Think of Capcom's Dead Rising as a twisted Toys 'R Us, only instead of action figures and video games, it's katanas and sniper rifles. Part free-form murder spree, part allegorical testament to the virtues of vegetarianism, part fashion show, the core draw of Dead Rising is giving players a bevy of objects and items to violently employ. Like a giddy kid browsing monolithic product aisles at an archetypal toy store, there's a certain joy to be had and curiosity to fulfill by simply discovering what's available. Yet, despite all the bloody thrills, Dead Rising suffers from a few issues that keep it from truly excelling.
If the profession of photojournalism ever needed a poster boy, Dead Rising's Frank West is it. He doesn't just cover stories on location, he splatters the story's brains across a movie theatre floor, kicks it while it's down, then drop kicks the next story in the chest. With such stunning dedication and sheer disregard for being soaked in countless gallons of infected blood, it's fortunate he's the game's controllable character and not the end boss. After riding a chopper into an iconic American suburban strip mall, Frank finds it overrun with the undead. And when you really think about it, is that so far from the truth? The answer is yes, stupid.
As soon as Frank's feet hit the concrete on the roof of Willamette Mall, the chaos begins. Players are quickly drawn into Dead Rising's story, which is much more substantial and enjoyable than might be expected. After finishing the game's initial 72 Hour mode, players will find the story continues even further in Overtime mode. In terms of how long that will actually take, the 72 Hour mode can be completed in roughly seven hours, including cut-scenes and discounting game reloads. The Overtime mode can be beaten in less than two real hours. An Infinite Mode can also be unlocked, though it's entirely devoid of story elements. Instead, it challenges players to see how long they can survive as their health bar constantly depletes.
What can be found in Willamette Mall's shops falls very much in line with any large real-life mall. Hardware depots, lots of clothing shops, hair salons, jewelry boutiques, a food court, toy stores, sporting goods outlets and much more demand exploration. The variety of items and weapons to be found is one of Dead Rising's best aspects. Weapons range from hockey sticks, bowling balls, water pistols, and shopping carts to shotguns, machine guns, motorcycles and even a convertible. Plenty of options to clothe Frank are offered as well. Shoes, suits, women's and children's clothing, Servebot heads, Mega Man helmets, and lots of other silly options exist. They don't affect gameplay, but they're fun to experiment with.
Exploration and experimentation are rewarded further through Dead Rising's photography system. Snapping shots of the various boss characters, called psychopaths, who roam the mall as well as the trapped NPCs is always worth it, as it both bestows Prestige Point (PP) bonuses and works toward unlocking achievements. At the end of the 72 Hour mode players' photographic results are compiled and scored along with a few other factors, which are fed into an overall score and loaded onto Xbox Live. Despite such widely varying gameplay elements, Capcom still managed to wrap them all together into a cohesive, complementary system that makes sense.
As strong as the urge to investigate options and discover new items may be, Dead Rising's 72 Hour mode forces players to adhere to a strict story-driven schedule. Each narrative event occurs at a very specific time. Should players fall out of the chronological progression, the storyline becomes lost, forcing a reload if you want to see it through. Though a few story points give players a number of hours to freely roam, it's never enough. With such a design, players must learn to wisely manage their time to gain as many PP as possible while remaining punctual for story events.
As PP are accumulated Frank levels up, gaining more life, inventory space, speed, attack power, and melee options. After beating the 72 Hour mode for the first time, players will notice how they've neither maxed out Frank's statistics, nor learned all his possible moves. This is one of the design decisions built in to encourage replay. The other, more frustrating device is the single slot save.
Though the game allows players to save in any mall bathroom and the security safe room, there's only one slot. Each time the game is saved, it overwrites the previous, meaning there's no going back. There's also an option to simply save Frank's level progression and wipe the progress through the 72 Hour mode, allowing it to be restarted with the augmented level and abilities. Combined with the compulsory story segments, this kind of save structure ensures that players will miss tons of what's available in Dead Rising, essentially forcing a second and third play-through. An option to save in multiple slots would have been appreciated. As it is, the invisible hand of the developer is often felt throughout Dead Rising. It shoves players along the narrative ride when all they want to do is get off and explore.
Moving Frank through Willamette Mall's courtyards, shops, and corridors is handled well, though occasional problems arise. Some of the melee moves are a real pain to pull off. The football tackle and double lariat, for example, require players to simultaneously click down on the left analogue stick and a face button. Many times players will find themselves jumping straight into a zombie's outstretched arms when they meant to plant their fist in a gooey face. It's also an issue during boss fights, which in many cases turn into awkwardly imprecise affairs. The motorcycle battle is one such example; the shopping cart fight another. It's difficult to pull off any quick, precise maneuvers against foes who move faster than the lazy undead. Other than that, guiding Frank around the mall and positioning the camera wasn't really an issue.
NPC A.I. is also a problem. The various side quests assigned to Frank throughout the game usually involve saving an NPC from danger. Saving a mall employee from a crazed mall ride is one example, escorting a hopeless drunk another. There are a few welcome options like the ability to arm some NPCs, give them health items, and even carry a magazine that affects their aggressiveness. In several cases, many of these abilities are rendered pointless since NPCs are so stupid. Though a number of NPCs can be slung over Frank's shoulder or carried on his back, many have to be verbally guided through the zombie swarms. Pressing the Y button tells the NPCs to follow, and movement points can also be set up. The problem is, many NPCs don't go where they're told. They'll instead stop in the middle of a zombie swarm and attempt to attack the undead. Bad move. A lot of the time this means they'll get their faces devoured long before they can be saved and Frank can receive his bonus. Instead of fighting the zombies alone, players are forced to fight bad A.I. to boot. Being able to carry all NPCs on Frank's back would have resolved this, as it seems to discourage zombies from making grabs. Also, the holding hands mechanic needs some work. Though it's great for sliding through hungry mobs untouched, the clasped hands break too easily.
Despite these issues, Dead Rising remains enjoyable. It's got a great sense of humor, and fits snugly into the grand scheme of ever-growing zombie lore. It's something any self-respecting horror fan can't afford to miss, since it's basically the video game equivalent of a B-movie. It looks great too. Capcom really nailed each character's facial textures and created character models that animate naturally, lending authenticity to the cut-scenes. Dead Rising's strongest visual aspect is the sheer number of zombies that can appear onscreen at once without a framerate hitch. Taking a convertible down into the maintenance tunnels and plowing through crowds of two hundred or so walking dead is really impressive. With so many zombie models included in the game, Capcom still managed to render enough visual differences to keep them from getting repetitive. Unfortunately, this seems to have required frequent loading zones. Though they're not terribly long, it will become wearisome to sit through a load every time a new mall section is entered.
Animations are great too. Zombies fall down stairs, stiffly shuffle about, stare at their hands in moronic amazement, and get appropriately aggressive when Frank gets near. They can also be torn into a variety of delightful shreds with weapons like the katana, chainsaw, or ceremonial sword. Excellent motion blur effects are used throughout the game as well. Though Dead Rising never really has an incredible, eye-catching moment of utter beauty, there's a definite visual joy to be derived from slicing through mobs of smoothly animated brainless foes. It's also a much prettier game during the day when the sun shines through windows and blankets the zombies in the outdoor courtyard with an ironic heavenly bloom.
Whoever recorded the sound effects for this game needs a raise, because there are some sickeningly satisfying splatters and a constant, unnerving chorus of undead groaning. All the weapons, from the chainsaw to the squirt gun sound like they should. The sonic punch with which the sledgehammer slams into the ground sounds full of deadly force. There are some unbelievably gory cut-scenes as well, particularly the death scene of a certain cult leader, all detailed with curdling screams and revoltingly realistic snap, crack, and gushing sounds. There's even some pretty good voice acting during the story scenes, and the various profanities Frank spews during his adventures are always appropriate. In a humorous twist, the game's music is mostly airy, popcorn tracks you'd likely find pumping into an elevator. It makes for a great complement to the visceral gouging and rasping zombie hissing that forms the bulk of Dead Rising's audio aspect.
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