Capcom’s Dead Rising on the 360 which, while resembling a certain George Romero film and posting a disclaimer that it isn’t, turns out to be a fun foray into more Keiji Inafune inspired zombie slaughter molded in the spirit of Capcom’s beat ’em up history. There are still a few things that the gameplay will hit you with that will probably want to make you bury it, but in the end, if you hate watching humans run from shuddering corpses, you’ll probably want to give this a try and represent your species.
Dead Rising is festering like a pus filled sore on the 360.
Revenge of the Flesh
Dead Rising is all about killing zombies with anything that you can get your hands on. It’s about kicking them, punching them, impaling them on spinning screw excavators, hitting them with flat panel televisions, ramming through them with mall benches, or going medieval on their dessicated asses with an antique battle axe. It’s about watching the dead burst with gallons of gore spilling everywhere from their rotting flesh, running from twisted psychopaths hunting the survivors for sport, and raiding the local supermarket for milk. There’s a story somewhere in there and the player, as freelance photographer Frank, is going in to find it.
Willamette is a town under quarantine but that hasn’t stopped Frank in the past. Chartering a daring pilot to take him over the barricades, he’s dropped off at the mall where he has only 72 hours to survive and try to find out what it is before his ride returns.
Capcom’s dance with the dead brings back the classic beat ’em up feeling found within its earlier titles in giving the player the ability to use anything that they can pick up as a weapon and plenty of targets to use them against. Played in third person, Dead Rising takes parts of Resident Evil, Streets of Rage, and even Final Fight to bring a brutally satisfying adventure to the 360. Not only can Frank use almost anything that he can grab against the seemingly endless horde that he’ll find himself against, Keiji Inafune and his team have given him an entire mall to do battle in filled with shops just waiting to be turned into battlegrounds. Kitchen cleavers will slice, a gun store will let Frank fill the dead with buckshot if he can get to it, and music will play as he uses a guitar to axe his way through to survive.
He’ll also discover that he’s not alone and he’ll bunker down with the survivors waiting for the ride that he knows is coming. But the story behind the zombie outbreak will take Frank away from behind the sealed doors of his safe area and armed with a walkie talkie from a survivor named Otis, must make his way back into the hell around them to find his story. That’s when the game really begins.
Getting Frank out and about and arming him with a variety of weapons is easy to do and it only takes a few minutes to really learn how to get around and start fighting back the hungry dead. Items that can be picked up are indicated by helpful icons and and inventory keeps track of what he’s carrying. Don’t expect him to be a pack mule as his space is limited, so the player will be forced to carry only the necessities.
A kind of RPG statistics system allows Frank to earn “Prestige Points” that can level him up when he gains enough of them. When he does, he’ll occasionally learn new moves that range from kicking zombies in the head or tearing out their guts, to gaining some strength, speed, or even an extra spot in his scarce inventory to carry more stuff. Being a freelance photographer, he’s got a camera that allows him to take shots of what he sees, earning a number of valuable points as a grade for how good a particular shot was. Special photos marked by “Prestige Point” icons act as bonuses by taking particularly notable shots such as a husband and a wife coming together in an embrace for a tender moment.
Frank, through his walkie talkie, will hear about the whereabouts of ‘scoops’ as Otis and others report what they see on the monitors back at the security room. Many of these scoops will allow Frank to rescue survivors and lead them back to safety there, alert him to important events, or simply tell him about something unusual that might lead to something else. There are also the Cases that Frank will uncover throughout each day over the course of 72 hours, and these are where the story develops as he finds himself on the trail of a conspiracy.
But Frank is living on borrowed time. Most, if not all, of the events follow a schedule that can’t be changed and the player has to learn how to balance them against how much time they might have for the next one. Should they save the people in the shoe store or head back to the security room to meet up with the others to start the next Case file? That’s up to the player, but the Cases that unfold throughout the 72 hour marathon are key to the game. Miss a rendezvous with one or discover that you don’t have enough time to get to the next Case because you had spent far too much time and the game can come to an unexpected halt before you even realize what had happened. Unlike 24: The Game where you were free to tackle your objectives without feeling as if you were pressured by a clock since the events were scripted, Dead Rising ticks every accelerated hour away which can add to the challenge…and the aggravation.
Each event, from scoops to opened Cases, are marked with colored bars that slowly diminish as time slowly burns away. While it can create tension in addition to the action that the player will experience, I didn’t particularly like this part of Dead Rising as it felt that Frank had a leash tied to his wrist. Players will probably find themselves starting over a few times because of a Case they had missed when they ran out of time because they had opted to save a few survivors. The game does allow them to save all of Frank’s stats and they carry over to the new game so not everything is lost, but it can be frustrating.
Saves are handled by having Frank lie on a couch in the Security Room, or in using one of the restrooms located in the mall which aren’t always located in the best of places. But in a bizarre move, you are only allowed one save slot unless you have another profile on your system. Why the option to have multiple slots available for saves was left out is something that may also annoy players, especially when they run out of time because they had tried to juggle too many things at once or a friend had tried out their game, died, and unexpectedly saved back to the title.
On one hand, it can be argued that it adds to the challenge and in a way, it does by preventing save fanatics from piecemealing their way through the game. The single-player can last as long as a weekend rental, longer if players want to build up Frank and restart the main game often to harvest more corpses with his more powerful self. The experience can be a short lived one especially if the player decides to concentrate on following only the Cases and ignoring the other scoops. But the feeling of being railroaded by a schedule can still be hard to shake. If the player has saved and discovers that they simply don’t have enough time to complete a certain Case, it becomes even more annoying when the only option left is to start over.
Despite those drawbacks, Dead Rising‘s simple controls and its challenge make the gameplay experience easy to get into and explore. Frank will eventually be able to search the mall and find things ranging from bowling balls to golf clubs that he can use as weapons, food that can help keep his health up, and books that can lend him a variety of special benefits such as making certain weapons more durable. The items that Frank can pick up and use as weapons aren’t made to last and they’ll wear down no matter what they might be, whether it’s a katana, machete, shotgun, or potted plant. Keeping a few extras handy along with some food are just some of the decisions the player will need to make if they want to keep Frank alive.
But among the survivors there are those that have taken advantage of the situation to become as monstrous as the dead that walk. These are the psychopaths.
They’ll pop up on occasion when Frank hears about certain scoops on the radio or simply by exploring the mall and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are among the “bosses” of Dead Rising and they are completely insane. They’ll rant, they’ll rave, they’ll hold hostages, and they’ll kill anyone that invades their personal, mental space. That includes Frank. Taking these monsters down will reward the player with Prestige Points and the opportunity to rescue survivors. There’s not a lot of pizazz that’s required to take them out as most can be shot, sliced, or kicked requiring only that the player make sure that Frank gets out of the way when he should or have a spare jug of juice to slug back when the going gets tough. While it doesn’t take much to figure out how to take out each one, it can still be pretty satisfying to take them down.
Blood on the Walls
Dead Rising‘s graphics are pretty good, especially in bringing Willamette’s mall to undead life, with a huge number of unique storefronts greeting the player as they take Frank around for a tour. The number of items that they can equip themselves with from bowling balls to three piece suits is pretty impressive and does a lot to add to the sense that the mall is your virtual playground. Want to get in through the window? Just smash your way in. Need some new shoes? Check out the local store. The level of detail that Keiji Inafune and his team have filled Dead Rising with is incredible bringing a lot of fun to the table. Even when night falls, the mall’s power system automatically shuts down dimming lights and stopping escalators.
The characters of the game look great and the cut scenes in which they star in help to tell the mysterious story behind the events. Dead Rising fills many of the areas with hundreds of zombies that shuffle about doing what they do best making it easy to jump into a vehicle and mow down a thousand or so as roadkill should the player be so inclined. It really brings home the kind of relentless press that these corpses are known for in George Romero’s famous works, especially if Frank finds himself trying to fight his way through which will happen often.
The animation work that fills the undead with grappling hunger as they lurch at Frank for a bite along with the psychopaths that get in Frank’s face as they swing, juggle, and waddle towards him gives makes it just as much fun to watch as it is to slice and dice them. The voice acting adds a lot of character to Frank and the others around him as they try and figure out what to do, some of it intentionally dramatic and over-the-top. The only thing that could have made it complete was if Bruce Campbell did a cameo. Some of the best acting, though, belongs to the psychos as they deliver their raving madness in a way that only Norman Bates could have loved. Frank’s gravelly delivery fits him and his exasperation at being the regular joe stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The story is told through Dead Rising‘s cutscenes and holds up to the grinder that the player will eventually turn the mall into as they fight to survive. The story plays with an interesting twist on consumerism and the kind of ecological devastation done in its name within its narrative as it slowly reveals itself, Case by Case, making the mall seem more than simply a battleground against the dead as it becomes an ironic symbol for what it is trying to tell. It’s nod bad with the dialog supported by the great voice acting helping to lend much of it the kind of punch it needs in the right moments.
When the game is completed…and you’ve found the true ending…you also get the chance to play through a mode the instruction manual calls “Infinite” mode where you simply have to survive for as long as you can. While it sounds like the sandbox has finally opened up, your health slowly drops over time. Food is scarce as it doesn’t regenerate aside from what you might find on survivors…now turned psychos. And you can’t save. It’s truly survival mode as you try and simply play for as long as your 360 can hold up. Get those bottles of Jolt and Red Bull ready because it’s a long haul to endure in unlocking Dead Rising‘s survivor achievements.
Dead Rising has a lot going for it, but in addition to its relentless time limit that pay put off players looking to simply enjoy the havoc that they can spread without a schedule to tell them what to do or a save system that strangles the options that they may want to explore, there are a few other things that may sour the experience for potential zombie slayers. Such as the text.
Capcom had admitted as much when players started clamoring for an answer on the ‘net and had revealed that the text was optimized for viewing on HDTVs. Fortunately, much of the story is spoken and the text is shown only when Frank occasionally talks to certain characters outside of the cinematics. I had some trouble with the text myself, but it didn’t make the game completely unplayable.
The AI for the survivors can also be spotty, although Frank can call out to them to get going and come to his side which doesn’t work all the time. It isn’t unusual to see their pathfinding get hung up on low ledges or behind certain obstacles until its too late and you turn to see them flailing around trying to get Frank’s attention before being turned into a group meal. Not every survivor is typically this helpless, but it can occasionally get ridiculously easy to get them stuck and lost.
And then there’s Otis who has nothing better to do than talk your ear off. He’ll pound that send button to death as he tries to call Frank to let him know about scoops or to tell him about the area that he’s in. The annoying thing is that he’ll actually have the gall to tell you that you’re rude for cutting him off since you can’t fight and talk at the same time…which will happen often. He’ll also try and call you whenever he feels like it. There’s no mute button on the talkie, but you can ignore him at your peril if you don’t care about the scoops. Frank eventually gets a chance to take him out and when that happened, I wanted to see him dance a jig just like Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout.
It also may not be a coincidence that there’s an achievement tied to answering every one of his calls.
Rise from the Grave
The only thing missing from this game is Bruce Campbell as Ash from the Evil Dead. But it’s still fun, even without the B-movie master as the title character. Despite its shortcomings, Dead Rising‘s monster mashing brings back the kind of action packed chaos that Capcom’s titles are known for. With a beat ’em up styled adventure that not only is fun to play but also tells a tightly knit story that might make you think twice about stuffing that hamburger into your mouth, Keiji Inafune and his team have built a crowded necropolis of monster mayhem as the worst of humanity is presented in all of its gory beauty just waiting to be exposed to the world and taken apart. 360 owners looking for a reason to go zombie hunting don’t have to look too far to find what they want from the buffet that Dead Rising serves up with every crunchy bash and groaning splatter as they help Frank make his deadline.
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