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Dead Rising (Xbox 360) artwork

Dead Rising (Xbox 360) review

"I had reservations about Dead Rising before I bought it -- before I reached Steven Chapman’s twisted (yet very clean) supermarket even. As compulsive as the mass-slaughter of hoards of zombies may be, this premise screamed “one trick pony". It’s all very well squeezing a kazillion of these undead monsters on screen at once, but survival horror is about more than beheading zombies all day. "

It’s the gleaming checkered tile floor that catches your eye when you enter Seon’s Food & Stuff. After enduring the sight of countless rotten, festering zombies, this immaculate supermarket offers a moment’s respite from the blood and guts splattered over the rest of Willamette Mall -- at first, anyway. As photojournalist Frank West steps past the frozen peas in deathly silence, it soon becomes clear why this corner of the mall is in such pristine condition: its owner is still very much alive. Unlike the other survivors in urgent need of Frank’s assistance, Steven Chapman has managed to fend off the zombies with his own bare hands. In doing so, however, he has gone stark raving mad. So don’t you DARE think about making a mess in his precious supermarket, otherwise you’ll be blown into the bread aisle by his pump-action shotgun!

I had reservations about Dead Rising before I bought it. As compulsive as the mass-slaughter of zombies may be, it’s a premise that screamed “one trick pony.” It’s all very well squeezing a kazillion of these undead monsters onto the screen at once, but survival horror is about more than just beheading zombies all day.

This is why Steven Chapman and his fellow psychopaths are as important to Dead Rising as the zombies that have driven them over the edge, because without them Willamette Mall wouldn’t be as frightening. Plowing through droves of zombies with a parasol is a stand-out moment of slapstick fun, but it’s the humans still alive in Willamette Mall that inject tension into the adventure. Dead Rising is an open-ended experience, so Frank West could turn and hurry out of Seon’s Food & Stuff, but lying in Chapman’s sadistic weapons trolley is the unconscious Isabella. Being the noble hero, I naturally stayed, even as Chapman’s beady eyes stared at me from his little round head. To see him ambling down the aisles pushing a trolley loaded with knifes and spears was, frankly, absurd, but at least there was plenty of food on hand for healing! I also happened to have a katana, stolen from Ripper’s Blades across the plaza.

After eviscerating Steven Chapman, Dead Rising just had to make the obligatory “CLEAN UP REGISTER SIX” joke.

I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Forget the serious horror of Resident Evil, Dead Rising revels in its campy B-Movie scares. Even during moments of real terror there’s a knowing wink and a gleeful smile to Capcom fans and horror enthusiasts, with secrets, allusions and wry jokes hidden in every corner of Willamette Mall. Although Frank West is trapped in this mall for 72 hours and knows about as much as we do about the zombie outbreak, he doesn’t have to spend his time uncovering the truth. He can do whatever he wants in this colossal, treacherous playground, so long as he’s back at the helipad on the roof by noon on the third day. If this means spending every day slaughtering zombies while scoffing food stolen from Jill’s Sandwiches (she’s the master of sandwich making), then so be it!

The first thing anyone is going to do upon leaving the safety of the mall’s security room is to kill an awful lot of zombies. You may feel more than a little daunted when you creep into the Paradise Plaza with only a lead pipe for company and gaze out across the crowd of zombies wandering aimlessly through this part of the mall. Once you start attacking them any worries will swiftly disappear because they fall to the floor with one solid blow from the lead pipe. Large crowds are soon reduced to a few odd zombies as you lash out like a possessed lunatic. This bloody violence feels so instinctive that it's easy to lose focus and waste time while the ever-present killcount soars to from 0 to 1,000.

When your weapon breaks you can run over to, say, the musical instrument store and steal an electric guitar off the rack. It doesn't get much more rock 'n' roll than cracking zombies in the jaw with a flame-red Stratocaster, especially when the strings buzz with feedback after every blow. Almost every item in the mall can be used to attack zombies, and your location determines the type of weapons that are available. Outside in the Leisure Park you can use a lawnmower to gruesome effect, while in the unfinished North Plaza you can use naked mannequins to hold back the tide of undead monsters. There’s even a toyshop that stocks replica Mega Busters! Exploring Willamette Mall is a integral part of Dead Rising's appeal, as you search the different stores for the most outlandish weapons you can find.

Although Dead Rising owes a debt to the open-ended approach of Grand Theft Auto III, it holds the edge over Rockstar’s many imitators by delivering a radical take on the concept that raises the tension to the absolute maximum. Even as you’re strolling into shops looking for a smart suit to change into, the hopelessness of the situation is always in your mind because at any moment a zombie could grab you... or you could encounter a demented psychopath... or day could turn to night, unleashing the true ferocious urges of the zombies (their eyes even glow red!)... or you could hear a cry of “HELP ME!” which means only one thing: someone is still alive and in trouble. Saving these helpless souls is where the real challenge of Dead Rising is to be found, because while reckless photojournalists like Frank West may be able to brave the zombie hordes, other humans aren’t as strong. Some would call their hesitant behaviour poor AI. I, however, am of the opinion that this is exactly the way people would react to a zombie infestation!

Some, such as Kindell Johnson, don’t need much saving -- he’s more than capable of protecting himself with his shotgun. Others need piggybacks due to their sprained ankles or paralyzing fear, while some just need you to hold their hand and guide them to the security room. Sometimes you’ll be on a completely different scoop (you’re given hints as to who needs saving by handyman Otis over a radio), only to witness a stranded human in a sea of zombies. If you ignore them you’ll soon be told that “PAMELA THOMPSON IS DEAD” or, even worse, “PAMELA THOMPSON IS UNDEAD”. The situation is always changing, so you never know when you’re going to face a psychopath and when you’re going to need to put your thinking cap on (how do you persuade Japanese tourists to follow you?).

Only one thing is certain: a lot of people will die. You can’t rescue everyone first time round because the time limits are too strict, especially if you stick to the main storyline. However, you don’t need to complete the main missions to see an ending, and once you finish one 72 hour play-through, you can return to the beginning with the same level upgrades, so you have more health, carry more items and possess greater strength. This means that if you fled like a coward from Adam the Psychotic Clown in the creepy Wonderland Plaza, you can now square up to him and his two chainsaws!

With his sad-face clown make-up, tattered costume and giant clown feet, Adam is the stuff of childhood nightmares. Even if you’re a fully-grown adult the sight of this demented clown bounding towards you is bloody scary. If you can somehow knock the wind out of him – maybe with one of the inflatable toys in the Wonderland Plaza -- you can leap in and land a killer blow. You earn experience for ending his tortured existence, but you earn even more for taking a photograph of him while he’s terrorising you. After all, action shots are more dramatic than pictures of a clown lying face down in a pool of his own blood. Unlike other titles that try to squeeze in photography gimmicks, Dead Rising makes it an integral part of its experience system. Frank never loses sight of the fact he's a photographer, and neither should you. At any point in the game you can whip out the camera to take snaps of elated survivors, deranged psychopaths, MegaMan movie posters or even the ample cleavage of your fellow survivor, Jessica McCarney. This nets you a healthy EROTICA bonus.

The one genuine weakness of Dead Rising is the “proper” ending, which loses steam in the last few hours. With its source material in mind, Dead Rising would feel cheap if it opted for a happy conclusion (this is a story about a zombie virus!), but in stringing out what could have been a climactic finish with an uninspiring tank boss, it dilutes the nervy hell of the first 72 hours spent trapped in the mall. But remember that it doesn't have to end this way!

What Dead Rising gets absolutely right is the situation: Willamette Mall is crammed with moments of surprise, shock and sheer terror. These moments can be as subtle as the lights in the mall switching off at exactly 8PM. With zombies lumbering though the darkness you have to scramble around like crazy for any weapon you can find. Dead Rising is survival horror in the truest sense, a tense, open-ended adventure where the fundamental purpose is to stay alive. It’s up to you how you accomplish this, but one thing’s for sure, it won’t be easy. Not only does Frank West have to deal with hundreds of thousands of zombies and a few twisted psychopaths, he also has to watch the clock. Fail to reach the helipad at 12PM on the third day and... well, how long can you survive alone with 53,594 zombies for company?

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Staff review by Freelance Writer (September 14, 2006)

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