Review by ZZTAtom

Reviewed: 08/17/06

A fun game without much depth.

Dead Rising (X-Box 360)

Every so often, a game comes along with a concept that doesn’t seem like it can go wrong. Dead Rising is one of those games. The basics are simple: You are Frank West, photojournalist, and on a hot tip, you hitch a helicopter into a military-guarded town infested by zombies. After being dropped off in the local mall, you have 72 hours (About 6 real hours.) to figure out exactly what happened and make it back for your ride. Of course, the complications come in the form of lost survivors, psychopaths, and escaped convicts and, of course, zombies.

Gameplay: 7/10

When Frank enters the mall, he is level 1. All he can do is punch and take a few bites before a Game Over occurs. But as you save survivors, kill zombies and take photographs, Frank’s stats slowly improve as he learns new moves, gains more attack power, and gains access to more inventory slots.

The problem is that leveling Frank up is a terribly unbalanced process. Despite photography being a major aspect of the game, photos are, in general, useless compared to any other method of gaining experience. At best you get 10,000 for a one-time quick shot, while saving human survivors gets you well over 20,000-30,000 a pop and replace with a comma killing zombies gets you 20,000 for every 1,000 killed, and even killing psychopaths gets you a nice hefty bonus. Other then that small complaint, however, it works fairly well, and you never have to worry about “grinding levels.”

Set inside a mall, Dead Rising’s catchphrase is “Everything is a weapon,” and that isn’t entirely wrong. Every store in the mall can be visited, from a toy store filled with Mega Man props to a bookstore where Frank can find books to increase his abilities. Unfortunately, aside from the amusement factor, 90% of items in the mall are useless, and more trouble to carry around then they’re worth. Despite the amusement of sticking a moose costume on a zombie’s head, you’ll spend most of your time using chainsaws or other bladed weapons, especially since the right combination of books can make a single chainsaw last for nearly half the game.

Besides the weapons found in the mall, Frank also learns new hand-to-hand abilities as he levels up. These moves range from jump kicks to football tackles to even the “zombie walk,” a move which allows Frank to mimic zombies and blend in with them. To exacerbate the weapon problem, most of Frank’s hand to hand moves are far more useful then a toy sword or a bunch of dishes. Even early moves like the roundhouse kick can instantly kill a zombie! Dead Rising’s combat is fun at first, but it quickly loses its luster.
You can only throw so many CDs before you get bored and grab an actual good weapon.

Of course, while zombies are the primary antagonist for most of the game, every so often you come up against human foes, labeled “psychopaths” by the game. They range in difficulty from simple cult members to insane chainsaw-wielding clowns. However, despite the wide variety of enemies, most of them are taken down in the exact same way: Grab a bladed weapon and slash three or four times.

Besides the psychopaths, there are also survivors in the mall, who Frank can rescue for hefty rewards. However, the AI for these survivors is awful, and makes getting from place to place with them more frustrating then it’s worth. Even as you order then to run for a door, they will often run right in the opposite direction, into a large group of zombies, or right into the path of your weapon, causing you to accidentally injure them. Occasionally, you can find a survivor whom you can lead or carry, which makes transporting them much less frustrating then the normal trek across the mall, but for the most part, you’re stuck with them.

This frustrating AI also lowers the value of most weapons, as you don’t have time to grab “silly” or ineffective weapons while the girl in the miniskirt is being attacked by zombies.
So once again, it’s back to your hands or a chainsaw.

To make matters worse, the only way to meet most of these survivors is to take a call from Otis, a guard who waits in the safe room and watches the computer monitors. He calls at the most inopportune times, and while you are talking to him, you can’t use your hands at all, and any hit knocks you out of the conversation and forces you to restart it. You can ignore the calls, but you run the risk of missing a valuable scoop.

The photography aspect is of passing interest at best. You can get a few funny photos, and one mission requires you to score some high ranking photos in order to fight a boss, but for the most part, you’ll probably forget it exists. At the end of 72 hours, I didn’t even recharge my battery once. I didn’t see the need.

One that that needs to be mentioned in the save system. Dead Rising allows you one slot per memory device, and overwrites that save no matter what game mode you play in. This can be a bit frustrating if you want to save before a particularly cool moment or if you save at the wrong moment and ruin your chance to get to a particular scoop. Overall, it can be a bit off-putting, but not a major problem. Should a section of the game become too difficult, you can choose to restart the game instead of loading, beginning the game again with all your levels intact. An intrepid gamer could easily reach level 50 in a few playthroughs of the first day before even touching the plot.

Graphics: 8
Dead Rising is a mixed bag on graphics. The level of detail in the mall is amazing. You can go into a book store and check the titles of each book on the shelf, or the names of every toy on the wall. The zombies are a widely varied bunch, and it’s rare to see more then one of the “same” zombie at the same time, especially with hundreds onscreen at once, eventually, though " eventually you’ll begin to notice repetition, especially among the female zombies, who all seem to have come to the mall in low-cut miniskirts and cleavage-revealing tops, unless, of course, they were overweight.

The character models vary, but are generally fairly good. While not quite as good as some of the 360’s other offerings, but with the amount of enemies onscreen at any time, the lack of slowdown is very impressive. However, all this comes at a price. The text size in Dead Rising is small. Really, really small. If you don’t have a high-def TV, it’s not really possible to read without getting close and squinting hard, which is a big oversight considering that none of the phone calls or out-of-cutscene conversations are voiced. For some people, this may make the game unplayable.

Sound: 9
Dead Rising does a fairly good job with sounds all around. The music is, unless you customize it, fairly cheesy mall music. You won’t notice it after the first few minutes, however, as it is usually drowned out by the other sounds in the game. The character voice acting is surprisingly good, with some of the psychopaths doing exceptional jobs with small, and fairly silly, roles. The zombies themselves moan and grunt exactly as one would expect, the constant sound eventually just fading into the background. The weapons all have satisfying sound effects for their various effects, and overall the sound adds a lot to the game, although nothing is particularly memorable.

Replay Value:4/10
This is where Dead Rising starts to fail. After you’ve gotten the good ending, everything else seems like a chore. Saving survivors becomes an exercise in tedium after you max out at level 50, which you’ll probably do easily. The alternate endings are unsatisfying, more of a punishment for failing then actual alternate endings. The bonus costumes and weapons earned by getting X-Box Achievements are amusing, but generally not worth the trouble. By the time you can access the weapons, you’ve already mastered the game.

The Infinite Mode unlocked when you complete the best ending is an interesting bonus with a serious flaw. Unlike 72 Hour Mode, Infinite Mode has no plot. You start in the mall and your health slowly drains. You must deal with other survivors, psychopaths and zombies while surviving as long as you can. Food doesn’t respawn, so a major part of this mode is avoiding damage, and the top survivors are listed on X-Box Live.

However, while a fun concept, Infinite Mode has a serious flaw: You can’t save, and some achievements require you to play it for as long as 14 hours without a break. You can pause the game, but that just means you’ll be leaving your X-Box 360 on even longer, something that is strongly not recommended, even with a strong cooling fan.

Dead Rising is a fun game in concept, but one that quickly grows tedious on replays. The Mall is a weapon, but not one you’ll use much, and throwing pies at zombies does get old after a while. With the main story being roughly 6 hours long, you can complete this game on a rental.

7/10 – You won’t regret a rental, but at $60, this may be a game you can pass on.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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