We all know George A. Romero’s work. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead have all made their way into the homes of horror movie aficionado’s and camp lovers. Romero’s zombie flicks have been the main source of inspiration for the developers at Capcom (though the box ironically states that “this game wasn’t developed, approved, or licensed by the owners or creators of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead”). A sense of humour is thus present from the start. Welcome to Dead Rising.
You are Frank West, a photojournalist who picked up rumours about a remote village being quarantined by the army. Smelling a good cover story, Frank takes the helicopter to Willamette, Colorado, where he sees that zombies are roaming the streets. He asks the pilot to drop him off in Willamette Park View shopping mall and pick him up in three days. And so it begins…
From the get-go, you’re confronted with the time-driven gameplay in Dead Rising. You have 72 hours (which translates to roughly 6 hours real-time) to investigate the mysterious zombie outbreak and get out alive. With only a limited ammount of time at hands, it’s impossible to do everything in one play-through. And the developers over at Capcom put a large emphasis on the replay-value of the game, which has more negative consequences than you might think.
First of all, the game has only one save slot, so you can’t retrace your steps if you made a wrong choice or have been lingering around a bit too much. Though it might seem like a reasonable choice from a developer’s point of view, it causes quite a bit of anger if you can’t complete a ‘case’ (a storyline chapter) because you just so happened to save at the wrong time. Even more annoying is the game’s distinct lack of checkpoints. If you die, you have two choices. Or you get to keep your experience gained so far and have to restart the game (indeed, restart the ENTIRE story mode) with a stronger character, or you can start off from your last savepoint. None of the options are satisfying.
But when you look past this obvious flaw, you will find an immensely satisfying action game underneath. To defeat the crowds of lumbering zombies, you can use pretty much everything you can find in the mall, be it hammers, cash registers, broomsticks, buckets, bubblegum machines, chainsaws or even a sparkling new lawmower. Of course, there are firearms too (in the hunting goods store), but to grab those, you’ll need to defeat a psychopath first. Psychopaths are surviving humans gone mental, and serve as bosses in Dead Rising. They are tough, but the rewards for killing them more than make up for that.
As you progress through the game, Frank will gain experience, which can earn him new moves, a longer healthbar, a larger carrying capacity or even improve his speed and damage. Another way to augment your stats is by finding books. Books can be found all over the mall, in the many newsagents, comic book shops or book stores. When carried with you in your inventory (they don’t necessarily need to be equipped), they can increase your damage, show you when a photograph nets you most points, make object last longer before they break, etc.
You always carry a camera with you ( after all, you are a reporter) to take snapshots of zombies or the environment. Though it’s not really required to take pictures, they can be used to score sidequests or gain you achievements (of which there are 50 overall). Furthermore, you can only store 30 pictures simultaneously and from time to time, you’ll need to change the batteries. If you happen to take damage (and believe me, you shall), you can eat food to heal your wounds. Some things restore more health than others (a bottle of milk is much healthier than an entire pizza, for instance) and you can even combine some sorts to create more potent recovery items.
The game is pretty challenging (and the unforgiving save system doesn’t help), but never unfair or impossible. As said, you can finish the game in under 6 hours, but to really see everything in this game and unlock every achievement, you should come back a second and possibly a third time. The good thing is the game doesn’t feel too repetitive then (after all, you’re choosing other quests). If you’ve completed all cases and made it to the heliport in time, you will also unlock Overtime Mode, which is in fact adds a fourth day of gameplay that ties up many loose ends. If you complete that one too, you can play Infinity Mode. As the name implies, you could virtually play forever. The only catch is you’ll be losing health permanently, so you constantly need to be on the lookout for food.
The sound and music in Dead Rising are exquisite. The voicework is certainly decent, if a bit campy, and the music is admirable. But where it truly shines, is in the magnificent sound effects. Breaking the skull of a zombie or slicing his/her arm off has never sounded this good. The sound of a chainsaw ripping through crowds of zombies has never sounded more satisfying. Dead Rising is a prime example of how sound can add to the overall enjoyment of a game. I’m a bit less enthusiastic about its visuals. The textures aren’t that impressive (we’ve seen the Xbox 360 do a lot better), but the levels are really well designed and very open, though they suffer from very frequent (if short) loading times. Even the cutscenes are interrupted by them! The large ammount of zombies onscreen, however, is laudable, especially since the framerate never stutters.
So, where does that leave us? Dead Rising is by all means an incredibly satisfying game. Beating down mobs of undead has never been this fun. It features a lifelike and highly interactive world, a decent storyline, a lovely B-movie atmosphere and decent graphics. Where it gets bogged down is by its horrid saving mechanism that really hurts the fun factor. In fact, if Dead Rising had a more forgiving save system, I’m sure I would have given it a 90+ score and a “classic”-monniker, but as it is, I can only call it a recommended purchase.