Nothing livens up a party like a few zombies. And if a few zombies can make something better, then a lot of zombies should make something awesome, right? That seems to be the theory behind Dead Rising from the undead aficionados at Capcom. As a fellow fan of our non-living brethren, believe me when I say that Dead Rising is indeed the motherload of zombies. It’s bigger than a party; this is a zombie jamboree.
Manage to escape from Raccoon City? Well, whatever you do, don’t head over to Williamette, CO., because they’ve got troubles of their own. No one told freelance photographer Frank West, though, because thanks to a tip, that’s exactly where he’s headed.
[image1]Little does Frank know that the town has been quarantined by the military. Astonished by the carnage on the way in, the helicopter pilot drops Frank off on the roof of the Williamette Parkview Mall with a promise to return in 72 hours. Frank’s job is to scoop the story of his journalistic career, provided he can avoid being eaten alive by hordes of zombies. And you thought those TPS reports were bad news.
Surviving for three days lies at the core of this unique horror game, which counts down the minutes to your rescue in real time. Well, sort of real time - it’s sped up to take about 15 hours. While working under such a time constraint might seem limiting, Dead Rising is anything but. There are pictures to be taken, people to rescue, zombies to kill, situations to escape from, and a mystery to solve: where did the zombies come from? You can do as many or as few of these things as you like since most of the game is wonderfully non-linear. Heck, you could just spend three days on the roof waiting for the helicopter.
That, however, would not be fun. Instead, you should drop down into the mall where a huge number of interesting people await. There are nearly a hundred fellow survivors, all with their own stories and situations. Some are just scared, some have lost their minds or their families, some will try to kill you, and, if you follow the game’s main storyline, some are more than they appear. Find them, avoid them, rescue them, or kill them - it’s all up to you.
There are basically three ways to play though Dead Rising, in any combination. You can just free roam, scour the mall for survival items, accidental encounters and awesome photo opportunities. You can also follow time-sensitive ‘scoops’ from your buddy Otis, who watches the security monitors. He’ll steer you towards interesting mall happenings and rescue possibilities. Alternately, you can work on the much more linear ‘case files,’ which is the only way to unravel the mysterious story behind the zombie epidemic.
Any way you slice it, you’ll be done in 72 hours, and since so much depends on being in the right place at the right time, you can easily lose the thread of the case files. Once lost, it’s gone forever. Some people will find that frustrating, but that’s the wrong way to look at Dead Rising because the main story is only one facet of a much larger experience.
Most of which is spent killing or avoiding the endless hordes of zombies. This is a joy thanks to the tight controls and excellent hit detection. Aiming your camera or a gun is mapped oddly to the controller, but works fine once you get used to it. Dishing out zombie destruction is fairly easy, as the real danger lies in being overwhelmed by the countless hordes. Individual zombies might be stupid, but hordes are stupid and hard to avoid.
[image2]This gets easier as the game goes on, however, because Frank can level up and get stronger, carry more items, and learn more moves. You level up by getting “PP” (essentially experience points) through killing things, finding and rescuing survivors, and taking good pictures. Your camera is an integral part of the game and your shots are judged on their horrific, amusing, brutal, dramatic, and even erotic qualities. Manage to reunite a couple, and you had better make sure the camera is ready to catch their warm embrace. The better the picture, the more PP.
But when you’re not shooting pictures, you’re shooting zombies using an almost limitless number of weapons. Nearly anything you find in the mall can be thrown, kicked, shot, or swung at a zombie to greater or lesser effect, from music CD’s (pointless) to hedge trimmers (very pointy). Stuck in a fashion store? Grab a woman’s purse to look ridiculous as you slap at a zombie. Sporting goods? Try a golf club, that’s better. A guitar isn’t a great weapon, but boy, does it make a satisfying noise on contact. The variety is simply staggering.
As are the graphics. The violence is a little tongue-in-cheek, but definitely over-the-top, sparing no small amount of blood and guts. Frank and the other survivors look good, but it’s the sheer number of shambling zombies that really sends Dead Rising into the undead stratosphere. When you’re running along the top of some scaffolding to avoid a horde of literally 500 salivating brain-munchers reaching for you, you know you’re not playing on a PS2. It’s like Thanksgiving weekend gone horribly awry. With a solid framerate to boot, the only thing hiccupping is the occasional load sequence between areas.
The sound is quite good as well, as Capcom has somehow managed to find voice actors that aren’t crippled by flat intonation or insane Engrish. The sound effects couldn’t be better, especially with the weapons. There’s just nothing like the sickening thud of a 2 x 4 to the face. The soundtrack isn’t great, but it works most successfully when it’s just playing the lame mall muzak that so perfectly completes the scene.
[image3]Although there’s no multiplayer game, there are plenty of reasons to replay Dead Rising, not the least of which is that you can’t see everything the game has to offer in a single three-day trip. Save one person and you’re probably neglecting another. Depending on how you play, how far you progress through the case files, and whether or not you manage to meet your lift on time, there are also multiple endings. You can combine foods in the mall’s food court to make better food, find tons of easter eggs, learn skateboard tricks, and change your clothes in the many retail stores. There’s just a ton of stuff to do at the mall.
Unfortunately, the core act of killing zombies, while intrinsically fun, gets notably repetitive. You kill a thousand, you kill another thousand, and then, you’ll kill three thousand more. It’s a bit of a one trick pony, although it’s admittedly a very cool trick.
The lame save system isn’t cool at all, though. You can only save at the mall’s bathrooms, which are few and far between, and you only have one save at a time. If you expect to unravel the story, do not screw up a case file and then save. The save points are also protected by tons of shamblers, which can lead to infuriatingly hard sequences. For instance, you might find three psychopathic snipers shooting people from the mezzanine. So you fight your way through a thousand zombies to get to them, manage to kill them with barely any health left, and hooray! No wait, not hooray. Now you have to fight your way through another thousand zombies to get to the bathroom before you can save. Die, and you either lose your progress and revert to the last save, or interestingly, choose to restart the game, but with Frank’s current level and abilities. It’s silly and frustrating and makes little sense.
But Dead Rising sure does, at least if you’re into slaughtering zombies. The whole thing is simply great fun, a sort of malleable tour through the Dawn of the Dead films that clearly inspired the game. There’s a party in my Xbox 360, and all you zombies out there are invited.