Review by CocoaPistolero

"Great ideas overcome by glaring flaws"

Survival horror has its place. Dead Rising takes zombie-killing in an alternate direction. In this game, zombies are not meant to be frightening or difficult to defeat. On the contrary, this game lets the player mow them down in large numbers in a number of ways. This however, is only an aspect of the gameplay. The other aspects are poorly developed and will lead to a lot of grief.

Story – 8/10
The player takes control of Frank West, photojournalist, delivered by helicopter to a small town (with, for some reason, an exceptionally large mall) to cover what appears to be a “riot”. (How you first heard about this scoop is never revealed.) You're going to spend the next 72 hours here trying to get to the bottom of things and presumably make yourself very rich by revealing the story to the public.

The game starts of straightforward enough, but surprisingly has a somewhat interesting story as far as why the zombies exist and the aftermath. Even the best zombie movies aren't literary masterpieces plot-wise (some don't even have a reason for why the zombies exist), so the fact that Dead Rising has a coherent and somewhat interesting story is enough for me. Unfortunately the main character himself isn't really well developed – you won't hear much about his past or his motivation. Instead it seems like all of the secondary characters are most compelling. Frank West mostly watches (in a somewhat ironic way, since he is the journalist). While this is somewhat of a negative, one doesn't really need a strong excuse to have to murder zombies by the thousands. Ultimately Frank is doing what he's doing out of ordinary human compassion for the survivors and the rest of the world.

Gameplay – 5/10
The player has plenty of weapons to use for dispatching the endless numbers of zombies, such as metal pipes, baseball bats, rocks, dead fish, lawnmowers, or even chairs. However fun this may be at first, the player will eventually come to realize that most of these "weapons" are more like novelty items. A chair, or a case of soda isn't going to do much to defeat zombies. I such cases, running through an army of zombies completely unarmed is more effective. It would have been better if each weapon had its place – its weaknesses and its strengths - but instead there are a great deal of outright useless weapons. Some of them aren't even fun or funny to use. Hitting a zombie in the face with a pie might be humorous at first, but throwing soda cans isn't very entertaining at all and completely ineffective. The game comes down to a few very effective weapons, such as swords, steel pipes, or sledge hammers.

Zombies are not the only foes in this game, although the other foes aren't monstrous in nature. There are several "psychopaths" -- ordinary people who have lost their minds due to the recent zombie outbreak and attack the player. Some of them are more difficult than others, although their difficulty has little to do with how far one has progressed in the game. Overall, most of them are interesting to fight. Unfortunately, all of them are susceptible mostly to firearms. The gun controls in this game are functional but clumsy. You cannot aim and move, for example, and “no-scoping” is ineffective and highly inaccurate. You will find that most firearms are your last choice of weapons against anything but psychopaths. They are also harder to obtain. There are a few non-zombie, human, non-boss enemies that roam around the mall later in the game, which are interesting enough. It would be great if there were more variation to the enemies, though.

Throughout the game, you will be given a variety of tasks, known as scoops. Some advance the main story, some are unnecessary and can be skipped. Some lead to psychopath battles. Others lead to cutscenes. One has to be on time to activate certain scoops or the main story of the game will be cut short. One would have to reload your save or restart the game to get another shot at completing the main quest. This can be aggravating sometimes, as the precise time one has to be some place can be a little ambiguous. In some cases, you must be punctual, others, you can be quite late. There's really no consistency to it.

One recurring task in the game is saving survivors. One will be alerted to their locations as the game progresses. Saving them involves escorting them through the zombies and back to the safe area in the mall. This is probably the most poorly designed aspects of the game. The survivors are, well, STUPID. It is a pain to escort them anywhere. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the intelligence level of the average of American, but most people aren't this stupid, especially when faced with death. Trying to save these people might be a tense experience, but tense for all the wrong reasons. Successfully saving them might be rewarding, but rewarding because it seemed impossible thanks to the poor AI. Survivors will easily get stuck amongst hordes of zombies, get left behind as the player walks through loading areas, and so on. One may arm survivors with most weapons. The problem is that they're very liable to hit you with their weapons. In fact, the player is just as liable to hit the survivors. It's difficult to save a single survivor from a group of zombies when the sword with which one is attacking accidentally strikes a survivor.

The problem isn't merely that survivors are stupid but that you have very little control over them. You can order them to follow you, or you can point them in a direction and tell them to go that way. More complex commands, such as telling them to wait, or to tell them how aggressive to be, would have helped. Instead you feel very powerless. Luck plays a big role in your capability to rescue them. The larger the group or survivors is, the more difficult it is to save them all.

One thing that continuously boiled my blood was when I was on the verge of saving multiple survivors. Leading to the air shaft which takes you back to the safe area in the mall is a small ledge up which survivors must climb. If one has multiple survivors following him or her, these survivors will very frequently run into each other for several seconds, unable to climb the ledge. I would have to go down and purposely push other survivors out of the way just to give them enough time to climb the ledge, and even that sometimes didn't work. This is a bad thing, because you're often pressed for time. There are a lot of other missions to accomplish during the game, and this kind of setback could ruin your progress. Capcom was merely lazy and never programmed these survivors to take turns or wait, and the player has to suffer. Again, you feel powerless.

It doesn't feel right when difficulty is stemming from the fact that you have too little control over your success or failure.

Part of the problem with clumsy controls and poor AI is that you are allowed precisely one save slot per storage device in this game.
If you merely own a hard drive, you will only have one save slot. If you happen to additionally have a memory card or two, you will be granted one save slot per device. Indeed, this makes the player play more wisely and save more selectively. Unfortunately it's very easy to “save yourself into a corner.” For example, if one saves when he or she has got very little time to catch a scoop, he or she can ruin their progress and have to start their game all over due to the fact that it is impossible to reach the next scoop on time. This is simply not fun, and often frustrating. It gives you very little room to experiment with how you want to tackle situations and timing things.
The game is overall punishing. I found myself restarting the game no less than four times before I began to truly grasp the mechanics and punishing aspects of the game. Knowing what scoops occurred when, what survivors were where, and what mistakes I can make was crucial in my success. The learning curve is that steep; there's no way to get it right the first time. Sorry Capcom, but we are not psychic.

There are some aspects of the game that I can't help but feel were implemented just to annoy the player. For example, you will frequently receive radio calls from a mall employee named Otis. He has a habit of calling when least convenient, such as when you're fighting a psychopath. Stupidly, Frank cannot attack or do most other things while listening to the call. One has to run in circles and hope he or she doesn't get hit. If one does get hit or otherwise disturbs the call, expect to hear Otis call back and, like an ass, say, “Don't cut me off like that! It's rude!” Someone went out of his or her way to raise the player's blood pressure.

The game has a photography aspect, where the player can take photos. There's not much to say about it. Taking photos is necessary for a few achievements and one quest in particular. Ultimately it feels tacked on, unnecessary, and isn't particularly exciting.

Graphics – 7/10
Dead Rising's graphics are good, but they're not extraordinary. Most impressive is the number of zombies that can be drawn on screen at once. There is no slowdown, even when there's a thick army of zombies in front of you. Most of NPCs look good. Most of the survivors are on the mediocre side, but it's not like you spend a great deal looking at their faces. There are some clipping issues in some of the cutscenes. One has to wonder why no one noticed Frank's chin was moving through his shirt collar in certain cutscenes.
The game overall isn't much to look at because it's simply a mall. Albeit overrun by zombies, for the most part it's an ordinary mall, so there's nothing there that's visually compelling.

There is some slowdown later in the game, when non-zombie enemies start showing up. I wouldn't know for sure, but I'd think this is CPU-related slowdown, since their AI is somewhat more complex that zombies'. The slowdown was capable of getting very bad, to the point where I thought my fragile Xbox 360 would lock up. (Fortunately, that never happened.) Such slowdown cleared up on its own and was rare, however.

While on this subject, I would like to say I would NOT recommend this game to anyone who does not own or have access to a high definition television. The text in this game is very, very small, and often unreadable on standard definition televisions. It's absurd that Capcom could not take the time to make bigger letters for people on older televisions – I am sure this would be one of the easier things to program. I can fully understand if they chose to cater to the high definition crowd. This, however, is no excuse to cut off players who do not have and perhaps cannot afford a new television. I would guess that more people in the world have standard definition televisions than high definition televisions. (More frustrating, Capcom had no problem releasing a patch for a more recent game – Lost Planet, for this same issue.) Capcom's official solution for the small text on a standard definition television? Switch your Xbox 360 to widescreen mode – even if your television isn't widescreen. This effectively stretches everything vertically, which does make the text more readable. However, it looks weird and you have to switch the setting back whenever you want to play a different game. Nice going, Capcom.

Sound – 7/10
Again, nothing amazing, but overall good. I don't know for sure what it should sound like to hit a zombie in the face with a sledge hammer or cut one in half with a chainsaw. Overall these sounds feel right, but there's nothing outright surprising about them.

The music varies from the elevator music in the background to the trashy rap song that plays in the mall courtyard. It is mostly forgettable. I doubt you'll want to buy or download the Dead Rising soundtrack. The music, however, does its part and fits in well enough with each scene, and at the very least isn't aggravating.

Replay Value – 8/10
Besides the main story, the game has a lot of achievements. While some of them are interesting, such as doing a stunt on a motorcycle, perhaps the most mundane one is killing 53-thousand-something zombies. Even though there's a trick to it, it is still extremely tedious and not worth very many points.

The game has a short “Overtime Mode” in which you will find the true ending to the story. The game also has multiple endings, if you care to see them all. There is also “Infinite Mode”, where you must survive against endless zombies while your health continuously depletes, for as long as possible.
There is no online play, although I can't knock the game for that since such would make little sense.

Other Beefs:
I encountered a bug in which my Dead Rising save was corrupt for no reason whatsoever, and outdoor areas wouldn't load. I found complaints about the same problem on the Capcom forums. What's worse is that deleting all Dead Rising related data did not alleviate the problem. I had to format my entire hard drive – losing a lot of other save games for the sake of one. Capcom has not answered to this issue by either acknowledging it or issuing a patch. I find such a thing unacceptable and was further frustrated at the game as result of it. So just know now, before you buy this game, that this can happen to you as well.

Overall, I would recommend one rent this game or buy it when it is very cheap. When I purchased it, it was $59.99 – way more than I feel it was ever worth. This is, despite everything I read, one of the more mediocre and disappointing games I have played on the Xbox 360, mostly due to its frustrating gameplay. If the flaws I described don't sound disappointing, than this game might be challenging and entertaining for the player.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 04/03/07

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