Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blasts from the Past: Dead Rising

So you want a Zombie Apocalypse eh? Maybe this game will dissuade you.

Its is undeniable that the zombie craze that started God only knows how long ago is still going rather strong with many different zombie themed movies, books and video games released each year to cash in on this strange obsession with the undead. In fact there are several people who are actually hoping that the end of civilization will turn out to be a zombie apocalypse, to which I facepalm and wish to inflict physical pain on these ignorant numb-skulls, because I can guarantee you that survival isn't as easy as the movies make it. Getting back to the point, 2006 saw the release of Dead Rising, a game that the trailers made to seem like a silly, but bloody action game with literally hundreds of zombies on screen at once, but what we got wasn't quite that.

After a particularly cruel and mean-spirited intro sequence (if you left the title screen running for a few minutes) we open with an overhead view of the town of Willamette, Colorado as we meet our protagonist, freelance photographer Frank West; who is riding in on a helicopter hoping to cash in on the devastating riots going on in this small town. After being dropped off on top of Willamette's mega-mall and being promised an evac in three days, Frank quickly discovers that the supposed "riots" are actually the result of a mysterious plague outbreak that turns its victims into flesh-eating zombies. The mall is initially a haven, but due to the stupidity of one of the survivors, the zombies manage to enter the mall, consuming many and forcing the remaining survivors to scatter for safety; while Frank manages to get into the mall's security room along with two DHS agents, and the mall's janitor who promptly welds the door shut and shows them a secret passage back into the mall to get supplies. Frank must unravel the mystery behind the plague, and the parties behind it while also rescuing other survivors, and staying alive long enough to escape in three days with the scoop of his life.

The plot from the very beginning betrays the idea of a silly, fun action game the trailers were depicting, instead opting for a very bitter, melodrama filled plot that feels derivative of many other zombie movies and games. While it may very well be a parody of the medium, I didn't get that vibe, instead seeing a stock, and frankly cruel plot involving government deception, and your usual "social commentary" that isn't quite as smart or ground-breaking as it thinks it is (if at all). Plus when you go from german suplexing zombies and putting Frank into hilariously mismatched clothing to seeing a plethora of rather vile cutscenes such as one with an obese female security guard kidnapping, then molesting other women with her're going to get tonal whiplash. And finally (without spoiling anything) the game has multiple endings depending on the player's actions, and almost all of them are pretty weak, with mostly text crawls instead of actual imagery or cinematics, thus violating a major rule of visual story-telling, SHOW, DON'T TELL!!

Art Design
By today's standards, Dead Rising's graphics are still decently up to date, though some of the character models look a little off, at least to me (Frank often resembles a gorilla) and there are several instances of recycled survivor/zombie models, but then again I can't really complain given the huge amount of designs that would be required. The number of zombies that can be on screen at once without causing frame-rate issues is truly astounding (and rather intimidating), though some issues will arise when begin swinging at bigger zombie mobs. Oh, and God help you if you're playing on an older TV, because the dialogue text in this game is absolutely minuscule and can be completely unreadable on older or smaller TVs.

The level design is quite good, the massive Willamette mall is packed with many different shops and attractions that are fun to explore and loot for weapons and healing items (when you have time), which definitely makes backtracking less tedious due to the time limit and many different side-quests that pop up from time to time.

The music is a bit of a mixed bag, most of the time the only accompanying noise are zombie's moaning and snarling, along with stock department store music, the only time any original compositions are used are during the cutscenes. Each psychopath battle though has a song from a different indie band (usually metal) as their "boss battle theme", and while I'm not really a fan of metal, there were one or two songs that I liked (particularly the credits theme, Justified) and the various bands give each boss battle a sense of uniqueness.

Dead Rising consists of 3 core objectives, unravel the mystery behind the outbreak, rescue other survivors, and gain levels through killing zombies and taking pictures (Frank is a photographer you know). And while this game also presents itself as a kind of open sandbox style world similar to Grand Theft Auto where you can kick back and have some fun slaying legions of zombies while investigating, you'll find that things are way more stressful than they should be. Everything in this game is on a strict time limit, from side-quests, to even main plot elements, you are required to be punctual and smart with your time...because if you aren't you can actually ruin the plot and doom yourself to a bad ending. While stressful, this is not exactly the main issue at hand, in fact I sort of like this element since it is rather unique, while being a throwback to horror titles with multiple endings, punishments for not playing intelligently, and encouraging multiple playthroughs...what ruins it is the abysmal save system; you get ONE file per console...thats it! If you find yourself caught in an un-winnable situation, and you saved your game at the wrong time, then you're only option is restart the entire game from DAY 1! Mercifully, the game lets you retain your gained levels and skills if this happens, but to have to repeat a 8-10 hour story is incredibly irritating, not the complications that arise with households with multiple gamers using a single console. In short, to fully appreciate Dead Rising, you have to accept that you cannot have your cake AND eat it when it comes to this game, at least not the first time around, which for the more casual gamer is a bitter pill to swallow.

Since Frank is a photographer, naturally a major aspect of the game is taking pictures to get Frank the scoop he's risking his neck for. Taking pictures at certain times like witnessing a zombie attack a survivor, being surrounded by hundreds of zombies, or someone doing something funny, dramatic, or "sexy" will net Frank prestige points, which when a certain amount is gained will rank Frank up by one level (cap is 50) and increase his various attributes such as walk speed, strength, inventory space, life capacity, and will occasionally impart Frank with a special skill. For a seemingly average built man, Frank becomes quite beastly with these skills, learning various professional wrestling moves, limb removal techniques, and even Guile's (from Street Fighter) Flash Kick, which further adds to the fun, and rather silly nature of the gameplay. The leveling aspect isn't particularly deep, in fact it's entirely linear, but fortunately automatic as opposed to several RPGs *cough Final Fantasy 13*, and to be honest, unless you really like the photography aspect, you'll likely forget it even exists since you can get just as many (if not more) prestige points by just rescuing survivors and doing side-quests (AKA Scoops)

The  main selling point of this game (besides OMG ZOMBEEZ) was the apparent ability to use ANYTHING in the Willamette mall as a weapon, be it something as effective as a knife, shotgun, or steel pipe, to something silly like toy swords, guitars, CDs, etc. For the most part this is true, and as such, killing zombies is a load of fun, with many dying in humorously gory ways like being sliced to ribbons by bladed weapons, squirting fountains of blood from a faucet jammed on their head, to even being vaporized by a real life Mega-Buster (this was before Capcom hated their former mascot). The only thing negative I have to say about the weapon system is that using guns is a bit of a pain due to the slippery and inaccurate aiming system, but this is definitely the game's strongest point.

On the other end of the spectrum, rescuing survivors is perhaps the worst part of the game; now in all fairness, escort missions get a bad rap for being irritating, when in actuality they are only as irritating as the AI makes it...and dear heavens does Dead Rising have some of the worst NPC AI I have ever seen! Survivors will get hung up on practically any object, be it a trash can, other survivors, or even a zombie or two (that will eventually become an encircling mob of DEATH), and must be immediately bailed out by running back to them and mashing the Y button, or they will be quickly swarmed and consumed thus rendering your efforts all for naught (not to mention the several thousand Prestige Points lost), and even the simple task of getting them to climb the ledge leading to the safe house will make you want to throw your controller into something. Its rather funny when the survivors that have to be carried or led by hand are the easiest to escort since Frank and the survivor can dash through hordes of zombies usually uninhibited, but sadly in order to effectively make use of time Frank must escort multiple survivors at once (up to 8), and can only carry one or hold hands with two. Some survivors can be armed with weapons, but this often leads to them getting a little too brave for their own good instead of only cutting down enemies in their path and prioritizing following Frank to safety. Its annoying, its badly done, and its honestly the worst aspect of this game.

Some survivors aren't particularly friendly, in fact they've either lost their minds as a result of the carnage, or already weren't very good people beforehand and are taking advantage of the situation. These are the bosses of the game, or as the game refers to them, "psychopaths", and they must be killed in order to rescue their hostages, and/or gain important items. Each are unique and use different tactics, often using their lairs as an advantage in the fight against them, and their difficulty is fairly challenging without being completely unfair, with the exception of the gun shop owner, who even on my second playthrough with a fully leveled up character made me scream DIE YOU BASTARD DIE!! These psychos require a bit of old-school pattern recognition to beat, since they telegraph their attacks, but gain invulnerability during certain moments, so you can never quite stay on the offensive with most of them.

When beaten, the game opens up a special Infinity mode which is essentially the game's "sandbox mode" in which you don't have to worry about survivors (in fact, they are enemies in this mode), or making it to certain areas on time, and just seems to exist for you to have fun right? Well for the most part this is true, but they managed to slip in yet another glorified time limit in the form of Frank's dwindling health (it decreases by one block every minute and a half), and all healing items not respawning at all after use, The goal being to survive as long as possible until your inevitable death (which leads to one of the most difficult and frankly dangerous to get achievements in Xbox history with 14 hours of gameplay required). While this is annoying, Infinity Mode is still a sufficient reward for completing the game and allows you to do things that the time limit in the main game restricts.

This game is one of the few to actually make me verbally rage, the survivor AI is really that bad and can be a legitimate game-ruining problem for anyone. I really want to like this game more, since it can be very fun when you're actually allowed to play and enjoy yourself, but the flaws outnumber the strong points ten fold and made this game a very miserable experience for me overall.

Grade: C-


  • Fun weapons system
  • Challenging unique bosses
  • Infinity Mode
  • Open, diverse world
  • Photography is completely forgettable
  • Survivor AI is beyond frustrating
  • Plot is stock and takes itself way too seriously
  • Time limits, time limits, TIME LIMITS!!!
  • Horrible save system
  • Weak endings
  • Small text

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