Dead Rising review

It seems a long time ago when I first played Resident Evil on the Playstation and I can remember at the time it being true cutting edge stuff what with its pre-rendered hand drawn backgrounds and of course the first outing for those zombies in the series. Well fast forward a decade (yes, it’s been that long) and Capcom, the purveyors of all things un-dead are still churning out zombie inspired games. This time the host is the all powerful Xbox 360 and this time the game is Dead Rising.

A brief introduction to Dead Rising sees the main protagonist Frank West, flying in a helicopter over the Willamette Shopping mall which is based on an alternate town in Colorado USA. Frank is a budding freelance journalist who has “covered wars you know” yet in his desire for success and recognition has been given a tip off that something strange is happening in the small town Willamette. Upon arrival at Willamette it appears the Army has blocked off all routes leading in and out of town and some rather strange looking people are wandering the streets. This conundrum leaves Frank only one option which is kind of forced considering Army helicopters attempt to deter frank’s transport away from the surrounding airspace. Leaving instructions to his hired pilot to return within 72 hours, Frank drops directly onto the roof of the shopping mall itself and so his adventures begin as he attempts to uncover the truth behind the Willamette incident. Well this is where you the player comes in as Frank’s survival is purely down to you.

Gameplay:

Dead Rising is a rather interesting game and from the offset players are thrust into a predicament that bares an uncanny resemblance to a particular zombie movie also set in a shopping mall. What Dead Rising does is grab elements from Capcom’s Resident Evil series (most noticeably Resident Evil Outbreak) and then regurgitates them into a hybrid free roaming zombie escapade. Comparisons aside lets take a look at the core structure of the game to give you an idea of how it plays out.

Frank has 72 hours to explore the mall and find out what on earth is going on here. From the offset, Frank is introduced to survivors with whom he can talk to. Well I say talk, as the conversations with survivors outside of cut scenes are text based. Once key characters are introduced, Frank is then free to roam the mall as he pleases. The way the story portion of the game works is that at certain times if Frank is at a specific location then an event occurs which in turn leads him closer to the truth. Frank comes equipped with a watch (aptly branded as a mega man watch) which is viewable at any time by simply tapping left on the d-pad. Time in the game moves a lot faster than in reality and works out to be roughly 5 minutes translating to 1 hour game time. Frank is also given a map and radio by surviving mall staff, Otis who throughout the game gives him updates on various happenings around the mall. As Frank heads off into the madness his objectives are laid out before him in the form of a timer which shows how long the event will be available for. As the timer counts down Frank is able to go about his business doing what ever he chooses as long as he is at a certain spot or completes a specific task before or when the counter reaches zero. Looking at his watch, Frank is able to set a waypoint marker for being at certain places where events are likely to happen or happening at that time. The marker being a very useful tool for navigating the mall and making the transition from one area to the next as least frustrating as possible.

Once the scene is set for the game after completing the first few story elements, players are then able to freely move around the mall as they choose and if they like, can ignore the story entirely. In fact it is possible to sit Frank in the game’s safe area (security room) and simply wait for the 72 hours to pass; although that would be incredibly boring and would only net you one of the 6 endings the game has to offer. As mentioned earlier, Otis provides Frank with details regarding strange activities that happen through out the mall. The radio will often stir into action with Otis describing a specific area. Frank is then able to investigate these areas (by setting a waypoint if desired) which could be something like finding a survivor who needs help or finding a survivor who has turned loopy; the latter being a boss battle where it’s kill or be killed, no questions asked. Rescuing survivors is another ball game altogether, and once survivors are found requires Frank to lead them to the safe haven that is the mall security room. Once a survivor is found Frank is able to ask them to follow him or wait in a specific point which the player highlights by aiming at it and pressing the Y button. It’s a very simply process although with hundreds of zombies blocking his path this is no easy task especially considering the AI of the survivors.

The survivor AI is a little confusing because on one hand it looks at times like sloppy programming where characters will get stuck or simply run into zombies with no regard whereas on the other hand these people are regular folk who are scared out of their minds and so realistically act irrationally. What is rather neat is that Frank can enlist as many survivors into his entourage as the game allows. What also is rather neat is that Frank is able to hand them weapons and even give them food items to boost their health. This portion of the game is certainly a nod towards the Resident Evil Outbreak games and becomes very challenging to get survivors from one end of the mall to the safety of the security room although quite a team of zombie busters can be gathered with the right tools. The challenge factor being made perhaps more difficult due to the un-predictable AI which really requires Frank to stay close to the survivors as they cant survive on their own. What is unique is the fact that Frank can ignore the survivors altogether and simply go on a zombie killing spree throughout the game or just goof around taking in the sights of the mall or more importantly take photos (more on that later).

Frank is able to do whatever he wants in a mall filled with shops containing all manner of goods that you would expect such as clothing, sports items, cosmetics, books, food, and even guns to name but a few. However the mall is devoid of regular activity and instead lays host to masses of un-dead. The zombies fill the walkways, stairs and generally inhabit every walking space available, bar some rather tight routes that can be taken through the hundreds of on screen flesh eaters. Naturally the zombies home in on Frank’s succulent flesh and so as he moves amongst them they will attempt to grab him or lash out to get a piece of him. What often happens is that when Frank engages the zombies in combat more seem to surround him and try and overwhelm him. This opens up two game play styles and is certainly a nod towards traditional Resident Evil game play. On one hand players can opt to attack the hundreds of enemies to clear a path or run and avoid them altogether remembering that time spent killing zombies is time spent away from rescuing survivors or uncovering the truth behind the incident. The clock is always ticking and although 72 hours seems like a long time it’s not when there’s people to see and save. The player really has to balance what they are going to do with their time in the mall and it’s this freedom that works well and separates Dead Rising from the Resident Evil series.

How many games have you played where there’s been an instant in which you are unarmed and you see a prop such as an iron bar or piece of wood that could easily be used as weapon, yet the game does not allow you to pick it up and defend yourself? Well without giving specifics there are quite a number of titles that restrict the player; well Dead Rising turns this on its head. With all the shops being open, Frank can enter these and pick up hundreds of makeshift weapons and items from them, so for example entering a sports shop will allow frank to pick up a baseball bat for a weapon or perhaps get a change of clothing into something more comfortable (although clothes have no bearing on game play other than simple looks). What makes Dead Rising work well is the fact that smacking a zombie across the face several times with a baseball bat is going to cause wear, not only for the zombie but for the bat itself. This translates to weapons only lasting so long before they break. There are loads of weapons to use and each one acts differently with some knocking over foes rather than killing them, some offering more speedy attacks and others being ranged or more powerful but slow and some being there for comedy value alone. Luckily Frank is able to carry more than one weapon at a time and so introduces us to another feature of the game.

For every zombie kill or activity embarked upon, Frank is given Prestige Points (PP) which in turn when accumulated help him to “level up”. This is an automatic process so that players con focus on the tasks at hand but grants him new abilities such as extra attack moves (there are quite a few) and more importantly for the survivalist more health, more carrying capacity, more attack power and ultimately a faster running speed. As Frank is a freelance journalist he carries a trusty camera with him at all times enabling him to capture any and everything which again nets him Prestige Points. There are several types of shot he can capture which are rated on things like Horror, Erotic, Brutal, Drama. There are some special moments which Frank can capture if he is quick enough which can net him masses of points. With an optional camera tutorial available during play the process is pretty simple as Frank can call up the view finder by holding the right trigger and then move around freely in a first person view of sorts. He is also able to zoom in and out to get the best shot possible. It is very plausible that if players simply wish to assume the role of eager pacifist journalist then they can by simply taking picture after picture to net points with very few occasions which actually require him to indulge in combat.

Dead Rising features a rather interesting save feature that again is more akin to the Resident Evil games. Players can only save at certain points in the mall and so a trek is often required to get to them whether it be one of the many washrooms or the security room. On the first play of the game what becomes clear is that if you are not prepared, as in have enough food items and weapons; players could suddenly find themselves stuck in an encounter under equipped. For some players this might seem a little unfair and I guess it is to a certain degree especially as players will probably forget to save at times. However this does highlight the fact that as mentioned already, players have to remain well stocked up on supplies before heading into new areas as a matter of course. Those who do not will ultimately suffer. On subsequent plays this becomes less of an issue as you have the added bonus of knowing what to expect. I think it’s probably safe to say that gamers will not be able to accomplish everything the game offers in one play through especially as there are those six endings to view.

Death in Dead Rising is handled rather differently to what you might expect as when Frank dies its game over and a load of the last save which is probably what you would expect. In a neat twist, upon death players do have the option of saving the game and starting from the beginning with the added bonus of keeping their stats. This effectively means that players could simply do zombie killing runs so far into the game simply to level up and then restart with a little more oomph behind them.

Graphics:

Dead Rising certainly looks very impressive on so many levels despite the mall setting not offering extremes of light and dark as much as other games. Each shop has been meticulously crafted to resemble its real life counterpart and with the use of the camera small details are visible such as being able to read the covers of books and magazines in the book store for example. Obviously when you zoom in too close, things can look a little less detailed but on the whole whilst running around; the mall is extremely impressive indeed.

The major feature of the game beside the actual mall is the characters that come in all shapes and sizes. The zombies themselves look great close up and with hundreds on the screen at any one time provides for an impressive sense of scale. There are several zombie types although as expected there are many repeated models. The zombies also slice and dice quite realistically spouting suitable amounts of blood when shot, sliced, whacked and beaten upon. The survivors all look different and the leading cast themselves look spectacular during the game’s cut scenes with things like skin imperfections and fine hair being noticeable. It’s often nice to be able to snatch a few photos during some moments of waiting just to see how detailed they are.

On a technical side of things, Dead Rising runs very smoothly considering the number of on screen zombies. I did notice some slowdown during intense moments of zombie battering but these were very infrequent and happened only for a split second.

Audio:

The sound is of a high standard although as expected there are some dodgy lines uttered during the game’s cut scenes. To be honest Dead Rising is quite sparse on the sound effects during actual play as you will be hearing the same zombie groans over and over as well as the same lines uttered by survivors. The music is pretty much non existent and is suitable for a mall but very much in the distant background. The Xbox 360 allows custom music and I suggest perhaps that at times players use this to the full. Imagine if you will the increased passion for zombie crushing madness with Motorhead’s Ace of Spades playing! As mentioned earlier the interaction with the survivors is text based and does somewhat dampen the overall atmosphere of the game.

Longevity:

Sadly Dead Rising is not an online game where 2 or more players could duke it out versus the un-dead. I’m not actually sure it would be possible without major scaling back on the zombie count which would effectively take away the main essence of the game. As a single player experience, Dead Rising offers reasonable challenge although players will be able to get through the game quite quickly. However to see all and do all the game has to offer including unlocking and playing the 2 hidden modes and achievements will take quite a number of plays. Dead Rising offers a zombie filled sandbox game where players are free to do as they please and I think it’s this that makes the game worthy of purchase as opposed to simply being a rental. There are so many things to see and do that even after several plays, gamers will be finding news things.

Overall:

I thoroughly love Dead Rising as it combines all of the cool elements from one of my favourite series (Resident Evil) and spews forth an epic zombie game. The story is perhaps a little on the weak side with some inconsistencies there for people to pick holes in if they wish. I would have also liked to have seen a more branching storyline where perhaps if events were missed then other opportunities became available. The control method can be fiddly to begin with especially the manual aiming not being on the right thumb-stick as you would expect. The survivor AI whilst maybe realistic in some respects is also questionable but hardly something to get all worked up over. The save system works well but for new gamers a little unforgiving perhaps. On the whole Dead Rising offers a compelling experience and excuse for all the madness. I like the way the game can be played on different play styles depending on what players wish to accomplish with their play time and I fear that many people will over look this fact. The management aspects of the game are very welcome and building Frank’s stats is also rewarding. On the surface Dead Rising could be seen as a mindless, repetitive hack and slash game (as seen in the recently released marketplace demo) and to some extent it is. However once you look beyond the mindless killing and embark on the other styles of play the game allows then you are left with something far more fulfilling. The question remains that although not a perfect game is Dead Rising fun? I would say most definitely yes, and it’s this fun factor that propels the game as one of the greats for the Xbox 360 thus far. Dead Rising is a tremendous game and one that no zombie fan should be without. If you can’t wait for the spookier Resident Evil 5 then I suggest that you take a look at Dead Rising.

8.5/10

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.