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Dead Rising (Xbox 360) artwork

Dead Rising (Xbox 360) review

"Frank West is a photojournalist, but I think he played a bit of football in college. I say this because in Dead Rising Frank bludgeons, maims, shoots, and burns more zombies than any Redfield has. Sensing a juicy story, Frank heads to a small Colorado town recently closed off by the military. Upon arrival, he discovers the source of the quarantine: zombies, zombies, and more zombies. Fortunately Frank has taken a page from a George Romero’s script and found refuge at the local shopping ma..."

Frank West is a photojournalist, but I think he played a bit of football in college. I say this because in Dead Rising Frank bludgeons, maims, shoots, and burns more zombies than any Redfield has. Sensing a juicy story, Frank heads to a small Colorado town recently closed off by the military. Upon arrival, he discovers the source of the quarantine: zombies, zombies, and more zombies. Fortunately Frank has taken a page from a George Romero’s script and found refuge at the local shopping mall, with hope that the helicopter pilot that smuggled him into town will come back in 72 hours as instructed.

A pair of federal agents are sheltering survivors at the mall, but Frank quickly deduces their true mission. The feds are looking for a geneticist who they hope will stop the zombie horde. The agents give Frank story missions throughout the game and move the narrative along, but you're generally free to explore otherwise. The plot is as expected wacky involving zombifying bee stings and a Hispanic terrorist named Carlito who is angry at Americans for eating a lot of beef, but at least Capcom hadn’t started writing in people punching boulders yet.

Dead Rising isn’t exactly the kind of game that takes itself seriously anyway. The game has two predominate selling points: lots of zombies and a mall full of makeshift weapons. The game environments are quite expansive. Frank is dwarfed by the wide spaces littered with different stores. Open space however is often taken up by hundreds of shuffling undead (up to 800 at a time to be exact). The huge variety in zombie extermination is one of the best aspects of the game. Sure there are knives, handguns, baseball bats, and two-by-fours, but there’s also smashing a zombie’s face in with a cash register and hearing a ca-ching noise as you do. Tool stores have chainsaws that slice limbs and torsos with one flick and restaurants have red hot frying pains causing the satisfying sound of sizzling flesh when shoved in a zombie’s face. Toss a bowling ball into a group and watch them all collapse like meaty bowling pins. Outside there’s a lawnmower itching for Frank to start her up and process zombies into a gooey paste. Half the fun in Dead Rising is just finding new weapons, asking yourself, “Now how can I kill something with this?” and getting the answer to that question.

Exploring the mall at your own pace and finding all the various stores is fun and also helpful. Frank’s inventory is limited and weapons eventually break. Knowing the best spots to find powerful weapons like katanas and shotguns will allow Frank to create a steady stockpile of armaments. Additionally stores with healing items, such as pizzas and jugs of orange juice, are uncommon, so learning their locations is essential. Though this aids in fending off the living dead, earning Prestige Points (PP) from story and optional tasks is important for leveling up and earning attribute upgrades and new skills. The special skills are the much more interesting bonus from leveling up. They start out small: easily passing crowds of zombies by walking on their shoulders or a simple jump kick. Eventually Frank can tackle zombies (what did I say about college ball?), execute a skull-crushing suplex, lop off heads with a karate chop or disembowel an enemy with his bare hands. Leveling up is always a joyous occasion because Frank becomes a bit deadlier each time, and whenever Frank is deadlier, it always enhances the entertainment derived from re-killing dead guys.

The large amount of weapons, expansive environment, and experience system prevents the feeling that this is just another game where the player kills a lot of zombies, and thankfully there’s more to Dead Rising than that anyway. Being a photojournalist, Frank is practically glued to his camera. At any time Frank can snap photos of anything from gruesome carnage to a woman’s ample bosom for huge PP. Occasionally a friendly maintenance man will call up Frank on his walkie-talkie and give the locations of survivors. Frank can then find the survivors and escort them to the agents to safety for big PP bonuses. While well worth the effort, saving survivors is often frustrating because their AI is terrible. Survivors take the shortest distance possible to a target, and as a result they end up diving into massive swarms of undead or mindlessly running into walls. Frank can direct escorts to follow him, but this command is broken since they lag behind making it impossible to keep an eye on them. It’s easier to order survivors to run in front of Frank and then clear out any enemies in their way.

Gamers expecting nothing but zombies in the mall are in for a surprise. Dead Rising mixes things up with a variety of both mandatory and optional bosses, and all of them are human. They’re absolutely psychotic, but they’re still human. One encounter has Frank cornered by a supermarket manager so angry that he spits all over the camera while screaming about no good vandals. Climbing on top of the freezer cases will prevent Rage Grocer from ramming Frank with his shopping cart covered in barbed wire and saw blades. The tool store is sickeningly decorated in blood spatter and corpses skinned and hanging from the ceiling. A Vietnam veteran scurries around the top of the store shelves, tosses smoke grenades, and uses the ventilation shafts to sneak up on Frank with a large hunting knife. Another fight sees Frank against a corpulent Chinese cook who wants to stuff the egg rolls with skewered photojournalist. All the psychopaths are very different and add variety to game, and each tends to award Frank with an extremely useful item, like a dual-chainsaws or a stockpile of rare firearms, as well as bonus PP.

Occasionally a red text pop-up may inform you that a survivor has died. This is because Dead Rising uses a timed system where story and optional objectives will appear at set hour during the in-game 72 hours and must be completed by a certain time. Fail to rescue a survivor before times up and they’ll be forever lost as zombie chow. The time system doesn’t really enhance or detract from the game. Story missions give more time than needed and possibly only a walkthrough is necessary if you’re trying to save every survivor is in one playthrough. Thankfully with the progression of time, interesting changes to the mall occur over the 72 hours. For example during night, zombies become powered up, denoted by glowing crimson eyes. As the days pass, other enemies start appearing too like raincoat-clad cultists who brandish knives and execute kamikaze attacks with dynamite.

The game’s save system is somewhat infamous and constantly lambasted for being limited to one slot, but I never saw this as a huge detriment. You could save in an impossible situation when a deadline is about to expire, but that’s incredibly unlikely to happen. It’s more annoying that bosses are often a too far from save points. They can be difficult at lower levels, so it’s a pain to constantly reload and run all the way back to them every time. A checkpoint system for these situations would have been great.

Dead Rising’s biggest flaw though is the aforementioned difficulty at low levels. The first time through the game quickly becomes too hard after roughly 1-2 hours of gameplay. Unfortunately the game isn’t designed to max Frank out over the course of the campaign. Once a roadblock is hit, you can restart the game and carry over all your experience. Realistically the game is too tough until Frank reaches around level 10 or 12, and then a playthrough of the complete story is possible. That took me about three or four runs through the first 40 minutes or so of the game. The nearly mandatory PP farming right at the start is bad game design, and it’s unfortunate that some people likely give up at this point before they had a chance to enjoy the game.

Sometimes with consoles we look back at older high profile releases and realize they weren’t very good games. Dead Rising doesn’t fit that mold. Though not a complex game, it offers simple and gruesome fun. It’s one of those games that has its share of significant flaws, but finding all the various ways to kill zombies with Frank is fun enough to persevere over its low points. So keep playing, earn experience, and overcome the survivors’ AI deficits. The more you play the game the better it gets. Sandbox games have become more frequent since the success of Grand Theft Auto, but there really isn’t one like Dead Rising. And that’s why it’s still one of my favorite 360 games.


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Community review by Genj (July 08, 2010)

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