Review: How many ways are there to kill a zombie? Dead Rising will open your eyes to the possibilities.
Taking its inspiration from the original and contemporary Dawn of the Dead
films, as well as from Capcom's previous zombie-themed games, Dead Rising arrives on the Xbox 360 as a unique and action-packed experience that makes surviving in a mall for 72 hours quite enjoyable. Dead Rising has taken a good while for the people of Capcom to bring to fruition, but the game has made many strides from when it was first seen at E3 2005. While certain issues with the saving system and game structure will almost certainly make players grit their teeth, the delicious zombie carnage and effective storytelling more than carry the experience above many contemporary action titles.
The backdrop for the game has photojournalist Frank West investigating some strange behaviour in the town of Willamette, Colorado. As a freelancer, Frank has to locate work on an ad hoc basis, and the strange happenings in Willamette perk his interest. Hiring a helicopter pilot, Frank flies over the city, snapping pictures of the madness that appears to be taking place. From up in the sky, the scenes play out like riots, with various town members attacking others, gas stations exploding, and vehicular passengers being pinned down. While flying over the town's central mall (and it's only distinguishing characteristic), Frank and the pilot are spotted by a military chopper and ordered to land. Frank quickly instructs the pilot to come back for him in 72 hours and then makes a daring leap to the helipad on top of the mall.
From this point, the game proper commences, and Frank is left to explore the shopping mall's mysteries. From the beginning, Frank meets up with some interesting characters, including a couple of government agents, a mall security guard, and a mysterious Hispanic boy-girl duo who seem to know more about the ghouls roaming the streets than they let on. Frank constantly stays in contact with these various survivors and operates out of a high-level security office in the mall. From this location, Frank can access an elevator down to the ground or use the air ducts to sneak in from up high.
Suffice it to say, once in the mall, Frank discovers that it is packed with hundreds of the walking undead, and they're definitely ready to chow down. Of course, these aren't your Resident Evil-style zombies that travel in small groups of 2 or 3 and lumber towards you; these ?Dead Rising? zombies are slightly more aggressive (in particular at night time) and they are commonly clumped together with dozens of other zombies, and even hundreds of others, in certain instances. In a way, this allows Dead Rising to use zombies in a way that has never really been done before (chiefly due to technical limitations on older consoles), and they serve as more of a roadblock than an actual physical threat. This being said, the zombies are quite good at giving you several bites if you get too close to them, and they'll even knock you down in some instances (watch out for the female zombies that try and bite Frank's nether regions, yikes!). Certain sequences can even get downright desperate, as you'll be trying to complete an objective, yet you'll be swarmed by dozens of angry, brain-munching baddies.
What truly distinguishes Dead Rising from other zombie games is the way in which you can use the mall's items to dispose of the zombie mobs. Once again, the zombies are often more of an obstacle than a threat, but you'll no doubt have countless fun dispatching them with various items. Want to go to the sporting goods store and use a baseball to put them to the ground? Can do. How about shooting golf balls at them from afar? Great fun. Then again, the hardware store has all sorts of fun stuff, whether it is the copious supply of chainsaws, paint buckets, 2x4s and even an excavating drill that impales one zombie and then spins around the poor ghoul, knocking other foes out of the way in the process ? just messy fun. Of course, malls have more than just hardware stores and sporting goods departments. Things can get pretty wacky in Dead Rising, as you can start throwing CDs at zombies, hit them with giant toy bears, put coat hangers in their mouths, and hit them in the face with a cream pie from the food court. On top of these countless absurd weapons, there are additional items that would be found in any mall that can be used against the undead, including benches, potted plants, trashcans, and cash registers.
What's really great about the weapons is that they truly interact with the zombies in different ways, much like the elementals of Kameo affecting the trolls in various fashions. A lot of this credit has to be given to the sound design, as each item and weapon throughout the mall truly sounds different, and you'll get satisfaction from the sawing of sinew and flesh when using a lawnmower on the opposition or when using a heated frying pan to melt a zombie's face off. Not only do the items sound great, but they also react appropriately when used. It's great to see a bench fly through about eight zombies and then keep bouncing along the ground until it falls on its side, and it's also very cool to use something like a sledgehammer that puts zombies down with frightening immediacy.
There are many other items in the mall as well, including copious amounts of clothes that allow Frank to change his appearance, and some useful books that augment his skills. The clothes come in all varieties; these include fedora hats, running shoes, t-shirts, slacks, short shorts, business suits, goofy hats and children's apparel. All of these clothes add to the absurdness and humor of the experience, especially when you find yourself killing zombies while wearing a toy mask paired with a nice cream-colored suit. Of course, the shoe can be on the other foot and Frank can put some goofy masks and such on the zombies ? great fun. The books add to Frank's skill set and will allow him to get more out of certain items he finds in the mall. A health book, for example, will double the amount of healing power food items provide, and these can be anything from orange juice to potato chips. Another book actually makes bladed weapons three times as durable, and this is important seeing as all items will break at some point. The fact that weapons break is a good little game device, especially since it encourages you to try new things ? although it's hard to believe people wouldn't just experiment on their own.
As said, though, the zombies are more of an obstacle; the true meat of the game's narrative comes from rescuing hostages, defeating resident mall psychos, and uncovering the various facts and leads that will guide Frank to the truth. Dead Rising juggles all of these elements in sort of an odd way, but it's a style that some will get used to quicker than others. Essentially, each day of the 72 (three days) hours has several moments in which Frank will have to be in one place to get a story-specific mission. In between these times is when Frank has to rescue some hostages and kill some random psychos ? these are called ?scoop missions.? Since an in-game hour takes about 12 minutes, Frank doesn't always have a lot of time to screw around, but he'll certainly be able to have some fun in specific stretches. Getting to the story missions wouldn't have been such a big deal if Dead Rising's save system wasn't so bizarre. Essentially, you only get one save per profile on one device, meaning unless you have a memory card, you'll only get one save slot. On top of this, save locations are somewhat sporadic (security office, bathrooms). Then again, the save system is also really at the mercy of the of the odd level advance and story systems. Frank is constantly levelling up as he goes though the game, but if you happen to save in one of these compromising spots and can't make it to the next story mission, the game forces you to restart the story completely. This is pretty lame, especially since it's not really that necessary seeing as people would naturally want to replay a game like this, anyway. It seems possible that the developers painted themselves into a corner and needed this strange and punishing system to ensure people were strong enough to proceed, but it still isn't that great of an idea, regardless. Either way, the game can be quite difficult early on, and only when Frank gets new skills and attributes does the action become more manageable.
When levelling up, Frank will be given either a new attribute (speed, strength, throw distance, stock, health) or a new fighting skill. The attributes progress naturally and gradually allow Frank to handle himself better against the bigger hordes, but the skills he learns are actually much more practical and ?hands on.? Some moves will be pretty basic, enabling Frank to push zombies away when grabbed or walk on top of the shoulders of a big group of zombies, but the advanced moves get a whole lot crazier. Building from Frank's (presumably) past life as a wrestler, Dead Rising enables you to airplane spin, suplex, throw, and bulldog zombies. You even get some crazier moves later on, including one that allows you to completely disembowel your zombie enemies for an instant kill ? pretty wild.
When you're not using these moves on zombies, you'll likely be squaring off against the game's colourful boss characters, known as psychopaths. These sequences are memorable for two reasons: 1) for how the characters are voiced and presented, and 2) for how the battles themselves play out. On your travels through the mall, you'll encounter a killer clown, a machete-wielding Vietnam veteran, a biblical cult leader, and a demented butcher, just to name a few. The AI of these bosses isn't always the greatest, but the characters are so interesting and their attacks so bizarre and cool that it's easy to get into them. Some of these foes are quite hard if you are at a low level or not prepared (appropriate equipment and food), so you'll have to be mindful of when you take certain missions. Boss battles can be a great addition to a game, and Dead Rising is just such an example of this.
The other scoop missions come in the form of escorting survivors back to the security office. Just like the psycho missions, you'll be radioed these stranded individuals' locations through a walkie-talkie by a guy named Otis, a (now former) mall security guard. As a small aside, the game doesn't time these alerts very well, and you'll often be getting a call from Otis during a boss fight or you'll run through a loading screen and he'll come right back and say, ?Hey, don't cut me off? and then proceed to recite the whole location again ? not cool. Regardless, the escort missions can be fairly entertaining, especially since you'll often have quite a few people following you at once (this is made more so by the random people you'll find who aren't radioed in by Otis). You'll usually have to convince people to come with you in some way, but the solution is never usually that far out of reach. The AI of the survivors can be somewhat maddening sometimes, especially since you'll be summoning them towards you and they'll be stuck in a wall or not moving (and likely getting chomped by a zombie, too). Some of the variance in how they behave is intentional, though, and you'll have to hold the hands of the timid, carry the injured, and slap around the weak-minded wimps. Arming your survivors is usually a good idea, especially since their weapons don't break and they can hold their own much better while holding a handgun, baseball bat or lead pipe. Some of these escorting sequences even play out quite dynamically, as you'll have a group of people following you, but one may fall behind and be killed. This cues up an in-game cutscene of the zombies overtaking the survivor and shows the human being killed in some gruesome manner, sometimes with them even turning into a zombie in the process. Frank has a notebook for holding photos of all of these survivors, and their status is updated (dead, undead, alive, found, etc.) as you play through the game.
An additional activity within the game is photography. Since Frank is a photojournalist by trade, he can take many photos of the mall's locations and inhabitants. By doing this, Frank gains Prestige Points (PP) that help with building up his character level, and they can also unlock certain achievements. The photos are classified in various categories including drama, action, brutality, and erotic. The goal is to usually get a lot of subjects on the screen at once or to have something very close to you (say, like a zombie), and to also have some action going on (explosion, survivors fighting or hugging, etc.). This camera system certainly adds a cool wrinkle to the gameplay, but it is mainly optional for the main storyline progression.
A lot of the credit for Dead Rising's entertaining fun has to be given to the presentation and sound design. The quality of the sound effects was mentioned earlier, but the music and voice acting is also quite good. The score provides some memorable and moody pieces, especially the opening music in the helicopter and the music that plays during key story points ? it has a sort of John Carpenter vibe. The ending credits music is actually decent, too, in a sort of cheesy, pop-rock way. The voice acting is uniformly good, and the actors play the in-game characters with just the right balance of campy humor and over the top scenery chewing to help make a player smile from ear-to-ear. The only notable star is Devon Sawa, who plays Frank West, and some might remember him from the movie Idle Hands
. He delivers the lines for West in such a cocky and self-assured way that you can't help but like the guy by the end.
Visually, everything in the game comes together quite well. Dead Rising has taken big strides since E3 2005, and the biggest beneficiaries have probably been the player model of Frank West ? which has some great facial detail and clothing textures ? and the zombies that you will face. The zombies aren't amazing models by any stretch, but the amount of variation between them and the fact that they all animate well and move independently is quite a sight. In fact, seeing one fall down some stairs chasing after you and then knock over some of his buddies is really damn cool. The zombies don't even use ragdoll physics, but rather a much more rigid physics engine that actually fits the zombies' stilted movements perfectly. The mall is quite vast in scope and the recent Marketplace demo only shows about a sixth of the mall's actual size. The sheer number of shops and locations in the mall is great, and the fact that so many items can be used (there are some that can be seen but not used) is most excellent. That being said, there is a tad bit of slowdown in certain sequences, and the lip-synching ? while good ? isn't quite right. The loading times in particular seem a bit excessive, but you will get used to them. Really, it just seems that by this day and age, with a hard drive, load times shouldn't be this often. It's more the amount of them rather than the duration, but again, they're tolerable.
The main portion of Dead Rising ? the 72-hour mode ? will last most players in the neighbourhood of 15 hours. You will almost certainly not get all of the bosses, scoops, or achievements the first time through, so this definitely increases the likelihood of a second or third playing. The achievements are actually quite creative, and you'll be rewarded for killing various amounts of zombies (there's even one for killing the exact population of the town), putting masks on zombies' heads, stealing a vehicle from some pesky convicts, killing psychopaths and photographing various people and places. There are a quite a few achievements so you'll definitely have to work hard in order to get them all.
The game actually features two additional modes, both of which add substantial value to the game. The first one is called the ?Overtime? mode, and it allows Frank to get into the story a bit more for an additional 24 hours. Since this mode ties heavily into the story, you'll have to find out yourself what it entails, but suffice it to say, there's a good deal of action and new story revelations. One does get the feeling that this mode might have just been broken off from the existing story to ?add? value, but it does suit its status as a stand-alone mode so that's good. The other mode is the ?Infinity? mode and this allows Frank to survive in the mall for as long as possible. In this scenario, bosses randomly spawn around the mall and no story points are to be had, but you'll be losing health at a reasonable clip. You'll have to stockpile food and weapons to survive, and the food in question does not respawn. The longer you survive, the higher your score will be, and this will go onto the Xbox Live leaderboards. The only catch is that this mode might tax some people's 360; it's hard to want to leave your system on for ten hours when you can't save in this mode.
On the whole, there's a lot to like about Dead Rising. It provides a great zombie game that doesn't rely on the usual scenarios of scares and dread. There are definitely some creepy moments in the story and some crazy bosses, but the game manages to effectively use humor, original combat, and absurd situations to create a unique experience that is exclusive to the Xbox 360. The extra modes provide some additional value, and the entire package should please those who've been waiting for this one.