DEAD RISING

Developer: Capcom, Keiji Inafune
Publisher: Capcom
Release: August 2006
Format: XBox 360
Genre Keywords: Single Player, Survival Horror, Third Person, Zombies, Beat'em Up

Discerning gamers go on and on about games that allow the player freedom of choice (like Grand Theft Auto), but they commonly ignore the ultimate linearity: if you want to progress in that game you only have one choice - continue with the story.

Capcom did something different with Dead Rising, and something that many gamers have been hankering for - a more active, rather than reactive game. In other words, if you don't take care to keep up with the plot, it'll go on without you.

Naturally it went over like a lead balloon. We gamers are a consistent lot - you can always rely on us to whine about your game.

what is it?

You play the role of Frank West, a lone ranger photo journalist who gets wind of something big happening in the town of Willamette, Colorado (population 53,594). Frank hires a chopper pilot to fly him in, and the game begins. As you descend into town, taking pictures all the while (pictures gain you precious experience points), things get weird - eventually Frank decides he needs more information and, Romero-inspired, picks the Willamette Mall as a likely place to find some people to talk to. The pilot drops you off and the game proper can now start.

Keeping the spoilers to a minimum, the very first scene as you enter the actual mall establishes what you're going to be concerned with throughout the game - zombie survival. Your only deadline is 72 hours - that's when your pilot comes to retrieve you - but various story-based and time-limited objectives, humans both friendly and psychotic and of course thousands of zombies keep getting in your way.

how does it play?

Dead Rising plays somewhat like a 3D beat'em-up in an open, nonlinear environment - you can go anywhere and do anything right from the start of the game. Frank can walk, run, jump, pull himself up on ledges and most importantly, pick up and use objects. There are many many objects in the mall, and most of them can be used in one way or another. There are items made for swinging, for throwing, for stabbing or shooting, and power-up items for healing or gaining temporary effects. All of the offensive have unique animations and some can be used in more than one mode - for example the golf club can be simply swung, or can be used in aiming mode to launch golf balls at high speed. All of the items are modeled believably and have their own perks and bonuses - a baseball bat will take much less time to swing than a big sheet of plywood, for example.

As you play the game, Frank collects Prestige Points for completing objectives, destroying zombies and taking photos - he is here to do a job after all. The levels that Frank gains via these Prestige Points unlock new abilities and improve Frank's survival by boosting his speed, attack strength and carrying ability among other things.

Now here's a twist that few games have tried before - the way that dying is handled in the game. When Frank's health drops to zero, you get two choices: either restore from last save* or restart the game with Frank's current stats. Obviously this makes every subsequent playthrough just a bit easier, and is in fact the key to seeing all that the game has to offer.

* Note that saves are solely upon player's initiative, but never far away - there is a bathroom (save node) in every area of the mall, rarely farther than a minute's walk away. They are not limited, but do take 15 minutes of in-game time.

You see, the various objectives that Frank has to accomplish are not only time-limited but also concurrent. Unless you take advantage of the die/restart system, Frank will not be buff enough to handle many quests simultaneously. It may seem like a cheap way to add replay value, but for a casual gamer like myself it's a non-insulting way to make the game more forgiving. The only penalty for failing is that Frank gets one step closer to becoming a superhuman whirling dervish of zombie destruction. The choice to restart or restore is always yours, but if you're finding the current crop of zombies or psychos too challenging, there is an automagic method of improving your chances.

The initial detractors were expecting Grand Theft Zombie, and instead received Zombie Marathon where the main enemy is time rather than the undead hordes. The constraints however are all self-created; you can choose to complete none of the objectives if you so desire. Capcom should be praised rather than villified for the way they put the weight of the decision-making on the player alone, and for evoking the tension of being under constant attack by both the clock and the zombies.

it's not all zombie bowling

There are a few minor issues with the game, mainly having to do with inconsistent controls. For some strange reason, using guns switches the controls on you, making the stick usually used for moving now handle aiming. This also means that you can't move and aim at the same time - even if this is explained by Frank's inexperience with firearms, it's still a little silly.

Second, the "save or restart with saved stats" dialogue is not very clear - most gamers' complaints stemmed from the fact that this unusual game continuation option is presented with little fanfare, thus leading to the loss of saved games. In this age where no one ever reads manuals, this option could have been pointed out in better terms, or at least larger and flashing letters. Speaking of letters ...

Finally, there is the issue of tiny text on non-HD TVs; while the dialogue in cutscenes is fully voiced, ingame dialogue is presented through subtitles only. Often these subtitles contain important information about your objectives, and the font size is too small for standard televisions. Wasn't it just yesterday we were complaining about "consolitis" and huge fonts?

plywood sheets, bowling balls, chainsaws, katanas, mannequins and propane tanks

Dead Rising came out of nowhere with a controversial save function, fairly novel gameplay concept, 55,000 zombies, multiple endings, unlockables and hundreds of weapons. If these aren't reasons enough for you to at least try it out, you may want to consider having your gamer card stamped "jaded". The goofy Achievements alone (decorate 10 zombies with traffic cones, for example) should have you grinning like a kid in a (zombie) candy store.

Final word of warning: the demo is not representative of the full game. Since it contains no objectives nor background, there is none of the constant tension and nervous energy that the full game provides. The difference between making it back to a secure area with survivors in tow, and doing same within a sliver of the time limit allotted is like night and day.

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