Dead Rising is a 3rd person action game that puts players in the shoes of Frank, the game’s photo-journalist protagonist. Frank has 72 game-hours to uncover the mysteries of the recent zombie epidemic in a small town in Colorado called Willamete. Frank spends the game in a mall taking photos of various encounters with zombies and survivors alike, and depending on the quality of the photographs, he is awarded points which can be used to unlock different fighting moves which help him cut through the unending flood of the undead.
Although Dead Rising is unquestionably a homage to the classic Romero flick Dawn of the Dead, a screen at the beginning of the game assures us that any similarities are ‘purely coincidental.’
While Dead Rising may initially appear to be an open ended sandbox game in the spirit of Grand Theft Auto, it’s not. In fact, it’s a rigidly timed affair that is both linear and demanding of players that requires several play-throughs to experience all the game has to offer. And boy oh boy, does Dead Rising sure have a lot to offer in the way of unlockables. However, the game requires a level of dedication, patience, and focus that may turn off more casual gamers lulled into believing (largely based on the do-what-you-want nature of the playable demo) that the game is a playful outing in a zombie infested shopping center. Dead Rising is a lopsided affair… it puts the player in a fun world with plenty of cool things to do, but then burdens them with one of the worst save game systems in recent memory, stifling an otherwise amazing experience.
Dead Rising only allows the player only one saved game at a time. This means that players who find themselves making poor time management decisions will be forced to reload and play the 72 hour campaign from the beginning, (although all unlocked combat moves and stat increases earned during initial attempts will carry over , providing some consolation.) Although the save system instills Dead Rising with a level of urgency and tension which would otherwise be absent, the resulting frustration is at times infuriating and not worth the marginal level of manufactured suspense that it brings to the table.
Despite the terrible saved game system, Dead Rising does manage to offer a delightfully appealing experience from a strict game play perspective. The hundreds of items scattered around the mall and its many stores, ranging from benches and plants, to shotguns and katanas, are all completely interactive. Frank can pick up most anything he comes across, and part of the pure fun of Dead Rising is coming up with new and often humorous ways to dispatch the shambling hordes. Gunplay is by far the weakest element of the controls, as it requires Frank to be stationary as he aims, but melee combat is satisfying overall due to the fact the number of potential weapons is so huge that players can get a bit creative. Adding to the humor, Frank can walk into the malls various clothing stores and change outfits, often with hilarious results.
There are an abundance of side missions in addition to the main story arc, most of which involve helping survivors reach the safety of the malls security room. However there are so many of these ancillary missions, and such little time to complete them all, that only players on a 2nd or 3rd play-through will possess the combat skills and awareness of the malls layout to truly capitalize on all the game has to offer. While this system extends the game length, many players will tire after being asked to complete the same stretches of Gameplay over and over again.
Graphics are acceptable, but not outstanding. The game is at its best visually when there are hundreds of deceased abominations crowding every nook and cranny of the malls corridors. But there is a lot of pop-up when approaching the stores themselves, and you’ll often see books or CDs suddenly materialize on the shelves in formerly empty locales. Character models are good, but zombie models repeat themselves a great deal to the point where you will swear you just killed a particular zombie a second ago. The sound, on the other hand, is outstanding in every way. The innumerable ways of killing zombies all sound fantastic as vital fluids spew forth onto the walls and floors. In addition, the quality of voice acting is above average, especially considering the games Japanese origins. On a related note, many of the messages Frank receives are text only. In this, the ’next generation’ of games, it seemed like laziness on the developers part to omit voice acting throughout the entire game. Adding insult to injury, SD TV owners have reported difficulty reading this minute text, thereby confusing an already hectic situation.
The story is paced well, and provides a compelling reason for players to endure the unforgiving nature of Dead Risings save system. There are main objectives that must be met in order to progress the narrative, which gradually explain the presence of zombies in Willamete. The cut scenes are attractive, and offer a nice break from the standard action elements of the game. The game offers numerous endings depending on how many objectives the player was able to complete, providing yet another reason to play the game numerous times. Dead Rising is hard, almost artificially so. Gamers looking to have a few laughs decapitating a mall full of zombies will most likely feel buyer’s remorse upon spending a few hours with the game.
If Dead Rising didn’t use photography as the primary means of leveling up your character, completely did away with the time limits for the missions, and allowed unlimited saves, it would be far more accessible and would appeal to more than just the hardcore population. As it stands, the game is simply too restrictive to warrant a whole-hearted recommendation for anyone but the most obsessive of gamers. More casual fans will enjoy the comical tone and satisfying combat mechanics to a point, but a rental is highly recommended before spending $60 on what is ultimately a mixed bag. Don’t be misled by the demo! Dead Rising is soul crushingly demanding. Nevertheless, any game that makes you work this hard has got to have something going for it to make it worth your time, and in Dead Rising’s case, that something is the games personality. That, and the satisfying feeling one gets when truncating an undead assailant with a chainsaw.