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Dead Rising

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Aug. 8, 2006

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Dead Rising'

by Geson Hatchett on Aug. 23, 2006 @ 1:04 a.m. PDT

Dead Rising is survival horror game where you play as Frank West, a grizzled freelance photographer who has made his way to an idyllic suburban town to get his hands on the scoop.

Genre: Action/Survival Horror
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: August 8, 2006

For future reference, this is how I normally do game reviews:

Unless the game is truly horrible (hello, Neopets: The Darkest Faerie), I try to come as close to finishing the game as I possibly can before evaluating it. I figure it's only fair, after all, to evaluate the entire product rather than first impressions.

Unfortunately, Capcom has made my usual method of review nigh-impossible. You see, I have been playing Dead Rising for close to 10 hours now and am, in fact, still at the beginning. Just started over, in fact. I still have no idea why the hell all of these zombies are here in the first place.

In fact, the word "impossible" fits when describing much of this game. The entire premise centers on overcoming impossibility. No game has tested your patience quite like this.

Dead Rising is the charming story of Frank West, freelance photojournalist (and Reggie Fils-Aime lookalike) who's bitten off more than he can chew in pursuit of a hot story. In the sleepy town of Willamette, Colorado, a zombie outbreak has occurred seemingly out of nowhere, and is centralized around the Willamette Parkview Mall. Frank touches down on the mall, where the zombies soon invade and infest. He has three days in game time (half a day in real-time) to find out what caused the zombie outbreak, save as many survivors as he can, and ultimately survive. How you do all of this is entirely up to you.

From there, you're thrust into a story that's, I'm told, pretty standard fare for zombie plots (I wouldn't know. I'm still on the first bloody day), only made more comedic by the antics that you will inevitably get into. As the ads for this game say, anything and everything is a weapon. Combine that with the fact that you're in a huge, sprawling mall, filled with tangible goodies from all over the world packed in one spot for capitalistic gain, and you can see that the possibilities for zombie smashing are endless.

I'll say something about this game that I didn't think I would say: Everyone who's angry at Dead Rising is validated on some level. Up until the game's release, and even via the pre-release demo that popped up on Xbox Live, Capcom touted Dead Rising as a game where you get to smack around zombies all day, with absolutely wanton abandon. Meatbags would fall by the might of the myriad weapons that you would find, and a good time would be had by all. Sure, there may be some story attached, but it'd be largely optional, right? Dead Rising would be Grand Theft Auto Meets Ninety-Nine Nights Meets Resident Evil! Best thing ever.

Then the game was released, and these people (perhaps deservedly, depending on your point of view) were slapped in the face with the harsh hands of reality and game design.
It is entirely possible to treat Dead Rising as an all-time zombie hunt, but the game discourages you from doing so at every turn. How? Well, there's the amount of missions the game piles on you at once and the strict time limits for every one of them. There's also the fact that you can only unlock the game's true rewards by playing through the story and accomplishing feats which often are best accomplished by sneaking around the very zombies you're itching to take a tire iron to. It's very easy to feel in Dead Rising as if you're being teased ad infinitum — to be shown around a playground, but never actually be able to play in it, because you have work to do.

As if it weren't enough, the "Hey, you really shouldn't attack all these zombies we told you to attack" game design extends to your character as well. Frank West starts out as a piddly little thing who can barely fend for himself. As far as movement goes, all he can do is run and jump, and questionably at that. As he kills zombies, takes pictures, and escorts survivors to the safe parts of the mall, he levels up, and gains new offensive and defensive abilities. Now, pay attention, because here's where it gets tricky.

Once you die (and you inevitably will, many times over), you have the option to load from your last save, or to start the entire game over with Frank's levels, status and abilities intact. Sadly, you don't have the option to check your current status before you pick from one of these two choices, so you're stuck at the mercy of your mind's memory. Save points are few and far between (only in the sole security room and the mall restrooms, all of which have oceans of zombies between them), so you'll be picking the latter option quite a bit. Starting over with Frank's higher levels essentially means that you're starting a New Game every time — it actually gets quite addicting to find how much further into the game you're able to progress as compared to your earlier, weaker status. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword. Should you choose to start a new game, your old savegame is automatically erased. There's no going back, and no changing your mind. You are starting with a blank slate each and every single time, from Day One, Minute One. If you've saved any survivors, they automatically go down the drain. As a small consolation, saving them all over again lets you heap experience on top of itself.

Let me tell you, it is the best feeling ever to be on a roll in the game, escorting another survivor through the zombie-infested halls of the Willamette Mall, only to be depleted of resources mere yards away from the safety of the Security Room, a save point, and a huge experience point bonus all at once. It's the best feeling ever to have lost nearly two hours of work to a technicality, or a zombie crowd that you didn't see coming, and have to start all over, with Frank's retained levels acting as but a drop of salve to a massive wound of frustration.

Please note that by "best feeling ever," I mean, "I want to fly to Osaka and slap Keiji Inafune in the face when I meet him in person." While I am a huge fan of challenge in video games, I am most certainly not a fan of frustration brought about by game design.

It's not just the inward game design that gets in the way of the game's overall fun factor, either. The controls, while they allow Frank to accomplish a multitude of tasks, are rather unwieldy, and in some cases, counter-intuitive. When I press the action button near a golf club, I of course expect Frank to pick it up. I do not expect Frank to attempt to do the same to a lawn mower – a lawn mower that he just turned on a second ago, no less. Performing actions requires presses of triggers and bumper buttons in conjunction with face buttons, and while the control setup is technically commendable, it is quite easy to forget. On a good day, it may come close, but it never, ever fully feels like an extension of yourself. When you're involved in a fight for your life against a crowd of zombies with a survivor in tow, it's all too easy to spaz out from the confusion, do the wrong thing, and get yourself killed. It's even worse when you're fighting at night, after the zombies have gotten a red-eyed power boost, and the ability to grab you from even farther away with higher priority.

If this review sounds overly negative, don't think that it's because I don't like the game. Quite the opposite, actually. I love the concept, and I love the majority of the parts of its execution. Exploring the Willamette Parkview Mall and destroying random zombies in the process is a blast, especially when you're between survivor and story missions. The mall itself is absolutely huge, full of details and little touches, and I'm having more fun in this sandbox than I ever did in Vice City. Part of this is due to the immense amount of humor that Capcom has packed into this game. From references to their past games (giant Servbot heads and masks, and a restaurant known as "Jill's Sandwiches"), to funny slogans for nearly every store in the mall, and to Capcom's very own take on an Americanized Mega Man movie, the Willamette Mall is a laugh a minute.

Finding vehicles such as shopping carts, skateboards or bicycles that you can use to wreak havoc around the mall and get where you need to go faster is genius. When you manage to find a vehicle or a shortcut, or when you manage to complete a mission or successfully rescue a survivor, there is a true sense of accomplishment that few games are able to achieve, because you've already learned, the hard way, just how easy it is to die.

Dead Rising is one of the few games that really takes advantage of the Xbox 360's power. There are dozens of zombies in any space at any given time for you to bust through, and the whole spectacle looks good to boot. The faces on the character models are exceptionally well done. While there are a few rough edges (character models below the neck, some of the wall decorations), they are few, and don't detract from the game's overall shininess factor. The only downside is that the game is in such high resolution that unless you are the owner of a massive television, or a high-definition monitor hookup, the game's text will give you a headache when you try to read it.

The sound effects bust through your speakers, I swear. Bash a zombie in the head and hear the satisfying squish. Hit glass with a bat and hear the tinkle of every single sliver of glass. Most of the background music is actually mall muzak, which adds to the comedy of a zombie infestation of a mall that doesn't know any better. The original scores that play when a story battle is taking place, however, are just as nice.

Indeed, Dead Rising is a well-made game, and the closest the Xbox 360 has at the moment to a "killer app" (whatever that is; the definition keeps changing), in point of that it's the first Xbox 360 game to really showcase what the next-gen era is capable of beyond shiny graphics. It's not for everyone, but it's worth a try for everybody who has the system, on the novelty of its concept alone. For the sake of benevolence, here's a bit of a gauge to let you know whether or not you should spend your money on a copy, rather than merely renting it or downloading the demo.

Dead Rising is one of those games where the amount of enjoyment you will glean out of it is directly proportional to your patience. If you're one of those people who possess both the time and patience to power-level through Japanese RPGs, or attempt scenarios in hard action games over and over again until you get it right, you will get a kick and a half out of this game. If you're one of those people who like to do those things, yet have a limited gaming schedule to work with (this would be where I personally fall) and thus hate wasting your precious time, you may want to hold off picking up this title until you have some vacation time coming to you. However, if you're a twitch gamer who likes to bust through things using brute force and digital dexterity, or if you're a fan of the "simple is best" approach to video gaming, do yourself a favor and just pick up Ninety-Nine Nights instead.

I really like Dead Rising. I just wish I weren't capable at times of hating it as much as I do like it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to decide whether I want to play more of this, or relax with something a little easier … like Viewtiful Joe on Ultra V-Rated.

Score: 8.6/10


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