Review by Evil Dave

"Dead Rising is an at times frustrating, often fun, and thoroughly unique game."

Microsoft's XBox 360 console is now nearing a crucial juncture in its lifespan. In the coming months, it will reach one year old, which is a significant milestone for the purposes of the system's overall market penetration; more importantly, though, by the end of the year it will see the launch of two new consoles to compete with it for that market share. The one year mark is also when new systems have traditionally seen their second major wave of software releases, in which the titles are expected to show a level of polish that clearly set them apart from those of the past generation.

However, as this landmark approaches, 360 owners have been forced to wait through a release drought that has stretched for several months. Such a state of affairs inevitably means that any major release to break the dry spell will see increased scrutiny, for no reason other than to fill the information vacuum occupied by the system's owners. Capcom's Dead Rising, whether fortunately or unfortunately, has found itself in precisely this situation.

Dead Rising is a zombie game that takes a much different approach to the genre than most of its predecessors. Instead of a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere, the game drops you into a huge mall that is simply overflowing with zombies; the game also eschews a number of other traditional genre zombie-game staples, from its storytelling to its combat. Coming from the publishers of the Resident Evil series, Dead Rising is quite a distinct departure from the norms of the survival-horror genre – one with the potential to achieve success in reaching fans outside of the typical horror-game market.

Visuals:

When broken down to its most basic parts, Dead Rising doesn't look all that impressive. Frank, the game's protagonist, sports a nice level of detail, and the other main characters look similarly notable, save for occasional clipping problems. Less important human characters, on the other hand, look almost like they were pulled from an original XBox game, and the zombie character models give off the same vibe. The game's environments look nice overall, as each store in the mall has its own look and feel; small details like outlets on the walls are also pervasive throughout the areas you will traverse.

On seeing the game in action, the greater purpose of the mediocre individual graphics becomes much clearer. The game engine manages to cram quite literally hundreds of zombies on screen at once, and there is almost no slowdown in the frame rate. Everything animates fluidly as well – no small feat, given the vast array of weapons and attacks at your disposal.

Cutscenes are rendered using the in-game engine. Since these mostly only portray the main characters, they look good enough, although the visuals really aren't going to impress you any more than those you'd see in-game. They are very well directed, though, and feature some very poignant – and brutal – moments that you're sure to remember after you've finished the game. It's also worth noting that any clothing items that you change into during the course of the game are reflected during these videos; since you're able to swap into a large array of clothing from the various stores in the mall, it helps to further lend to the game's campy atmosphere to see other characters speaking completely seriously with you while you're wearing (for example) a dress.

Dead Rising supports all HDTV resolutions up to 1080i, and the game looks best on such a television. Unless you're using a TV with a very large screen, though, it's difficult at times to read the game's tiny font, even on a high-definition system. All character interaction outside of videos is text-based, so this becomes a problem if you're desperate to follow every aspect of the story.

The visuals in Dead Rising showcase the power of the XBox 360 to great effect, allowing more zombies on screen than any game of its type to date. While not every aspect of the graphical presentation is up to next-gen standards, the sum of the game's parts are solid enough to be worthy of the next-gen label.

Score: 8/10

Sound:

The free-form nature of the gameplay in Dead Rising requires the game to have a significant amount of sound effects to coordinate with the inordinate amount of weapons available for use. Fortunately, the developers managed to hit their mark on virtually all of these sounds, and the game feels even more fantastic as a result. Each of the hundreds of items you can pick up and use to fend off the zombie horde sounds exactly how you would expect it to when you use it, as do the environmental items you can interact with. The mall even features typical Muzak-type background noise during its daytime hours, adding another layer to the immersive nature of the game.

Voiceover work in Dead Rising is spotty at times, but it manages to hold its own in the face of the game's premise. The dialogue is a little campy, and the actors do a solid job of giving their performances just the right touch of over-the-top sensibility to fit the setting. Also, though they aren't really voiced by particular actors, the sounds made by the zombies are right up there with the effects as being as accurate as you could hope.

About the only area in which Dead Rising's sound fails to truly make an impression is the music. Most songs are only be triggered during storyline-specific sequences, and these are mostly generic, rock/techno babble with unintelligible lyrics. These songs tend to feel like obligatory filler, and will never really catch your attention.

Acoustics are a major area where Dead Rising's production values add greatly to the game experience. Just about every aspect of the game's audio performance is top-notch, and this ultimately contributes greatly to the enjoyability of your time with it.

Score: 9/10

Gameplay:

At first glance, Dead Rising will seem like a veritable playground of destruction, giving you the opportunity to run through the mall grabbing whatever isn't bolted down to use in fending off the undead horde. Once you've spent some time in the mall, though, some of the more original design mechanics begin to rear their heads, and the gameplay takes shape into a peculiar mix that feels both fresh and frustrating.

The game's control scheme feels very smooth, and is a strong point in the overall game design. You'll make use of every one of the 360 controller's buttons, and each function feels very natural in its implementation. This is an especially impressive accomplishment when the large number of usable items is taken into consideration. Perhaps the only problem with the control setup is that it tasks the B button with multiple uses, which will occasionally force you to maneuver your character into an awkward position to trigger the response you would like.

When the game begins, you are told you will have to survive for 72 hours to escape from the mall. The concept of the game is deceptively simple: you (being a reporter) are there to find out what the heck is the deal with all the zombies, document the whole situation, and then get out of town to share your story with the world. You'll accomplish this by completing a number of linear ‘cases,' which are this game's equivalent of storyline missions. These cases end up being somewhat standard action-game fare, with the expected array of fetch quests, boss fights, and rescues, and they're usually fun and challenging enough to keep you interested.

You'll also be prompted with side-cases to pursue, during the course of the game. The side cases are always survivor escort missions, with an occasional extra boss fight thrown in for good measure. Unlike the storyline cases, these side missions end up feeling highly repetitive, as there are over fifty total survivors scattered through the mall to be brought back to safety, and they all play out in the same manner. It doesn't help that these escortees seem little smarter than the zombies – you'll see plenty of occasions of characters getting caught on environmental objects or stopping to attack zombies that are of little threat to them. While it could be argued that such actions are realistic (after all, who among us knows how we would react when stuck in a mall swarming with zombies?), they're still extremely irritating to deal with time and time again.

An additional irritant comes in the form of your radio transceiver. You're given this at the game's outset by one of the game's side characters, under the guise that you will use it to communicate back and forth with the survivors holed up in the safe area; in reality, though, it serves only as a constant annoyance, as it will ring seemingly every five seconds as you play through the game to inform you of the multitude of survivors needing rescue throughout the mall. You're totally defenseless while answering a call on it, and you must sit through an entire call for it to trigger the corresponding side-case. A method of skipping these calls without losing out on the side-cases would easily have solved this problem.

Your impetus to complete those side cases is that they afford your character experience (called PP) which allows him to level up in an RPG-esque manner. These abilities range from more health to new melee attacks, and always offer great incentive to keep trudging through the annoyances of the escort missions. You will also be able to snap pictures of the game's occurrences with your camera – the more spectacular and rare of which will give you a nice boost of experience as well – although the picture system is only necessary on a handful of cases, and can be completely ignored by those wishing only to pursue the main storyline.

Dead Rising's first real curveball is in the way structures your access to its cases. Instead of the go-at-your-own-pace design favored by most action games nowadays, the game world takes place in pseudo-real time, meaning that your 72 hours are constantly ticking away during the course of your efforts in the mall. Further complicating matters is the fact that the main storyline cases are actually designed to occur at (or by) specific times during the course of those three days, and in specific places. What this ends up creating can best be summed up as a time-management simulation, where you must constantly race against the clock to achieve your objectives and continue the story. If you fail to complete a case on time, or fail to arrive at the start point for one on time, the whole storyline goes cold, and you are unable to truly ‘beat' the game.

Of course, the game's documentation and in-game help do little to clarify how important this aspect of the gameplay is, which is sure to lead many gamers to aggravation when they discover that they must restart their game in order to complete the storyline. This seeming oversight is exacerbated by a design quirk in the game's save system that only allows for one save file per memory unit – which, as most 360 owners will tell you, they only have one of to begin with. If you mistakenly save too far away from the beginning of the next storyline mission, and then can't get to it in time, you're essentially out of luck, and must start over. Fortunately, if this occurs, the game allows you to carry over all of your experience into your new game, which would seem to indicate that the designers were aware of the potential for problems when they were developing the game.

Once you become accustomed to the time-management facet of the game, though, Dead Rising's endearing gameplay will certainly begin to grow on you. As you may have come to realize by now, you are able to grab items from throughout the mall to use for your own purposes, and this is where the game moves from amusing to flat-out enjoyable. The variety of items is utterly overwhelming – ostensibly every store has at least one unique item to use, and each of those disparate bits of consumer regalia works in its own way to aid you on your quest.

You'll probably start out grabbing typical stuff to use – knives, bats, and lead pipes, as well as guns, which are aimed using the borrowed Resident Evil 4 over-the-shoulder perspective. These weapons tend to be the most effective, and you will always want to have one handy as you play, but they're nowhere near the most fun to use. The more you explore, the more you'll find to play around with. Even environmental objects like park benches, cash registers, and trash cans, can be grabbed and used on your undead foes. What's more, many weapons work in ways that are sure to put a smile on your face – for example, rolling a bowling ball through the mall to knock over handfuls of the monsters in your path, or grabbing a shower head and cramming it into a zombie's skull to watch a shower of blood rain down.

In addition to the articles you purloin from the mall, you have a large number of barehanded attacks at your disposal, all of which are as gruesome and powerful as you would imagine. Using different combinations of the attack buttons and the left analog stick, you'll be able to perform a number of devastating moves, from wrestling-style attacks like suplexes and lariats to a very gory one-handed disembowel move. These attacks are probably the most rewarding of all to pull off successfully, and are always well worth the effort to land them.

In fact, the time you spend massacring flocks of zombies is truly when Dead Rising is at its best. With so many options at your disposal, you'll never grow tired of finding new and interesting ways to dispatch those loathsome undead who cross your path. This is despite the fact that doing so is never explicitly mandated by the game; believe it or not, there is only one point during the entire game where you actually must kill a zombie. Of course, to not kill any of the monsters will make your life much more difficult, but it is nonetheless possible. On the whole, the zombies' only real purpose is to serve as roadblocks – albeit a teeming mass of formerly human roadblocks.

In between the killing and rescuing, you'll face several boss fights against fellow human survivors who have gone mad due to the infestation. These ‘psychopaths' follow predictable patterns as you're going against them, and are easy to defeat once you get your hands on some of the better weapons in the game, but your encounters with them will nonetheless be quite memorable.

Artificial intelligence isn't really much of a concern for the enemies, since they're just a bunch of brain-dead monsters, but the zombies do act about as convincing as you would expect. One thing worth noting is that the monsters show much more consistently aggressive behavior during nighttime in the game, which makes your job a bit more difficult when it's dark out.

While it unquestionably has its share of poor design decisions and badly implemented features, the core gameplay in Dead Rising is so much fun that it becomes easy to overlook those problems as you spend more time with it.

Score: 8/10

Story:

To be perfectly honest, Dead Rising's story is about as nonsensical as they come in a videogame. It's crystal clear that the plot exists only to plug together the game's different scenarios, and in that it succeeds wildly.

As stated before, the game puts you in the shoes of Frank West, a photojournalist out to get the scoop on what's happening in Willamette, Colorado. As you progress through the game, you'll meet the people responsible for the zombie outbreak, as well as see their motivations and methods. The plot is about as campy as it can get without breaking into a full-blown spoof of zombie games in general. You'll encounter quite a bit of vitriol directed towards consumer culture as it progresses, although this is well-suited for the overall atmosphere of the American-mall-turned-zombie-filled-hellhole. The game's true ending (there are multiple endings, depending on where you are when hour 72 is up and how much of the story you've completed at the time) wraps the game up nicely, while allowing for a sequel should the need arise.

As with most entertainment properties involving zombies, the storyline in Dead Rising is full of holes, but it manages to keep the game on pace well enough that you should stay interested in it until the end.

Score: 6/10

Features/Modes:

Once you've finished the game with the ‘A' ending, you unlock Overtime Mode, which starts up automatically after the credits roll. Completing this mode allows you to view the ‘True' ending, which is the actual end to the game's plot. Finishing Overtime Mode also opens up Infinity Mode for play from the main menu. This mode is essentially a survival game, where you must stay alive for as long as possible in the mall, while contending with constantly draining health and a limited amount of health pickups.

The only other replay value in the game comes from the main mode itself, which can be completed multiple times with one save file. The gameplay is certainly fun enough to merit more than one playthrough, especially since you can continue your game with Frank maintaining his current level. There is an online leaderboard available to rank players against each other for both their scores for the regular game and their best times through Infinity Mode, on top of a grand total of 50 unlockable achievements, which run the usual gamut from inane to highly difficult.

While Dead Rising is fairly skimpy on extras, its basic formula is one that encourages extra playthroughs of its main modes. There is enough value present in the game to keep you playing for a fairly long time after you get it.

Score: 8/10

Total Score:

If Dead Rising seems to you as though it doesn't follow any of the norms for the survival-horror genre, that's because it isn't a survival-horror game at all. At its heart, this game is a beat-‘em-up, complete with gory moves, a vast arsenal of weapons, and thousands of enemies to plow through. Although there are some bitter pills to swallow in the game design, the gameplay manages to get everything right where it counts, and is ultimately something that any action-game fan who owns an XBox 360 can find some enjoyment in. Whether you're a fan or not, though, there's no mistaking that Dead Rising is a very unique piece of videogame software.

If you're a fan of action games that contain mature content, and you own an XBox 360, then you should give Dead Rising a try to see if it will justify a purchase. If you're a survival horror fan looking for your fix on the 360, you may also want to test the game out, to see if it maintains enough frights for you to enjoy. Finally, if you're just a 360 owner who is new to either genre, you should give this game a spin to get your feet wet.

Score: 7/10 (not an average)

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Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/05/06


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