If you’ve ever dreamed of slaughtering thousands of zombies in a mall using everything from potted plants and plastic sabres, to hockey sticks and assault rifles, you might want to give all the blokes at Capcom a pat on the back, because Dead Rising is all that and a hell of a lot more. It’s got thousands of mindless zombies to maim, dismember, and even spit on (I kid you not), 100s of useable items, over-the-top gore, quite possibly the coolest secret weapon of all time (so that’s what happened to MegaMan!), and even a hilarious nod to Shaun of the Dead once you hit level 50. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t a few seriously frustrating issues with the game, most of which stem from its unique, albeit frantic time management system, combined with the inability to save in multiple slots. There’s also a damn annoying roll move, but that aside, Dead Rising is an enjoyable 20+ hour experience that is easily the most unique title to hit the Xbox 360.
Frank West isn’t your average journalist; no, he’s far from it. Whereas most journalists – myself included – would never purposely land a helicopter on top of a mall surrounded by flesh eating zombies, Frank would. I also wouldn’t enter said mall surrounded by flesh eating zombies and run around drinking wine, taking pictures of the scenery, and beating the undead over the head with ketchup bottles and other condiments. Frank on the other hand, would. In fact, as far as Frank is concerned, he’ll do just about anything to get the story of a lifetime; and it just so happens that Frank’s story-of-a-lifetime is, well, actually a pretty damn good story all things considered.
After a brief tutorial introducing players to the camera system, Frank’s helicopter lands atop the Willamette Mall where we learn that our heroic photo journalist has a mere 72 hours (about eight hours real-time) to figure out what the heck is happening before his pilot returns to pick his sorry ass up. As the story unfolds, you’ll learn the truth behind the infestation, who the survivors really are, and why Carlito looks and acts exactly like Louis from Resident Evil 4. Well, you won’t find that out, but someone had to say it.
Without giving too much away, the main 72 hour mode is really only the first section of the game. After unlocking overtime mode by completing all the cases and answering a certain phone call at 10 a.m. on the final day, you’ll get a chance to witness the game’s true ending, which substantially beefs up the hour count to at least 12 your first time through, and that doesn’t include all the experience farming you’ll most likely do before you even bother attempting the game’s dozen or so story missions.
The mission structure itself is the most unique aspect of Dead Rising, and at times, the most frustrating. Each section of the main story is broken down into cases, and during each day there are a set number of said cases to complete. Further to that, all of the case files happen at specific times of the day, requiring you to manage your time effectively – something I am inherently bad at. By tapping the d-pad, Frank can bring up his watch which shows the time (duh) and also what case files are currently active. Every case file has a deadline indicated by the colour of the bar behind the case name. If it’s blue, you’re sailing; if it’s yellow, you might want to pick up the pace; and if it’s red, well, you’ve got about five minutes to complete the case, if that.
As unique as the case system is, it can be equally as maddening. Because each case file begins at a set time, if you take your time on one file you might not have enough time to complete the file right after it. I can think of two occasions where this became an issue – the first being fairly early on when you’re required to get a certain someone medicine from the supermarket in North Plaza. It’s easy to get caught up in the carnage, as it should be, and completely forget that the ensuing case files depend on how quickly you can get from point A to point B. Later in the game, there’s another scenario where this happens (make sure to get the maintenance key from the underground tunnels before you do anything in the game). I literally had to start the game all over again. There’s no option to restart a mission and because you can only save one profile, there’s no going back if you get yourself in a jam. It’s as if the developers purposely don’t want you to complete the game until you’ve got the lay out of the mall memorized – including the locations of all of the hidden weapons and items (check the blue awning in Paradise Plaza for the sub machine gun), the times in which every case file occurs, and until Frank has reached at least level 20.
Speaking of levels, unfortunately for Frank (and you), he begins the game at level 1, with no special moves, only three bars of health, and a move speed about as fast as those mechs from Chromehounds. In order to gain levels, Frank has to earn experience points by killing zombies, defeating any of the 10 psychopaths located throughout the mall, or taking photos.
Your first introduction to the camera begins in your helicopter on route to the Willamette Mall in a neat little mini game of sorts, explaining the ins and outs of taking a good shot. Pressing the left trigger brings up the camera view where you can zoom in and out and take a photo. Don’t worry though; Capcom’s made this system pretty simple so you don’t have to worry about focusing or changing the aperture settings manually – a wise decision given the zombie horde that’s after you.
After you’ve taken the shot, you’re graded on a few categories: The number of faces in the photo and what type of shot it is, be it a brutality shot of a survivor being torn apart, a dramatic shot, like when the two survivors on the roof at the beginning of the game reunite – netting Frank a solid 10,000 pp – or an erotic shot like when you take a pic of Jessie’s, ahem, assets. The better the photo, the more experience Frank earns, ultimately increasing his level.
However, if you happen to die, you can save your stats and restart the game from scratch, which I suspect most players will do a number of times in order to farm enough experience points to reach a high level before attempting to complete the main storyline. I got Frank to level 23 before even bothering to attempt any of day 2’s cases.
Another way to earn experience is by accepting escort missions. Throughout the course of the game, Otis the janitor will call you every 30 seconds – or at least that’s what it feels like – and update you with what’s happening in various sections of the mall. Considering he’s always in the security room, I have no idea how he knows when a survivor is in trouble at the other side of the mall, but whatever; I’m willing to look past that little hole, and I’m also willing to look past the super annoying calls he makes with such frequency. If you don’t pick up the phone, he’ll just keep calling. And if you pick up the phone and then hang it up, he’ll call back and tell Frank how rude he is. But in his defence, the escort missions Otis points out can give Frank quite the advantage over his undead friends. By finding survivors and returning them to the security room, Frank earns enormous amounts of experience and levels up much faster than if you focus solely on the story missions. But it’s not as easy as it sounds; some survivors are bit less than co-operative, while others have injuries that prevent them from accompanying you, forcing Frank to carry them. In one clever scenario, Frank has to learn Japanese by reading a book before he can speak to a couple of tourists and convince them to follow him to safety.
Once you’ve got your survivor(s), Frank has a few additional options at his disposal. By pressing the ‘Y’ button, you can have Frank command any followers to pick up the pace, or you can command NPCs to head to specific locations by holding the ‘R’ button, aiming at the desired location and pressing the ‘Y’ button. You can also equip survivors with pistols, katanas and just about anything else you can get your hands on. Some survivors can hold their own with or without a weapon, but that isn’t the case for every NPC. Give little Sophie a shotgun and she’s going to look at you like you’re some sort of idiot, then breakdown and cry. Give Burt Thompson an SMG, though, and he’ll mow down an entire crowd.
My only beef with the escort missions is how trying it can be to get them to follow you, or climb on top of an object. And if you have more than one NPC, they often bump into each other repeatedly or even run in circles until they either die-by-zombie, or you die by boredom. It can also be a bit of a pain in the rear to even get the survivors to the security room, as you have to first go through the seriously infested Paradise Plaza, head through a tunnel, then into an equally infested warehouse, then to an elevator, which just happens to be full of zombies, and finally to the rooftop where access to the security room is. Not cool Capcom.
So, you’ve completed a few escort missions, killed a few psychopaths, and levelled up. Big whoop. Now it’s time to use some of those newly acquired skills. Once he reaches a certain level, Frank gains access to a variety of skill moves, which range from the very handy jump kick and double lariat, to the infuriating roll move I mentioned earlier. Even writing about it is making me angry; heck, that move made its way into my opening paragraph – that’s got to tell you something.
The dodge manoeuvre is initiated by hitting the left thumbstick up twice, sending Frank rolling a few feet in the direction he’s facing. Capcom calls it an evasion move – I beg to differ. The move’s been programmed so that you don’t have to hit up twice in quick succession to execute it; you can literally hit up once, wait a second, then hit up again, and Frank still rolls! I had hoped there was a way to turn this action off, but alas, I had to suck it up and keep on trucking.
Despite rolling to my death a dozen or so times, Dead Rising is a blast to play through and through. The mall is littered with objects that can be used as weapons and in most cases anything you think you can use as a weapon can be used as a weapon. You’ll find soccer balls – which when kicked, ricochet off the undead for multiple hits – hockey sticks complete with pucks to shoot, hedge clippers, a lawnmower, chainsaws, barbells, 2x4s, nail guns, and, well, you get the point. If guns are your thing, making a trip over to the North Plaza gun shop can arm Frank with shotguns, pistols, and sniper rifles (provided he’s killed the psychopath owner), or you can kill the convict psychopaths in Leisure Park and steal their jeep’s enormous heavy machine gun. The options for disposing zombies seem limitless.
With hundreds of the undead on screen at once, how does the carnage fair visually? Well, the frame rate can dip pretty low when things get hectic, so expect a few hiccups here and there, and don’t expect extremely detailed zombie models on screen, as Capcom clearly had to make a few sacrifices to keep this many characters on screen at once. Still, the environments look great and the sheer number of enemies on screen simply couldn’t be done on older hardware. One thing you can expect, though, is bucket loads of gore. Seriously, this has got to be the goriest game I’ve ever played. Limbs are hacked off, bodies are slit in half, heads explode, internal organs are ripped out, and blood sprays about all over the mall and even onto Frank’s clothes. And don’t get me started on the psychopath deaths. Take Adam the clown for example; throw enough cash registers at him, or pump enough SMG rounds in him and a gruesome cutscene unfolds.
Once you’ve completed the 72 hour mode, there’s Overtime mode to complete (which is essentially part two of the main game), the ultra difficult Infinity mode to unlock, plus plenty of achievements to earn – some of which have absurd requirements. I do wish there was some sort of free mode where you could run around the mall and go on a huge zombie hunting spree. Sure it would get old after a while, but there’s no reason why it wasn’t included in the game. Granted, you can just fail a mission and continue to play the game, but having a free play option from the start where you have Frank fully levelled with infinite ammo and unbreakable weapons would be super cool.
Dead Rising isn’t without its flaws, some of which are easier to forgive than others. The save system which has been under scrutiny, and rightfully so, is a bit too unreasonable for my tastes. I understand why the developers implemented this kind of system; after all, I can’t imagine how many extra hours this game has squeezed out of me because of it. If anything, they should have at least included more save points as they are few and far between and often completely out of the way. Even with its problems, Dead Rising is a ton of fun to play, offers a respectable narrative, and come on, you can use a lawnmower for cryin’ out load. Enough said.