Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dead Rising review

    It's strange for a man who considers himself a huge fan of the Dead Rising series that he hasn't played the original until now. I haven't played the latest title in the series yet either but I think Dead Rising fans will be more forgiving of that due to the fact I'm saving up to purchase an Xbox One.

    Despite this, I went into the game intimately familiar with the story since I watched it online when it came out because I was such a huge zombie fan but didn't yet own an Xbox 360. Likewise, I was intrigued by all of the features the game promised. Every magazine I read emphasized the game's open-world nature, the potential for exploration, and the mammoth amount of objects which could be used to slay zombies in inventive ways.

    Still, it wasn't until I'd played the sequels religiously that I decided to finally shell out the money and purchase the Platinum version of the title. As a result, I'm going to speak of both what was innovative in Dead Rising at the time of its release as well as how it holds up today.

Just wandering around the mall, whacking the hell out of zombies with a board.
    While it's become something of an industry staple, the big thing Dead Rising brought to the table was the full exploitation of slow zombies and a sandbox environment. The debate between Slow Zombies and Fast Zombies has been something talked about by geeks for a very long time but Dead Rising is an argument all its own. Packed from wall to wall, the zombies are individually harmless but you can't travel very far without falling into the hands of one. Dead Rising zombies can't run but they can lunge and that's just as deadly.

    The premise of Dead Rising is you are Frank West, photojournalist, who has received a hot tip that there's something happening in the town of Willamette. This turns out to be, of course, a zombie outbreak. The only place with any survivors left is the town shopping center in a direct-but-denied homage to Dawn of the Dead. Frank's ride, a helicopter pilot, promises to pick him up in three days. You are left to rescue survivors by taking them to the security room of the mall so they can be airlifted with you, investigate the outbreak, and deal with several survivors who have become violent psychopaths.

The Willamette Mall is an excellent and diverse sandbox to explore with multiple levels, environments, and background scenery.
    Dead Rising wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if not for the fact the Willamette Mall is such an entertaining location to explore. The contrast between the familiarity of the location, everyone having visited a place like it, and the fact you've rarely had a chance to adventure in a place like it comes together well. Virtually every object in the game can be picked up and used as a weapon so there's a staggering amount of improvised weapons. You can fight zombies with handbags, sandwich boards, stuffed animals, lead pipes, 2x4s, mannequins, buckets, mops, and (yes) guns.

    The game's weapons are all very fragile, though, so you can't rely on one throughout the entire game. Your lead pipe or battle-ax (from the antique shop) will break not long into combat and this forces you to seek anything on hand to do battle with the zombies around you. This gives the game much of its frantic pace as the heart of the gameplay is fighting off zombies that might start spread out but can swiftly become an impenetrable wall of rotting flesh.

    The chief activity aside from zombie-slaying is the location and rescue of survivors. This is, sadly, my least favorite part of Dead Rising and an area where Dead Rising 2 improved on the original. While rescuing people gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, keeping them alive in this game is almost impossible.

    They fall behind, often get caught up in zombie hordes only to eaten (in horrific cutscenes), and can't defend themselves well even if given a weapon. About the only thing I'm grateful for to the survivors is the massive amount of experience points they provide (called "prestige points" and the fact you can heal them by giving them food.

This guy worships a department store mannequin and has a hundred raincoat and mask serial-killer followers. Some people do not deal well with stress.
    Thankfully, distracting from the tedium of rescuing survivors is the presence of the Psychos. Dead Rising has a surprisingly serious and somber main plot, the origins of the zombies aside, so it's kind of dissonant to see such an eclectic cast of bosses. There's clowns, mad grocery store clerks, pyromaniac "Nice Guys", your standard mad butchers, cult-leaders, and redneck survivalists all competing for your attention. They're often hilarious, tragic, and wild in one and that's what gives Dead Rising its unique feel.

    Perhaps the most interesting feature of Dead Rising is its strange new of the New Game+ mode. At any point in the game, you can stop it and restart it with all of your levels and equipment. Completing your game perfectly on your first try is more or less impossible and it is designed to be replayed multiple times so you can see everything. I'm not sure I agree with this design decision but it's worth noting. There's also a photography mini-game where you can get small amounts of prestige points for taking interesting pictures of survivors, psychopaths, or the endless zombie hordes. You can even get bonus points for taking pictures of "sexy" zombies and ones wearing toy hats.

The zaniness of the boss battles contrasts sharply with its (mostly) dark and somber tone.
    So, does the game have any flaws? A few. The lip-synching action to the models isn't very good, the photography gameplay could use a little work, the aforementioned survivor issues, and a few other niggles here and there. The worst is the time limit. Dead Rising has a punishing series of challenges which are mandatory to progress the plot and require you to be in specific places at specific times in-game or all incomplete ones are failed. While this ups the challenge, I think the game would have been improved without them.

    In conclusion, I consider Dead Rising to be a landmark game in a lot of ways. It's still my favorite pick for the best zombie game of all time. While future game in the series improve on its gameplay, I'm going to say that I prefer this one's dead serious plot. Gamers looking just for a good time may prefer Off the Record but this is well-worth the money to pick up.


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