Review: Dead Rising

Capcom’s Dead Rising stands as one of the most fun titles to come out for the Xbox 360 since its initial release in late 2005. From the makers of the Resident Evil series for past console systems, Capcom has taken a new approach in adding to their growing library of zombie titles. Dead Rising is a semi-freeroaming action-horror game which takes the classic premise of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead — survivors trapped in the mall teeming with flesh-eating zombies — and makes a fun and exciting game.

The game takes place Willamette, Colorado, population 53,594 where nothing exciting happens in town outside of visiting the local mega-mall which seems to dominate the entire town. Dead Rising uses a time-based mission system and the intro cutscene in the beginning of the game hints at this. You play as freelance photojournalist Frank West, who never fails to mention that he’s covered riots, wars, and all sorts of dangerous events, who gets a tip from an unknown source that something big is happening in little old Willamette. The intro both introduces Frank West, flying over the town to bypass the military blockade and cordon of the town, and the controls for the photography mechanics of the gameplay. It’s in this hands-on tutorial part of the intro that we see a bird’s eye view of the crisis that has befallen Willamette. From there you’re dropped onto the roof of the Willamette Mall where you meet one of the few survivors of the town. The rest of the game moves on from there at a very frantic pace.

It’s the game itself that shines for Dead Rising. Despite a save system that could’ve been done much better (more on that later), Dead Rising‘s gameplay mechanics has quite a bit in common with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. From the get-go the player as Frank can just go down into the mall and begin killing zombies left and right, and everyway from Monday through Sunday. All manner of items stocked in the mall walkways and stores can be picked up and used either as a weapon, a change in clothing attire, and/or food. This is where Dead Rising will get most of its mention for being fun. When Capcom programmers decided to allow the player to use anything that could be picked up as a weapon they meant it. There’s over 200 useable items to be picked up as a weapon. These items range from the gore-inducing lawnmower (an homage to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive zombie film), chainsaws, and excavators (a garden tool that has one of the bloodiest and funniest killing animation) to the ridiculously funny use for CDs, shower-heads, novelty masks, teddy bears and skateboards. There’s also the more traditional weapons such as a pistol, shotgun, submachine gun, machine-gun, swords and axes. Being a game developed by Capcom, Dead Rising has more than a few wink-wink acknowledgement to other Capcom games such as Mega Man and Resident Evil.

One could spend all their time just killing zombies, but the strict time-based missions in the game might make zombie-killing take a backseat to actually solving the mystery of what’s caused the zombie outbreak in the town. There’s two types of missions Frank could try solving. There’s the mandatory “Case Missions” which deal directly with him trying to solve the mystery within the 72-hour time limit. Each case mission must be solved in a linear order to open up the next case. The second set of missions are named “Scoops” and act more as sub-missions that can be taken on and accomplished or ignored. They really don’t affect the availability of further case missions. What they do give Frank are prestige points that can go a long way to levelling him up to gain more skills and abilities. Most scoop missions usually entail finding scattered survivors within the mall and leading them back to the safety of the security office near the roof. Some survivors could be armed with extra weapons Frank carries and defend themselves when attacked, and some survivors are so incapacitated that Frank must carry them to safety. While carrying a survivor Frank will be unable to use a weapon so this type of mission usually takes several tries before the player figures out the best path to safety. Like most game AI, the survivors need a bit of constant attention from the player to make sure they’re actually following you and not stopping every second to fight the closest zombie. It’s not a gamebreaker but the survivor AI could’ve used some more tweaking to make them follow much better.

As mentioned above, Frank can level up to a level cap of 50 by acquiring prestige points (called PP in the game). Prestige points can be acquired through many different ways within the game. Taking pictures of different nature and quality will give Frank prestige points as high as several tens of thousand. Shots with poses that follow a certain genre gives more points than those that are just generic poses. Such genres that shots can be taken of are shots of burtality, horror, outtakes, drama and erotica. Erotica shots are pretty much just photographs taken of survivors and zombies (creepy) in sexually-suggestive poses. Brutality shots are usually pictures where extreme violence and fighting poses are framed and photographed. Horror is pretty much self-explanatory. Drama shots usually involve pictures with survivors and main npc characters in dramatic poses. Outtakes usually entail photographs taken of survivors and zombies involved in any sort of funny situations. Usually them slipping and falling down or wandering around aimlessly with novelty masks over their heads.

Other ways to gain prestige points will be to finish case missions and scoop missions. The PP reward for finishing part or all of each mission usually range from several thousand to as high as 50,000 PP. The high amount of PP reward for taking on and accomplishing these two types of missions go a long way to levelling up Frank. The most fun way of getting PP, though not as much and takes a long time, will be to kill zombies. For every 50 zombies killed Frank gets 500 PP and everytime Frank reaches 1000 zombies killed he gains 20,000 PP. It’s a much slower path to gaining PP but it’s surely the most fun of the three ways.

The main storyline in Dead Rising is actually a very good one. Like most games outside of the role-playing game genre, storylines were usually the weakest of all the games had to offer. In Dead Rising, Capcom was able to create an intriguing storyline that didn’t rip-off the Dawn of the Dead story that the game will always be compared to. There’s conspiracies, betrayals and just outright weirdness to help tie together the mystery of why Willamette, Colorado has suddenly gone zombiefied and why the U.S. military and government were quick to quarantine the whole area.

The game itself leans more towards comedic horror than outright horror. There were some cutscenes and plot developments that were downright creepy and scary, but most of the time you’ll just laugh in glee at all the carnage you’re causing within the mall. The characters of Frank West and those npcs he has to deal with in the context of the case missions were pretty well drawn both in animation and personality. As the game progressed and certain characters were put in danger it was hard not to feel saddened by such tragic events. It helps that the voice-acting in Dead Rising was pretty high quality. The spoken dialogue during the cutscenes were pretty well done and one could sense that Capcom wanted to really capture the cinematic tone they were going for with Dead Rising.

Now to the one glaring negative in Dead Rising. The save system in this game could be called unforgiving and that’s saying it lightly. The game only allows for one save per memory unit. This means that you can only save the game once if you only have the 360 HDD as your memory unit. This means that once you save over a previous save then thats it. If you’re current save doesn’t give you the chance to finish your current case mission then you pretty much have to start the game over. This would sound terrible if not for one saving grace. Dead Rising allows the player to start the game over with all skills, abilities, levels and PP acquired to be transferred over to the new game. This lessens the impact of having to start the game over. It also helps in power-levelling Frank to a level high enough that you can breeze through the case missions. Starting the game over and over with stats and skills included also gives the player a chance to try different methods of solving a case until finding the one thats easiest to do. I know of players who have done nothing but just kill zombies and try on a few case and scoop missions to gain PP to level up then start the game over then repeat the cycle again. This makes the game much easier in the long run, but also takes time.

The graphics in Dead Rising is good to above-average. Capcom went away from making the best-looking graphics and instead opted to go for just good with most of the 360’s power under the hood set aside for the zombies. The game has lots and lots of zombies on-screen and when I say lots I mean in the hundreds, if not thousands. There’s barely any slowdown in frame-rate as the action on the screen gets heavy and crowded. The look of the mall itself was also well done. Each store and utilitarian room has their own unique look with most items rendered with enough detail to be recognized as either weapon, sustenance, etc.

Overall, Capcom has created a great game with their action-horror/comedy Dead Rising. With a choice to either play the game in the free-roaming style of Grand Theft Auto to a more time-based, linear mission-style of an action game this game more than makes up for unforgiving save system its developers decided to give it. Outside of the save system which keeps this game from reaching excellent status, Dead Rising is a great and fun game that should remain fun to pick up long after the player has finished its main mission. With a sequel already set to be released on the tail-end of summer 2010, this game is a good way for one to reacquiant themselves with some zombie-killing.