Dead Rising Review

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Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Frank West, freelance photographer, recently received the hottest tip of his journalistic career. Something is going down in Willamette, Colorado. Something bad. Something so bad that the National Guard has cordoned off the town, and isn't letting anyone in or out. Sensing a serious scoop, Frank hires a local pilot to take him over the blockade in a junker helicopter.

On the way into town, it becomes clear that Willamette isn't the site of riots or simple civil disobedience. Some of the town's inhabitants are just staggering slowly around the streets. Others are attacking, killing and... gnawing on Willamette's remaining population. Frank orders the pilot to put him down on the helipad at Willamette's pride and joy: The Willamette Parkview Mall. After securing the pilot's promise to return for Frank – and Frank's payment – in 72 hours, Frank heads into the mall to learn what plague has overwhelmed this Colorado town.

Kyle Ackerman

Zombies. They stagger slowly around, moan horrifically and hunger for living flesh. There's no more satisfying enemy in all of video games – zombies are evil, pure and simple. They're easy to kill by the dozen, and they lack that shred of humanity that makes it disquieting to kill even the most evil of human foes, such as Nazis or necromancers. But however easy it may be to take down a single zombie, a slavering horde of zombies can overwhelm the most stalwart soldier and even topple buildings with the weight of their undead flesh.

Dead Rising pits Frank West, the buffest photographer ever to carry a camera, against an entire town of more than 50,000 zombies. And the slow, stumbling horror is nicely offset by the ultimate in commercial, automated mall environment. Soothing jazz plays softly in the background as undead denizens try to rip your flesh from your bones, pre-recorded announcements exhort you to try the new delicacies in the food court – that now move on their own &ndash and as the hours progress, the mall lights shut off and turn back on automatically. Which can be awkward when you're trying to fight your way through walls of animate death to get to a save spot, and you can no longer see more than a few feet – and arms – in front of you. Or when you're trying to sneak stealthily by, but suddenly the zombie throng sees you. You'll never see the mall the same. Check all exits, and know that a series of many sharp turns is likely to make a bathroom safe – those're your save-points. But zombies aren't the only things haunting the mall – it's also salted with a few survivors, more than a few psychopaths, and a potentially devastating terrorist plot.

Along the way, Dead Rising makes a few game design choices that, while potentially fatal in another game, work perfectly for this Dawn of the Dead-style undead epic. For starters, unlike previous zombie games, Dead Rising pits you against hundreds of zombies at once, and they each have their own hunger for Frank's flesh.

Even more horrifying than the zombies themselves, Dead Rising only allows players one save slot. And the game can only be saved in a few places around the mall. Risk doing too much before returning to a restroom, and Frank might die a ghoulish death. Save too often, and the plot becomes impossible, since there's simply not enough time to reach certain locations. It adds an incredible tension to the game. In most cases, this limited save potential would be devastating – no game should ever leave you incapable of finishing. But it works in Dead Rising because this title is, effectively, three games.

Good Things Happen in Threes

The first game is the most satisfying: At all times, Dead Rising is a sandbox simulation of zombie mutilation. There are tens of thousands of zombies laying siege to the mall and plenty of toys with which to decapitate, mash, slice and poke fun at them. There are traditional weapons from zombie films, like frying pans, baseball bats, chainsaws and guns. More exotic weapons, from battle axes to boomerangs and pruning shears will slice zombies in half. Then there are rare, ingenious tools, like the excavator that will impale a zombie and spin him in the air, bludgeoning everything in the area with spinning limbs. Then there's plenty of junk that's just fun. Frank can bowl for zombies or just plop novelty costume heads over the zombies so they stagger around blindly like undead theme-park actors.

If you get your fill of zombie-killing gore, you can try to save the few survivors holed up in stores all around the mall. But to do so, you have to avoid the psychopaths that stalk the mall's halls and can be more dangerous than the zombies themselves. Free of the laws and consequences of civilized society, more than a few residents of Willamette have lost their minds completely. The psychopaths all get detailed and disturbing cut-scenes, and range form an abusive cop to an insane clown to a family of Second Amendment activists. Frank could easily spend his 72 hours in Willamette just saving the town's few survivors.

Finally, there's an extensive storyline that is a game on its own. To learn who – and what – is behind the undead mall plague, Frank will have to perform a series of challenging tasks that will give him little time to rescue those suffering under the not-so-tender mercies of the town's psychopaths, or just mow down clusters of zombies. The tale of the zombie plague has a number of clever twists, and an extended ending that's over-the-top enough for a George Romero film. If there is a criticism of Dead Rising, it's that some of the plot-related cases are obscenely difficult – if you haven't brought the right items – or are tedious fetch missions.

The restrictions on saving the game work because they force you to make interesting and important choices. There may be three games – zombie massacre, the plague's plot, and the Good Samaritan effort to save survivors – but it's hard to pursue more than one at once. Follow the instructions of the Department of Homeland Security agents in hunting down the terrorist Carlito, and terrified survivors will die. Return to your safe haven to stop a revolt among the survivors, and you'll lose track of Carlito's activities. Get carried away offing the undead, and everything else can slip away.

A Journalist Reborn

But it's not just the save game issue that helps here. Frank's abilities improve over time, as he takes valuable photos of the zombie outbreak, unearths the background story or saves locals. He gets stronger, moves faster and can carry more. More importantly, Frank's newfound abilities carry over to the next game, so even failure only makes Frank more likely to succeed on the next play.

Because Frank becomes more effective – the disembowel move he learns after a lot of time in the mall is graphic, disgusting and a lot of fun – it's worth focusing on one element of Dead Rising and playing again to try everything else. Besides, you'll need more than one play through to be able to reach the "true" game ending. So, if you start to fall behind on your first try, have some fun killing zombies and exploring the mall, then try again. Otherwise, you might never learn about the loathsome raincoat cult or have the skills to cope with rogue soldiers in body armor.

If you haven't already, check out the best game yet to cross rampant consumerism with the hungering undead. With such a huge mall to explore, and tasks that range from taking on terrorists to shooting zombies like the proverbial barreled fish, there's so much fun available in Dead Rising that this is a must play. You just have to let go of your own fear of death and dependence on the quicksave.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 19, 2007 8:03 PM.

Lost in Blue 2 Review was the previous entry.

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