Dead Rising - 360 - Review
I'll be honest with you, I sent my editor a note a while back, practically begging for this title. I love anything zombie, movies, books, Halloween and of course games. If you have read any of my past horror game reviews, you know that I have an obsession with the walking dead. I can't help it, a misspent youth in a house with all the cable channels forged an imagination that embraced the whole zombie genre.
So with Dead Rising, the first thing I noticed is on the cover there is a little legal-esque notice on the bottom stating that this game has no affiliation with George Romero or his "Dead" movies. As if anyone familiar with George's movies (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead) will tell you that Dawn of the Dead takes place in a shopping mall and this game takes place in a shopping mall. Well, with the exception of a mall, zombies and some humans that are bad too, that's where the similarities end (even thought that is an awful lot of similarities). No, Dead Rising start with you riding in a helicopter on your way to a city somewhere in Colorado. You are an photojournalist named Frank West (Re-animator fans take note) who has gotten a tip that something odd is happening in this town. Well that tip sure was correct, no sooner do you fly over the town that you see public unrest, what appears to be rioting and of course murder, only something doesn't "feel" right. Your ride drops you off on the only helipad in town on top of the local "super" mall and tells you he will be back in exactly 72 hours before some military choppers run him off. Well it doesn't take long for you to understand why things didn't feel right, those people out there are zombies and they are hungry. They never talked about this kind of pressure in journalism class.
Now the game is setup in a unusual way. From the get-go, you will notice that there is an underlying explanation for these people becoming zombies, and as a journalist you must uncover this conspiracy by running around the mall and helping the other human survivors by going out into the various stores and escorting them back to the safety of the security room (kind of your base of operations). Adding to the mix is Otis, an elderly mall employee who gives you a radio and calls you whenever he finds survivors or anything strange on the monitors (as if thousands of zombies shopping isn't strange). Plus, you are dealing with two government agent types that agree to give you information as long as you help them as well.
In the game you (as Frank) run around on your quest to solve the mystery and find survivors, but you are still a photojournalist, meaning you must take photos of the graphic and gory carnage that is in front of you. Taking a picture of a zombie shambling towards you will get you an "OK" score (you are trying to find the best photo ops) but take a picture of a survivor hanging off of a object with 20 zombies under her waiting for lunch will get you a "Perfect" score. The addition of the photo function is a pretty interesting "side" bar to the other gaming, sometimes I'd forget to take a picture of something really nuts, and afterwards I'd realize "Man, I missed a good shot".
But here is the big problem with Dead Rising, time; there is simply not enough time to do what you need to do. You see, with the wrap-around story of the zombie conspiracy and Otis constantly calling you on the radio you begin to get too-many time-sensitive missions. For every time Otis calls you and tells you that he sees a survivor in the food court a timer appears on the top right of the screen and begins ticking down. If you don't get to them in time, they will be killed. But these calls come in as you are trying to do the primary missions of the game. If you ignore the primary missions of the game, you will fail to get the story you have stuck your neck out sooooo far to get. So while you are running to get medicine for a primary character (so they don't die) with a timer going, Otis tells you of two tourists in another part of the mall that are going to be killed if you don't go get em. So the whole time thing kind of began to frustrate me in the sense that I couldn't save those poor people from becoming eaten.
Now the Willamette Mall is a pretty big place and thankfully when you do decide to focus on any particular mission you can call up a "watch" screen and select the mission you want to focus on. Doing so, will pull an arrow up telling you where to run, whether it's through the zombie entrenched park located in the center of the mall or the health-replenishing food court. Also fortunately for you, the mall is also filled with items that are awfully effective in dealing with the undead. Literally everything can be used as a weapon, benches, mannequins, chainsaws (love the hardware stores), kitchen knives, sledge hammers, dinner plates, 2x4's hunks of dead people, condiments, other zombies, everything! It's awesome, because it's more real then any other zombie battling game. In the real world if you were neck deep in the undead, you'd grab a mop and begin swinging, Dead Rising gets it so right when it comes to the weapons. Sure you do get guns, but I found they were best used during boss battles with the real humans you find that have snapped under the pressure of the situation. In fact, some of the toughest battles are against the humans that have no desire in seeing you live out your days as an photojournalist.
So with all those zombies roaming around, the thought was that the game may have some serious slow down issues, it doesn't. This is one of those games where literally 100 zombies could be on screen at the same time and you will still be able to nimbly dodge and weave through the crowd of them without a hiccup. The zombies look great with the dozens of character models designed to create a sense of limitless baddies. In fact, if you look sharp, you may see a zombie or two of people who you tried to save but didn't and now they would like a chance to thank you in person. The mall, too, looks fabulous; the stores are exactly what you would expect in a large shopping mall, good architecture design and all those little touches that you see in a mall - little kiosks, benches by the fake fauna, the fountains, the corny little fun park, the constant "under construction" areas, the whole mall just looks awesome. The one thing I will say though, is that the game is constantly loading whenever you enter new areas, or for cutscenes. Now normally that isn't such a bad thing, but when you are running from one end of the mall to the other, you will go from one area to another in like 20 seconds, so you are loading as much as you are playing at some points.
The cutscenes do a good job of keeping the "B" movie plot flowing but I couldn't help but think the movements of the characters was a little stiff and the eye movements and skin tone seemed a little wrong. Am I being too tough? Maybe, but things seemed a bit off during the cutscenes, even our hero Tom, has some of the most inane looks on his face when stumbling into a crazy situation (cut scene wise). Lastly, the game is mature for the gore and language but they also like to show off the female form as well, in typical B movie fashion.
The game, like most 360 titles has in-game Dolby digital and it sounds great. The sound effects are appropriately wet and gooey, while the voice acting is on par for the material. I thought everything matched up nicely for the situation and Frank is prone to some colorful language when things get messy (and they do, a lot) so make sure the young ones are out of the room.
Dead Rising almost has an RPG type feel to it, as Frank begins to level up for completing tasks, he begins to gain new skills and his character stats begin to improve. In the beginning of the game, all Frank can do is swing away with weapons and throw a punch while carrying a few items. By the meat and potatoes part of the game, he is performing judo moves on the undead while his health meter is significantly increased and ability to carry more weapons is evident. Good thing too, since the zombies seem to get tougher as night falls, anything to help you and Frank out is a blessing.
Now some people have complained that the game is lacking in the save function dept., and initially I would have agreed (you can only save in a bathroom or at the security room). But as I played through the game, I thought that this only added to the reckless tension that is being placed on you. Think about it; you're wounded, escorting a survivor, and being chased by zombies, the nearest save station is quite a ways away. Do you make a run for it, or do you take a different path that takes you by the food court and some much needed nutrition to increase your health? These are the kinds of things that happen on the fly all the time in Dead Rising, it's great, the desperation and helplessness is exactly what this game needs and has.