Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

Dead Rising Review

Posted by deckard47 on April 25, 2008

Dead Rising is an interesting game. I read one article recently that said that it and Oblivion were the only really “next-gen” games so far, that did things that older games literally could not do, design-wise. I can see why you would think that. Dead Rising takes the original Dawn of the Dead and makes it a reality: a sprawling mall, survivors holed up in a security room, thousands upon thousands of the living dead, and an insane amount of violence.

The game’s story is surprisingly not bad at all, especially considering it’s coming from Capcom, creators of the amazingly well-written Resident Evil games. You play Frank West, a completely unattractive and annoying photojournalist. I mention this because you don’t see ugly heroes like this very much in games: you’ve pretty much got your craggy soldier dudes and your effeminate youth dudes. Which is to say, I like the fact that your character is annoying (to other characters) and not too pretty.

The story involves government experiments (no!), revenge, and cover-ups. It’s pretty well presented and well implemented, and I hardly ever felt like anything didn’t fit. Frank gets dropped off at the zombie-infested Willamette mall, in a town overrun by zombies and quarantined by the National Guard. You have three days to get a great scoop and meet you helicopter ride out. If only things were that easy, right?

You soon meet up with a group of survivors, some of them governments agents sent to investigate. They have their own motives, but after zombies break in to the mall and the survivors are pushed by to the security room, the Feds will realize that Frank is an asset. They’ll feed you info if you help them find a mysterious professor.

Unfortunately, many of the people in the mall have gone crazy; these “Psychopaths” are the game’s bosses. A large variety of people have gone nuts: a gun store owner, a clown, a Vietnam Vet., a mall cop, a mysterious brother/sister duo from out of town, and the local butcher, among others. Each psychopath is a different kind of insane, and each has different weapons and attributes. The psychopaths and regular humans are all written pretty well, and don’t exhibit the normal video game issues: i.e. the main black character, Brad, is a normal person, and the main Hispanic bad guy isn’t too hideously stereotyped. Still, some of the game is a little weird (I’m not sure what they’re trying to say with Jo the cop and her captives, but it seems like they’re scared of people “like” her), especially the way Frank reacts to the two main female characters. I know he’s an asshole, but it just seems like the game designers wanted to provide the (apparently 13 year old mouth breathing) audience with a sketchy main character. Classy.

All in all, you’ll have to kill several psychopaths throughout the course of the game. I say “have to kill” several because Dead Rising has a peculiar game structure (which most of you probably know about). You have 72 hours in the mall, and this takes place in real time (besides the pause menu). Scoops (missions non-main plotline related) and other points of interest only appear for so long a time, as do main story quests. Thus, if you’re killing zombies in the movie theater and forget to meet the FBI agents at 4pm, you’ll lose the ability to complete the story, for the rest of the 72 hours. You can just keep on playing, killing tons of zombies, or you can restart.

This makes for frustrating gameplay, especially considering you only have one save, and you can only save in bathrooms and the security room. Suddenly, what appears to be an interesting design decision (a time limit and set mission windows) becomes extremely annoying). For instance, if you save in one bathroom, and then realize that you can’t make it to the security room in time for the next mission, you’ll never be able to get to that mission.

Even worse, most of the scoops involve escorting survivors back to the security room. This makes sense, but what this means in-game is that you have to manage large groups (up to 7) of survivors with the worst A.I. and pathfinding ever. If you give them weapons, they’ll stop in a crowd of zombies, attack a zombie who is totally out of the way, or just be dumb in general. When this happens, they’ll start to yell “Frank, Frank!” The number of times I nearly killed survivors because of this… Some survivors can be carried or lead by the hand, but when you have 4 other numbskulls in tow, you don’t appreciate that one piggyback rider.

If you want, you can save all of your experience (Frank levels up his speed, attack power, health and such) and restart the game. This is practically mandatory at first, as the game is nigh impossible at your starting level. You’ll be mowed down by psychos or eaten by zombies way too fast.

This is all obviously meant to encourage replay value. You’re supposed to restart, over and over, to get higher levels at earlier stages, and you’re supposed to miss missions, and get bad endings (there are endings rating from “True” to “A” to “D”), all so you can play the game again. Eventually you can unlock overtime and unlimited modes, but it takes a bit of doing.

That all sounds rather annoying, right? Well, it is, but once you get used to it, you’ll forger about it. Once I got a handle on the time limit, how long it took me to cross the mall, and how to level up Frank quickly, the game became much more fun. This is when I began to realize that Dead Rising is really an amazing game.

Controlling Frank is easy, as is shooting, punching or swinging a sword. The map is easy to use, and you can make any mission objective appear as a big floating arrow, guiding you. There are tons of weapons in the mall, conventional an otherwise. There are also bikes, cars and skateboards to get you around a little faster.

What this game really boils down to is different ways to kill zombies, and weird stuff to do along the way. Want to make your spit acidic and then go around spitting on zombies? Go for it. You can pick up a bunch of novelty masks and then plop them on zombie heads, blinding them. You can learn killing moves like disembowel, whereby Frank literally goes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on any bad guy.

Coupled with the amazing number of shops to be found, and the photo shooting aspect of the game, there’s a lot to do. Photography feels a little superfluous, but you get more Prestige Points (XP) for more interesting (mostly violent or dramatic) pictures, and for photographing special objects, so there’s a bit of depth there.

As regards the shops, you can use most of them, mostly for weapons, food, transportation, clothing or hairstyles. It’s a lot of fun to pick up a suit, some nice glasses, shave your head at the cutlery store (why the cutlery store? Who knows), and then progress through the storyline, watch Frank Diesel rock some zombies. Likewise, you can dress up in a bear costume, wear funny hats, or assemble a Mega Man costume.

Weapon-wise, you have knives, pistols, katanas, lawn mowers, chainsaws, hammers, baseball bats, two-by-fours, anything, really. As is apparent, this game has a ton of content, and luckily, it has the graphical power to pull it off. The zombies all look reasonably different, and their divers character models look cool. The human characters all look good and act pretty well, and the lighting effects in the daytime are very pretty. At night the game looks really bad, with a bunch of dark stumbly things on a dark background. If you want to do dark games well, check out Splinter Cell, F.E.A.R., Condemned, etc.

Best of all, the sound, blood and guts effects rock. I know this shouldn’t make that big a difference, but when I smash a zombie’s face into the floor, rip his heart out, shoot him in the head, or cut his leg off, I want it to look and sound right. And it always does.

Ultimately, this game is a lot of fun, and I’m still having fun with it, in unlimited mode. It may have design flaws, but they aren’t all completely incomprehensible. The time limit makes sense for the story, and escort mission would be fun, if your comrades weren’t all insane and stupid. This game perfectly realizes zombie apocalypse movies, and does so in a fun and engaging way. If you like zombies, or zombie movies, or sandbox games that don’t involve the words “Tamriel” or “DJ Lazuras,” check this game out. It’s brilliantly realized setting is only the tip of the iceberg.

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