Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Dead Rising was my first foray into the current generation of consoles. I remember being at a friend’s house in late 2006, jealously excited to play this new zombie game for the new Xbox 360. “It’s only one player,” my friend reminded me. I didn’t care; we’d take turns when the horde inevitably ate us. When it was finally my turn, I wanted to do everything. I wanted to take a road pylon and beat a zombie to death with it. I wanted to put a Servbot mask onto one of the damned and laugh hysterically as it stumbled around blindly. I wanted to rev up a lawnmower and run straight into the mobs of undead, psychotic grin on my face all the while.
I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have time to.
Dead Rising has a ton of potential and can be really fun at times, but is bogged down by wonky controls and poor design choices. If you don’t mind looking past the flaws though, you’ll find a mindlessly fun zombie killer.
Of course, it’s not all mindless. There is a story to be told, but in usual Capcom fashion whenever zombies are involved, you’ll have to just smile and nod politely. Photojournalist Frank West gets a tip that the National Guard have sealed off the town of Willamette, Colorado. Frank hires a helicopter to fly him into town in order to discover what’s up. While flying in, he notices several mobs of people attacking each other and decides to take some photographs. This is the player’s introduction to the photography element of the game, but more on that later. Landing on the roof of the mall, Frank tells the pilot to pick him up in three days. Meeting other survivors in the mall, Frank quickly discovers the dead are rising (gasp!) and he’ll need more than just his camera in order to survive and find the truth.
Working with two federal agents trapped in the mall with him, Frank is sent on several different “Cases” (story missions) that need to be completed in order to advance the story. These occur at specific times in that 72-hour window Frank has before being rescued. And this is my first major gripe with the game. I hate – nay, loathe – time limits. 72 hours may feel like a long time, but it’s not standard speed. One minute of in-game time is only seconds of real time. When you’re needed to be at a specific place in the mall, you’d better be there well ahead of time. The mall itself is huge and fairly accessible; however, the hordes of zombies between point A and point B can be a hindrance quite quickly. More than once I found myself running as fast as Frank would go, using every shortcut and praying one of those undead bastards didn’t grab me, lest I be late for the Case that began in 10 minutes (game time) on the other side of the mall. The game doesn’t end if you miss a Case, but you won’t get the best ending. After beating the game though, I was okay with that. The characters are largely forgettable, the plot half-baked (and changes depending on your ending). Instead, I would use the 72 hours and run around like a maniac, finding newer and better ways to end the dead.
Throughout the game, Frank will earn PP, or “Prestige Points”. These are Dead Rising’s version of XP, and all kinds of things can give Frank PP including killing zombies, saving survivors and completing missions. After leveling up, can increase Frank’s inventory, health, speed, damage, etc., or give him a new move to use in combat. Some of these moves are powerful and look really cool the first few times, but you’ll soon forget about them because most are just too damn awkward to bother with. To perform a Wall Kick for example, you must “press X while pushing the Left Stick in the opposite direction of the wall the moment you make contact with it.” Huh? Maybe it’s just me, but I sure won’t remember to do that, especially if I have a broadsword in my inventory instead.
The rest of the combat system can be quite fun, however, especially when you find a weapon that can do some real damage. Almost everything in the mall can be used as a weapon. Beat up a zombie with a mannequin? Check. Take a cash register and smash some skulls? Check. Wield an electric guitar in a manner Pete Townshend would be proud of? Check. It really is fun to just pick up a potted plant beside you and crush the undead with it. There’s a “Zombies Killed” counter in the corner of the screen, and seeing that number well into the thousands by the time you’re finished the game is not uncommon. There’s even an achievement to be unlocked if you manage to kill 53,594 zombies (the population of the town) in ONE play-through. I’m not much of an achievement junkie, but I’m proud of earning that one. Besides, you unlock Mega Man’s Buster Cannon as a reward! How sweet is that? Dead Rising isn’t an outright survival horror game, but there are times when the horde is closing in and you’re so desperate for a weapon that you’ll pick up a bench to fend them off. These can be intense moments, even if they don’t occur all too often.
As mentioned earlier, Frank’s a photojournalist. He’ll need photos in order for anyone to believe his story. The camera around his neck becomes another aspect of gameplay. Pictures taken will be given a rating in several different categories such as Horror, Drama, Outtake (Comedy), even Erotica. Bonuses will be given depending on the photo. There are even “Photo Op” moments throughout the game that, if captured, yield large PP boosts. For example, after reuniting an elderly couple, snapping a shot of the two embracing is a touching moment and you’re rewarded for it. Otherwise, photography isn’t used too often, and can be all but forgotten in the heat of the action.
Dead Rising has a lot going for it; a sandbox setting, thousands of zombies to be killed, and hundreds of weapons to use. But you’ll need to look past the flimsy story, awkward controls and maddening time limits in order to enjoy the heart of the package. If while watching Dawn of the Dead you think to yourself, “Man, I’d love to do that!” I’d first recommend a shrink, followed by a play-through of Dead Rising.