The Game: Dead Rising
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 1
System: Xbox 360
Buy It On Amazon: HERE
The Premise: Photojournalist Frank West is covering strange attacks in Williamette, Colorado, when he finds himself trapped in a shopping mall with a teeming throng of the Undead. With 72 hours until the rescue chopper arrives, Frank must defend himself against zombies and various psychopaths and rescue as many survivors as he can. Probably while wearing a dress.
Is it any good? Yes, but it’s a very… Particular sort of game.
Dead Rising, one of the Xbox 360’s launch titles, is arguably the perfect launch game. Not only did it show off the horsepower of the 360 with its multitudes of zombies (And remember, there really was a time when zombie games were fresh), but it also came with a set of mechanics that were new to most gamers, pretty much establishing itself as its own genre.
It still has the capacity to impress today, even if it’s a doggedly bipolar experience. It’s one half pure, unadulterated slapstick, and one half an ultra-hardcore assault course of a game that demands discipline, and if it doesn’t get it will squeeze it out of you with an iron fist. One minute you’re fanning zombie brains out with a plastic lightsa – Sorry, laser sword – while wearing a Servbot head and floral summer dress, and then suddenly you’re dead because you turned the wrong corner at the wrong time, with your only hope to progress being to start the game from the very beginning again.
You see, Dead Rising’s idiosyncratic levelling system is all about repetition. Completing missions (i.e. ‘Case Files’) , rescuing survivors and killing psychopaths and zombies earns Frank Prestige Points (Or ‘PP’) which allows Frank to level up and grow stronger. However, you cannot accrue enough strength to finish the game on a first playthrough, or even the first several; when you die you can either muddle along at your current level, which is in most cases pointless, or start again from the beginning of the game with progress intact and grind your way through again. By the time you reach the point of your last death you’re generally strong enough to breeze through until you get overwhelmed at a later point and have to go back from the start.
Intermittent ‘speed bumps’ come in the form of the colourful and gnashingly difficult to beat the psychopaths, who are essentially the game’s take on boss fights. These require several restarts to beat, and in case you’re thinking you can dodge this through save game juggling, think again: you get one save slot per memory device and player profile. That’s it. Whatever you do, you’re stuck with and if you hit a brick wall all you can do is restart and do better next time.
This system wasn’t new, previously having been used in the Capcom RPG Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, but it was unheard of for a major release and it succeeded in thoroughly breaking Western gamers’ brains. It’s a mechanic that appeals to the most hardcore of gamers, with several endings and play modes ensuring that if you really want to see all that the game offers you’ll have to put in a lot of hours and play the same content a multitude of times. Even other survivors and their missions are gated to an extent: they pop up on your minimap with a limited lifespan, and it’s virtually impossible to reach everybody at anything below the highest levels. Besides, with the survivors’ hideous AI seemingly determined to keep you dawdling back and forth to be easily eaten, you may not want to rescue them by the time you’re strong enough to survive their idiocy.
Thankfully, the game’s multitude of gear helps spice the game up, with most shops in the mall raidable for clothes and weapons. You can also take photos to earn PP, using a clever and genuinely fun system that rates picture content in several categories rewarding particularly dramatic, violent or sexy images (Usually some combination of the three). It’s an impressively flexible mechanic which helps to keep later playthroughs interesting, though awkward controls can make getting the more dynamic shots a little frustrating.
Ultimately, however, to enjoy Dead Rising is to embrace its mechanics and be able to see past its many annoying quirks. The save system makes a compelling idea unnecessarily difficult by making save points too few and far between, and the game just loves to have Otis, the mall’s janitor, call to nag you about missions, locking you into a walkie-talkie animation that prevents you from defending yourself. Seeing as Otis has a habit of calling when you’re knee-deep in zombies (Not to mention then calling again if and scolding you for not answering if you fail to pick up immediately due to being knee-deep in said zombies), he quickly became the game’s most notorious aspect and a guaranteed source of many, many deaths along Frank’s journey. Unfortunately, no option exists for feeding the needy, passive-aggressive mop jockey to the decomposing hordes. In fact, the survivors are by and large a complete pain, with escort missions seeing them displaying some of the most suicidal AI you’ll ever suffer in a zombie apocalypse.
Dead Rising is an idiosyncratic game hellbent on niggling the player almost as much as empowering them. However, its ability to generate moments of genuine hilarity means that it remains a worthwhile play, though newcomers may be advised to try out the much more compact Dead Rising: Case Zero (See below).
Bonus Points: While Capcom released a truncated remake of the game for the Wii in 2009 called Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop, it underwent enough cuts and restructuring that it was considered an offshoot rather than a legitimate version of the game, and was received poorly.
2010’s Dead Rising 2 saw Blue Castle Games improve on the original by tightening the mechanics and adding weapon combination to the mix (e.g. Adding gems to a flashlight to make a real lightsaber instead of a toy one). The only minus was a slightly less interesting protagonist in fallen motocross champion Chuck Greene, though the game was ‘re-imagined’/rereleased the following year with Frank back as lead in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record.
Also released were two shorter downloadable Dead Rising games: Case Zero, which introduced Chuck and allowed progress to be carried over to Dead Rising 2, and Case West which heralded Frank’s return to the franchise. These offshoots were hugely successful, their shorter length (Each clock in at about 4-5 hours) arguably suiting the repetitive structure of Dead Rising better than the longer and less focused full-length entries. Unfortunately, no plans for similar side games have so far been announced for the upcoming Dead Rising 3 on Xbox One.
The MKR group, who holds the copyright to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and the 2004 remake, claimed that Dead Rising infringed on the copyrights and trademarks of those films. Capcom naturally denied this, claiming that a warning label on the game’s box denying any coincidence with Romero’s creation was to ‘avoid customer confusion’ rather than any roundabout admission of infringement. MKR filed a lawsuit over the matter that was later dismissed. While the game is obviously inspired by Romero’s film with its shopping mall setting, humour-wise the game is more in line with Takeshi’s Castle than Romero’s more satirical bent. That said, it’s nice to think that Capcom were being just a little bit meta releasing a title that revolved around rampant consumerism and mass slaughter in the middle of a new-gen launch cycle.
Protagonist Frank West was conceived to appeal to Western audiences, and became something of a hit with gamers with his catchphrase “I’ve covered wars, y’know” and passing resemblance to Evil Dead legend/geek icon Bruce Campbell. He was popular enough to not only make cameos in games by Capcom (Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, the Lost Planet series) and other publishers (Namco Bandai’s Project X Zone, Valve’s The Passing DLC for Left 4 Dead 2) but also be reinstated as the games’ playable lead. Given this it’s strange to see Dead Rising 3 going with a new lead character, but the smart money is on Frank popping up again sooner rather than later.
MOAR LIKE THIS PLZ: Dead Rising 2/Case Zero/Case West, State of Decay, the Resident Evil series, Dead Island, or throw a stone in a random direction. You’ll hit at least half a dozen zombie games without even looking.