zombie. If those names mean anything to you, chances are you’ve been eagerly anticipating Dead Rising since it was first announced. But if you’re like me, you’ve been waiting for a game like Dead Rising to come along even longer, hoping that this would be the year a new zombie game was announced. Thanks to the masters of console zombies, Capcom, the wait is over. And let me tell you: it was worth it.

In Dead Rising, you’ll find yourself playing as Frank West, an aspiring photojournalist who primarily covers wars and other horrid events. For one reason or another, Frank decides it will help his career to be dropped off on top of a zombie-infested mall, and tells the pilot of the helicopter to return in 72 hours as he goes to investigate the cause of the zombies, as well as get some killer photos.

Upon entering the mall, you’ll find that things may be worse than they seemed from the outside, because the place is crawling with the undead. Through missions (or as they’re called in this game, "case files") you’ll begin to learn more about the zombies and their origin, as well as meet new people you’ll need to work with or save. Surprisingly, the story you’ll slowly uncover as you progress through the game isn’t too bad; it’s very reminiscent of Romero at points. While completing case files, your time will slowly near the 72 hour mark, at which time the game is over. In real-life hours, you’ll have a little over 7 to play through the actual storyline.

Of course, there’s more to the 72 Hour mode than just the case files. Through the phone calls of an NPC named Otis (who really gives Ocarina of Time’s Navi a run for the money as the most annoying character in any game) you’ll be able to complete sidequests. These sidequests usually involve escorting an NPC to safety, or getting rid of some unruly psychopaths. A lot of the time, you’ll get frustrated due to the stupidity of the AI you’re escorting, as they’ll decide it’s better to stay still in a room packed with zombies rather than follow you out the door. Due to the experience you can gain by completing these secondary objectives, however, it’s worth trying to accomplish as many as you can without running out of time or patience, as ultimately it will make Frank stronger.

Speaking of time, that brings me to one of the more awkward aspects of Dead Rising. Now, I hate to complain about realism in a game about zombies, but the way the case files occur really deserves mentioning. You see, case files are scheduled to begin at certain times in the day, and are listed with the time they occur in the case files menu. What that means is, as you play through the game you can look at your schedule, and see when the next plot-progressing event will take place. Maybe Frank has some inherent X-gene which allows him to have limited clairvoyance, or maybe Capcom just wanted to structure the game in a way which guarantees people can complete missions within the time limit and not find themselves struggling to find time in a later mission before the 72 hours are up. Either way, the forced time limits can really hurt you if you try to play through the actual story while screwing around in the mall trying to find a new way to kill zombies with a pie.

Once you’ve completed the 72 Hour mode you’ll be able to keep playing in other modes, Overtime Mode and Infinite Mode. Overtime won’t last long at all, clocking in around the two hour mark. Think of Overtime mode as a short extension of the main story, much like overtime in a sports game continues past the normal regulation time. After beating Overtime Mode, you’ll be able to take your zombie-killing skills into the Infinite Mode.

Infinite Mode was one I was really looking forward to before the final product was released, but it’s, sadly, flawed. The premise of Infinite Mode is to see how long you can survive the zombie attacks with no time limit. However, Capcom decided to make it so that Frank’s health would constantly diminish, whether you’re being attacked or not. While this keepa gamers from finding a nice camping spot and leaving their console on to pad their stats, it would be much better (and offer a lot more replay value) if they had taken the decreasing health out.

Of course, most of the replayability in Dead Rising will come from players providing their own sandbox fun. Like in the GTA series, you’ll be able to freely wander around the mall and do whatever you wish (while ignoring the case files). For the purposes of just messing around killing zombies, the best choice is really the 72 Hour mode, as almost all of the mall is open to you from the beginning and it provides the longest limit time-wise. Since you’re able to carry over some of your character’s data, I would really recommend playing through the main story the first time, completing the tasks to get as much of the extras and backstory as you can, and then after you complete it once, go wild. My personal favorite when it comes to mindless killing is German suplexing a zombie from a high spot through an object below.

But what fun is slaughtering zombies if the gameplay and weapons suck? Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out, because in Dead Rising the weapons, objects around the mall, and slaughtering of zombies is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Since the game takes place in a mall, you’ll find objects of all kinds available for your slaughtering purposes. Guns, katanas, potted plants, gumball machines, teddy bears, plastic swords, super-spit… the possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to deciding how to take out the undead. When you find a weapon (or "weapon") you’re comfortable with, you’ll find that it has two primary attacks. For most weapons, this includes the standard swinging/shooting attack, as well as a more specific special attack for that weapon only. The special attacks vary depending on what you’re using, but most of the time they’re incredibly violent, and incredibly lethal to those who are already dead.

One of the more frustrating incidents in the gameplay can come when you’re facing a human opponent rather than the undead. Due to some complex combat maneuvers you’ll gain later on, you may find yourself struggling against enemies as fast as — or faster than — you. This can lead to a lot of frustration and cursing, but thankfully it’s never a large issue against the zombies; if you mess up, you can just get some distance and try again.

After playing Dead Rising for a while, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that this is the first truly next-gen game out there (Oblivion doesn’t count since it’s on the PC — and better on the PC, at that). But looking at the screenshots, you could easily mistake it for a later Xbox game. The character models in-game are nothing to write home about; they’re good, but not truly great. Animations are done extremely well (the physics make it fun to throw things at zombies, or send zombie parts flying) but the models could have used more work. This may be deliberate on Capcom’s part, as the game already has huge loading times and some stuttering in intense moments.

Despite the decent-at-best in-game graphics, Capcom continues to stun with their cutscenes. Some of the cutscenes are humorous, some are dramatic, and some are so gory that it would make even the most diehard zombie fan do a double take. But no matter what type of cutscene it is, the visuals look beautiful. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to play a game where the graphics normally look as crisp in-game as they do in Dead Rising’s cutscenes.

The audio in the game is a mixed bag. On one hand, the dialogue can be campy, poorly acted, and out of place at times (although the supporting cast’s voice acting is extremely well done). On the other, a lot of zombie movies have that problem. So that makes me wonder: did Capcom really do a poor job on the voice acting, or was it more of an homage to the genre? The game does feel like a B-list horror film, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on purpose. Purposeful or not, though, it makes the game stand-out; there’s a reason people still watch Army of Darkness and why Bruce Campbell is as popular as he is, after all.

The rest of the sound effects in the game are spot-on. Squishing, slicing, cracking, crunching, squirting — pretty much any sound you can associate with dismembering flesh and disposing of the undead horde is in the game. The music in the background of the game is also a nice touch, with most of it being reminiscent of the elevator moment in the new Dawn of the Dead film in which Richard Cheese sings quietly in the background.

When it’s all said and done, Dead Rising is a great game with a few slight flaws. Killing zombies has never been so much fun, but at the same time it seems like there could have been more. For one thing, the decreasing health in Infinite Mode really hurts the endless replayability the game could have had. Another constant problem is the limited save feature, allowing you to have only one file at a time, as well as limiting your ability to save throughout the game. That, combined with the stupidity of some of the NPC AI, can make for some truly frustrating moments. Thankfully, there are zombies you can act out against.

Another interesting idea I’ve heard some people talk about would have been making a way to incorporate Xbox Live into the photograph system (which is also not used to its full potential). Maybe allow a user to submit a few pictures a month, and every month hold a contest to see which photo people like the best. Little things like that may not seem like much, but in the end they’re what separate the truly legendary games from the great ones.

In the end, despite a few minor flaws and annoyances, Dead Rising is easily one of the best games of the year, and I haven’t had as much fun playing a video game in a long, long time. If you’re a fan of zombie films, you owe it to yourself to get this game now (assuming you don’t already have it). If you’re just a fan of games in general, maybe give it a rent to see if it’s your style, since these free-roaming games aren’t for everyone. Either way, you really need to play it at least once, if for no other reason than to be able to tell people you played it before it got too popular.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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