Review by Sir Chris

Reviewed: 09/06/06 | Updated: 09/07/06

There is only one thing better than zombies: Killing them.

Zombies are an awesome concept, taking the living and normal and transforming them into evil flesh eating shells of their former selves. There is no need to have a reason as to what motivates a zombie to eat your flesh. It is self-explanatory: it's tasty. So when you have over fifty-three thousand zombies trying to eat you, you won't have to stop to think if brutally slicing them into tiny bits is morally right. “Aren't these zombies just victims too?” doesn't cross your mind. Praying you find a shot gun crosses your mind. Hoping the Katana has re-spawned will cross your mind several times. But pitying your undead foe never will. If you think killing zombies is a great way to pass the time, then this game is certainly going to grow on you rather quickly. That is why Dead Rising has all the makings of a smash hit: You get to kill lots and lots of zombies while having the time of your life. Dead Rising's stellar presentation and over the top atmosphere combined with fluid gameplay make it not only one of the best zombie games out there, but also sets the bar for next generation free-roaming games.

Dead Rising places you in the role of Frank West, a freelance photojournalist trying to land the big scoop to put his name back on the map. His travels bring him to Willamette Colorado where communications within the city have been cut off and the military has been called in. The game starts with Frank in a helicopter over the city, trying to discover what exactly is going on. What Frank uncovers is riots, fires, and a lot of mayhem in the streets below. A horrible situation to behold; of course, Frank finds the time to take pictures regardless. Wishing to investigate further, Frank gets himself dropped off at the local mall where all sorts of horrors await you. The story does a good job of being compelling without getting in your way too often, many missions give you several in-game hours (five minutes of actual gameplay equals one hour within the game generally speaking, although if you do more side quests you are allotted more time) to complete them, so you are free to kill zombies for awhile or follow up on a scoop, which is essentially a side quest given to you by Otis the janitor. Scoops usually come in one of two types. First is an escort mission where you have to help a survivor navigate back to the Security Room, the only safe haven in the entire mall. This aspect of the game is done amazingly well as the survivors are not just hapless fools, if they get attacked they can fight back somewhat and help themselves, which is useful when you yourself are getting mobbed by a horde of zombies. The ability to hold the hand or offer a piggyback ride to many survivors can help make your job easier as you don't have to constantly watch out for their safety, the other side of the coin however is that you cannot jump or attack while helping them along their way. In this area one of the game's flaws is revealed, when issuing commands to follow the survivors tend to react very slowly and in a cumbersome manner, such as not being able to jump over small ledges that are found within the mall's small water pools. This leads to needlessly frustrating deaths, and can at times force you to restart from your last saved game.

The second is identifying a Psychopath that you have to take down. Psychopaths have earned their name well, ranging from a deranged clown to an overweight cop who has a bit of a problem with skimpy women to a veteran of Vietnam who doesn't believe the war is quite over. Each of the many Psychopaths offers a very different boss fight, and sometimes a lengthy side quest before having to face them. So while butchering zombies is engaging and presents with near endless fun, this game constantly presents more depth that other lesser zombie games fail to provide: A much needed contrast from the constant slaughter of hordes of zombies. The Psychopaths are not just a small portion of the game; it could take several hours to hunt them all down if the player wishes to dedicate themselves to this goal.

Adding to the game is the great atmosphere it provides at every turn. The use of lighting in this game is excellent, and really sets a good tone. Although it never is downright scary, when it is dark out and the lights in the mall are turned off there is a very real feeling of endangerment and the need to be armed, as if the darkness itself will hurt you. The campy and well designed environments certainly add a twisted backdrop for the slaughter of zombies. There is something remarkable about hacking zombies in front of a children's ride. Although the title offers excellent graphics worthy of the 360, it is the music that sets this title apart in terms of atmosphere. The soundtrack for run of the mill zombie killing is both easy on the ears and fitting. There is something to be said for having a head banger song playing as you hit zombies with a sledgehammer. It is an amazing sense of empowerment that is such a stark contrast from Capcom's original zombie game, Resident Evil. Whereas that game seems to be trying to scare you senseless at every turn the message this game gives off is “You can do it! Kick some zombie ass! You are man hear that chainsaw roar!” Games rarely manage to convey a feeling of excitement through music on a consistent basis, but Dead Rising pulls off the feeling in glorious fashion. I must admit even though I am a fan of more traditional soundtracks, the feeling of empowerment the music adds to this game certainly brings it up a notch.

The gameplay as alluded to is fantastic. The variety of weaponry in the game is so great that if you chose to do so you wouldn't have to use a weapon twice, but honestly who doesn't want to use the katana a lot, watching as zombies are sliced in half with a nice “whish” sound, or the golf club, which rockets a golf ball straight into zombies' heads, beheading them in gory fashion. There is a surprising amount of challenge to be had with the zombies as well. While they won't be intelligent about it, they are zombies after all, the amount of zombies one has to go through will be the main challenge in that they have an excellent mob mentality when you are wounded. With certain paths you have to travel and thousands of zombies lurking around at any time, anyone who plays this will have to constantly be aware of their surroundings and not get caught from behind. If you are caught from behind though, the game offers a nicely implemented reaction configuration reminiscent of God of War's to allow you to break free, giving you a second or so to press a button before the zombie devours even more of your flesh.

However for all of its brilliant moments and excellent gameplay, some simple things that should have been good were strangely lacking. The amount of backtracking one has to do throughout the course of the plot is borderline ridiculous. While in this type of game some backtracking is to be expected, and can still be enjoyable, the designers have really put a damper on the game by leaving only one path available for over half the game to get back to your base. No matter how fun the monster mashing was, it always seemed to drag as the same familiar bend came into view time after time. While the environment certainly is spacious, it seems much of the mall is there just for a few brief missions and to have it completely enclosed, and nothing more, while a couple areas are given much of the screen time. This lack of balance can make the game dull at times when you are playing the main game.

Another major problem is the save system. While a challenge is always enjoyable, the game takes it a bit too far. There are only a few remote save points in the entire mall outside of your main base in the security room, and that becomes a hassle any time you want to explore the mall. One of the most frustrating scenarios is when a save point is within sight and you are suddenly mobbed by zombies, left dead and having to restart wherever you left off at. With the difficulty being as high as it is, it is inexcusable to have a shoddy save system such as this.

The use of Xbox Live with Dead Rising is mostly for the leader board, which uses Prestige Points (PP for short) gathered throughout the game. PP can be gathered by killing a set number of zombies, beating a boss, or even using inventive ways to kill a zombie, such as the 100 PP bonus for decapitating a Zombie with the sickle.

While the game's main story isn't as long as some might have hoped, with the smooth implement of PP and the many different endings available, this game can last awhile if you are willing to run through the game more than once. It also makes an excellent rental as it only takes around eight or ten hours to beat the game straight through.

Capcom has put together an excellent game in Dead Rising, excellent gameplay, presentation, and a whole lot of zombie murdering excellence. While the save system and backtracking issues put a damper on an otherwise tremendous effort on the part of Capcom, those two details aren't nearly enough to outweigh all the good this game brings to the table.

Now go out there and kick some zombie ass.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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