Capcom has sure made a good career out of using zombies in their games. For the past ten years Capcom has scared the bejesus out of unsuspecting video game fans with their popular Resident Evil series. Millions of gamers have been trapped in the scary mansions outlining Raccoon City, fought mutated monsters and went into combat unarmed against dozens of bad smelling zombies. After ten years, a dozen games, two (soon to be three) bad movies and hours of terrible voice acting, you would think that you've had enough of Capcom's zombies. But you would be wrong … dead wrong!
On paper Dead Rising may sound like yet another Resident Evil clone, it's a game that traps you in a shopping mall and requires you staying alive during a zombie outbreak. But just because this is Capcom and there are zombies don't mean this is anything like Resident Evil. While Resident Evil has always been slow-paced and about puzzle solving, Dead Rising is a balls-to-the-wall action game that has almost no puzzles at all. Dead Rising is more of an anti-Resident Evil, for people that just couldn't get into caring about Jill, "the master of unlocking."
You play Frank West, a freelance photojournalist who is off on the hunt of a big story in Williamette, a fictional town in Colorado. As you're flying into the town you notice rioting, explosions and even a gruesome death or two … sounds like the place to be if you're looking for another Polk award. Most daring photojournalists just go to the front lines of some war torn country, but not Frank, he's ready to dive right into the middle of a pack of zombies.
After being chased by government helicopters, Frank lands on the roof of the local mall and reminds his pilot to return for him in 72 hours. Now it's up to Frank to take some quality photographs, save some innocent shoppers and figure out what is going on … all in 72 hours. Can you do it? Talk about some pressure.
Although you are trapped in a smallish environment, the game feels more like Grand Theft Auto than Resident Evil. Frank can go anywhere and shop in any store he wants; he is free to do what he wants in the 72 hours you are given. If all you want to do is run around and kill zombies all day, then have at it. If you want to solve the cases or figure out how to save all of the innocent shoppers, then you can do that too. It's your mall and you can do whatever you want with it.
The main story is split up into eight different missions, each requiring you to be at certain places at exact times. If you happen to miss a rendezvous or forget to be at the right place to catch an important cinema sequence, then your whole case crumbles and you have to start all over. Solving these cases require you to pay close attention to what time it is and never missing an important clue.
Thankfully the rest of the game is far less rigid; a lot of what you do in Dead Rising is save the non-infected civilians that are hiding out in the mall. It's your job to find them, protect them and then convince them that there's a helicopter coming … a helicopter that will fit more than four dozen people in it. Once these innocents have teamed up with Frank you are able to tell them where to go and give them your weapons to defend themselves. If everything goes well then you will lead them back to a safe room and head out for your next mission.
As you might imagine, the mall in Williamette offers you countless ways of killing the zombies that are looking to feast on your brains. Just about everything you could possibly want to use as a weapon is available somewhere in Dead Rising's mall. I'm talking about CD jewel cases, shovels, lawn mowers, chainsaws, baseball bats, clothing hangers, jewelry, a katana, mannequins, giant rocks, and dozens of other items. It will take a dedicated player (with much too much time on their hands) to grow tired of all of these weapons, which gives Dead Rising a lot of variety and replay.
Along with all of the weapons you will also have your choice of clothing for Frank. The game has a number of funny combinations that will have Frank look like he's walking into a disco club in the 1970s, trying to steal your car in Grand Theft Auto III, fit in with nudists, or even team up with Rambo. Heck, if you want to get real creative you can dress Frank up in a pretty dress and have him put a mask on. The mall is perfect for experimenting with Frank's look, and in some ways that's more fun than actually dealing with the survivors.
While it may seem logical to simply run around the mall killing every zombie you see with the same weapon, Dead Rising actually forces you to use a lot of different weapons. Most weapons will only last a few hits before they break and become useless. This means that you will often be searching for a new weapon just so you aren't defenseless. As your inventory increases you will be able to store weapons for later, but there will be a lot of times when you will have to scour your surroundings for something, anything.
When you first start the game Frank won't be very strong or fast. As you complete missions or save your fellow survivors your PP (Prestige Points) meter increases until you gain a level. With each level you gain new abilities (such as wall jumping and body slamming the zombies) attributes. By the time your character has reached the lofty goal of level 50 you'll be practically unstoppable, able to kill zombies in one hit and run faster than ever before.
What sets Dead Rising apart from all the other games that feature similar role-playing elements is the ability to completely start over but keep your current stats. In order to get the most out of Dead Rising you will mostly likely have to start over at least once or twice (or in my case, dozens of times). This means that you will see the early parts of the game many, many times. Thankfully every time you start over you will have new moves, more life, a bigger inventory and a more powerful character. Dead Rising really wants you to start over, which is the type of thing that will frustrate a lot of gamers early on.
Another problem many gamers will have with Dead Rising is the crummy save system, which only allows you one save. There are places in the game for you to save (such as the bathroom, a comfy bench, etc.), but you won't be saving enough to make it work for your advantage. There are a lot of times where you will have to choose between a save point or the experience you just earned … and sadly most of the time it's just easier to choose the experience. Obviously this is not the case if you save right before a big boss battle, but those are few and far between and most of the time you will die simply because you couldn't get to food in time.
Something else that will surely drive gamers up the wall is the fact that you won't be able to do everything you want to. With only 72 hours (24 game hours equals two real world hours) you are going to have to choose between saving everybody or solving the mystery of Williamette, Colorado. You just don't have time to do both. This gives you a real incentive to go through the game a second time. No matter how many times you've gone through Dead Rising there is usually a good reason to go through it again, even if it's just to earn some of the obscure achievement points Capcom has thrown in the game.
For me these issues aren't deal breakers. The limited saves and constant restarting annoyed me at first, but after awhile I started to understand what Capcom was trying to do with the experience. Playing the early segments numerous times actually allowed me a chance to experiment and try out things I normally wouldn't have done. Instead it was the little things that made me go crazy. For example, early in the game you are given a phone to keep in contact with Otis the mall's janitor. Otis will call you from time to time to tell you where you are, give you leads on where you can find more survivors and suggest where you go next. I'm sorry, did I say "from time to time"? What I meant to say was that Otis will call you non-stop, often at the absolute worst times (like when you're right in the middle of a boss battle or fighting off a huge swarm of zombies). Answering his calls means that you won't be able to attack or defend, which can often put you in a terrible situation. It won't take you long before you never want to hear from Otis again. And really, isn't there a Radio Shack in this mall? Certainly there has to be a store that sells some sort of hands-free device so that you can kill zombies and hear Otis at the same time.
Another problem I had with Dead Rising was the artificial intelligence for the computer-controlled survivors. While it's true that you can equip these non-playable characters with weapons and tell them where to go, most of the time you really need to hold there hand to get them from point A to point B. As the days wear on this problem will become even more blatant. The computer-controlled characters seem to look for ways to annoy you, from jumping right into a huge group of zombies to getting stuck on a wall and not going anywhere. The computer's stupid AI is enough to turn even the easiest escort mission into the most frustrating experience of your life. As the bodies of the survivors started to stack up I found myself justifying their deaths: if these people are too stupid to negotiate a wall, then perhaps they weren't worth saving in the first place.
And then there are the boss battles. While the bosses aren't the worst I've ever seen, they do pale in comparison to the rest of the game. Instead of going up against giant bosses that look cool and push the power of the Xbox 360, Dead Rising makes you fight real people that are about the same height as you. Most of these characters (referred to in the game as "psychopaths") are annoying at best, they have only a few types of attacks and just aren't a lot of fun to take down. Some of them (such as Adam the clown) are just plain stupid, completely out of place in a game full of zombies.
To be fair to Adam, you aren't always fighting psychopaths and zombies. Around the half-way point the game will introduce you to a whole new group of baddies, a gang of crazy cult members with knives and explosives. And that's just the beginning of your troubles. By the end of the game you will yearn for a time when all you were doing was avoiding slow-witted zombies.
When you aren't avoiding zombies, cult members and even the U.S. military, you are free to investigate the mall and see what it's all about. While the combat is fast and fun, it's the mall that is the main character of this story. It's fun to just explore the various pun-friendly stores and see what they have to offer. The mall has everything you would expect, including an Old West-inspired food court, a supermarket, a theater, a hardware store and even a gym. If it weren't for those pesky zombies I could see myself getting lost looking at all of the window displays and sales items.
And you don't have to stay in the mall, either. The middle of the mall is a giant park area, complete with trees, water and a giant clock tower. You are also able to head into the mall's parking lot, which gives you control of several vehicles (such as a truck, a car and a motorcycle). While I have some minor complaints about the way the vehicles handle, there is nothing better than running over hundreds of zombies at once. If gas-powered weapons aren't your thing then be on the look out for bicycles and skateboards, all of which make your travels faster and easier.
By now it should be clear that you're free to do just about anything you want in this zombie infested mall. Unfortunately this open-ended game play doesn't always lead to a great story. The main quest has you trying to figure out who this mysterious man named Carlito is and what he has to do with these zombies. Along the way you will meet up with his sister and a number of other survivors that will do their best to help you solve the mystery (and net a good story for whatever newspaper/magazine you sell it to). But don't expect a big plot, outside of a few cut scenes and a couple of shocking twists, Dead Rising isn't much on the narrative. The plot is mostly there for you to get into the mall and kill a bunch of zombies.
This is the type of game the Xbox 360 was born to run. Even with hundreds of zombies on screen at once the game moves along at a consistent frame rate. The detail of the mall is breathtaking, from the grotesque designs of the zombies to the products each store sells. The game's beauty is subtle; you won't really notice how good the game looks until you visit some of the mall's more interesting stores (such as the supermarket). The only real disappointment in the graphic department comes from the shoddy boss design, but even then it's hard to be too disappointed with a game that looks this good.
Despite a few design quirks (like stupid computer-controlled survivors, non-stop harassments from Otis and a save system that teeters on being broken) Dead Rising manages to become one of the best new franchises on the Xbox 360. This is the type of game that will have you heading back into the mall long after you've been rescued. This may not be Capcom's first foray into the land of zombies, but this is certainly a fresh take that deserves a look from just about anybody who is not offended by copious amounts of blood.