Shop 'til you drop dead.
The only thing more shocking than Resident Evil 4
's great gameplay is its nonchalant abandonment of zombiekind. Sure, you eventually kill some undead beasties, but by and large Capcom turned its back on the lifeless masses by emphasizing cultists over corpses. As fans of all things zombie, we shed a single, rotten tear for our missing brothers, then gleefully went about slaughtering those pesky living for a change.
But the thought still nagged at us: what happened? Did they crawl back into the ground? Cannibalize themselves into oblivion? What, pray tell, did Capcom do with all their zombies?
We recently got our answer at a press event in the Las Vegas desert, where we were joyously reunited with the undead sea via the upcoming Xbox 360 apocalypse, Dead Rising. With enough zombies to satiate several generations of Romeros and some very clever gameplay twists to boot, this could well be the horde we've been waiting for.
In an obvious homage to Dawn of the Dead, Dead Rising takes us back to the birthplace of the zombie horror: the shopping mall. You play as Frank West, an eager-to-earn photojournalist. As luck would have it, his chase for the scoop of a lifetime plunks him down in a small town mall teeming with walking cadavers. What did you expect, Zombie Shakespeare? It's a time-honored tale of Mysterious Zombie Epidemic® and that's fine by us.
Besides, the gameplay takes a novel approach to this classic environment by featuring an open-ended world and endgame. In 72 hours, a helicopter will arrive to rescue Frank, but what he does in that time is pretty much up to you. Be the hero and explore the mall's enormous areas for other survivors, play it safe and barricade yourself in a room to wait it out, stay cool and professional by taking potentially lucrative photos, or just go loco and wipe the floor with the seemingly endless waves of zombie bastards staggering about. The end of the world is in your hands.
Though the developers are dodgy about how long one play-through will take (the 72 hours do not play out in real-time), Dead Rising attempts to inject valid replay value into what seems like a typical action game. You certainly won't see all it offers in one, two, or even three passes.
The game supports this somewhat realistic set up by really fleshing out the mall (no pun intended). You'll be able to explore all kinds of shops, from sporting goods stores to supermarkets, and the game takes advantage of the 360's power by making almost everything you see a conceivable weapon against the undead. Ever beat a zombie back to the grave with a head of lettuce? Garbage can? Dishware makes a fine projectile, and nothing says "Back zombie scum!" like an oversized teddy bear. Kill 'em with kindness!
And don't feel too bad about it, because for every zombie re-killed, at least five are ready to take its place. Dead Rising is one of the few 360 games we've played that truly takes advantage of the next-gen hardware, in this case by upping the ante on sheer zombie mass. You will literally fight through hundreds of shamblers in any given area, all of them guided by a pretty creepy "swarm A.I." that lends urgency to your proceedings, if not an outright end to them. Plus, the zombies are influenced by the game's day/night cycle, becoming more vicious when the sun goes down (although nothing special happens when they feed after midnight, we think).
Interestingly, you're not alone in your quest to stay alive. In addition to a smattering of other survivors, each of whom may or may not play a critical role in getting to the bottom of the epidemic, the mall is home to a number of crazy people convinced that everyone else is out to get them. It's rough enough contending with five thousand zombies aiming for your brain; add a paranoid, gun-toting survivalist to the mix and suddenly things get a bit more complex. Expect more than just zombie blood on your hands.
Dead Rising doesn't shy away from the gore, either. Chainsawing a zombie will result in plenty of red, as will squishing it with a sledgehammer or hacking through a gang of them with a giant axe. Bright, cheery colors give the game a weird, cartoony vibe, though it never devolves into a satire. We noticed a wee bit of slowdown during the more manic moments, but we're hoping that will be ironed out in the final product.
We're also hoping Capcom keeps its undead workforce employed as Dead Rising heads to retail in Summer '06. If our time spent with this nightmarish shopping spree is any indication, it will definitely warrant a trip to the mall, zombies and all.