It says on the game's box "this game was not developed, approved or licensed by the owners or creators of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead," which could be the most self-righteous declaration ever to grace box art, hinting that Capcom did adopt this as a basic framework for Dead Rising. The similarities are obvious: zombies in a mall, hapless survivors, blood, guts, and gore aplenty. In order to differentiate the game from the likes of Romero's films, we gamers follow Frank West, an ambitious photojournalist hoping to catch the scoop of the century. I felt nostalgia, at times, for Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" while committing zombie genocide, but the story in Dead Rising is neither derivative nor villainous of "Dawn of the Dead." Once into the game and story of Dead Rising, you won't even remember the aforementioned film. If Romero had ever picked up a controller – and who knows, nowadays – Dead Rising is a game that I hope he would at least approve.
Our protagonist is in much the same boat we are: clueless to the origins of the zombie horde. Every zombie horde seems to have a different beginning, and Dead Rising is no exception. It doesn't take long for Frank to discover (and I'm not spoiling anything here, this happens in the first hour of play time) that the zombie menace has something to do with Queen Bees (they're really wasps), parasitic worms, and a vengeful terrorist name Carlito. The story is actually fairly tight, wound delicately like the laver in a futomaki
roll. And the more you know about the story, the less you're certain things will work out for the best. The voice acting is a mixed bag, I really like Carlito's voicing, done by Alex Fernandez, a seasoned voice actor. Frank, voiced by Power Ranger's veteran T. J. Rotolo, is very believable. There is more good voice work too. The only missing links are the survivors and the psychopaths, whose voicing, more often than not, are so cheesy you can't believe they're put in the same game as Fernandez and Rotolo. The survivors and psychopaths are meant to be that way I assume: still, I found them mildly annoying. Dead Rising is
schlocky horror at its heart. I believe these virtual characters (especially Carlito and Frank) are better actors than those of a certain movie in which slithering serpents invade a commercial airliner. I can't remember what they called that one: I think Samuel L. was in it. Jokes aside, the voice acting and the character interactions go a long way to creating a sense of mood in Dead Rising.
But it's the Willamette Mall that's the real star of Dead Rising. In any of the Mall's stores you can find a weapon of some kind for which to bludgeon, slice, maim, cut, cleave, smash, decapitate, impale, or otherwise rend asunder, the undead. Clothes hangers, guitars, lead pipes, buckets, katanas, battle axes, golf clubs, hockey sticks, baseball bats, bowling balls, soccer balls, 2 x 4s, shower heads, chainsaws, shovels, potted plants, signs, handguns, submachine guns, dumbbells, hedge clippers, chairs, handbags, cash registers, push brooms, or if you can't find them in the stores go outside and find some rocks, propane tanks, dead fish, soda cans, boomerangs, cars, motorcycles, or just walk up to a zombie and give him a knuckle sandwich. Dead Rising is the ultimate in player choice gore, sometimes I just feel like grabbing that 2x4 and going at them, othertimes I go out of my way to find the lawn mower. Each store has its own theme. Discovering what each store holds is much like opening a present on Christmas or during Chanukah. The only catch is that the aforementioned present is going to be used to slaughter the undead.
The main story is modest (just under 8 hours), but rewards multiple play-throughs. This is a nice tradeoff and extending the lenth of a game doesn't always have to mean making it as long as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Completing 72 Hour Mode and getting the best ending (that means doing all the main quest scoops) unlocks Overtime Mode. Overtime mode is what happens on the fourth day in the Willamette Mall. It can be beaten in 2 real time hours. Finish Overtime and you unlock Infinity Mode, which is Dead Rising's sandbox mode – there are no missions but the biggest change is that Frank's health depletes one box every 100 seconds and that food doesn't re-spawn.
There aren't only zombies in the Willamette Mall. Psychopaths, cultists, and machinegun wielding special forces also join the fray. Psychopath is the term Dead Rising uses for mini bosses. These bosses are humans that have gone absolutely bonkers inside the Willamette Mall. This insanity is brought on by not being able to go about their everyday business (due to the zombies, of course), and so they torture, kill, and have their way with anyone who crosses their path. Unfortunately for Frank, he is destined to cross a few paths at the Willamette.
Cultists are another type of psychopath that show up if you show up in Paradise Plaza on the second day, at a specific time. They're slow at first, but can get bursts of speed as they attempt to place long knives into our hero. Thwarted, they can reveal dynamite and charge Frank with suicidal intent. If Frank gets too close they can douse him in mist, knocking him out. Where Frank awakens I'll leave for you to see. Mostly, they're really irritating, but easily avoided. Killing their leader (another mini-boss) brings their rampage to a halt.
The special forces that are sent in to clean up the zombies up on the fourth day (Overtime Mode) are extremely difficult to kill. But give you tons of PP for doing one in. For a neat effect, kill all the special forces in an area and the zombies start coming back.
Techically, Dead Rising looks great. Thousands of zombies can be on screen. Most of the time it's less than that, but it's impressive, nonetheless. In the beginning there are fewer zombies, but as the game ramps up to an exciting climax, the groups becomes more densely packed hordes. I can't say that every zombie is different, but there are so many varieties that you'll never get sick of seeing any one kind. The Willamette Mall is also detailed very nicely. Though I never found one to hurl at zombies, it seems like Capcom threw everything including the kitchen sink while detailing Dead Rising. And in high def, the game looks that much better.
Dead Rising also creates a great sense of struggle. Staying away from the zombies for 72 game hours is actually a piece of cake, that's why there are scoops for Frank to cover. Each scoop sends our hero into the seemingly unstoppable fray. Scoops usually revolve around finding a survivor and escorting them to the control room, killing a psychopath, or advancing the story plot. Doing so rewards Frank with PP (Prestige Points) so he can level up. As Frank levels he naturally gains bare-fisted abilities like "double lariat", "football tackle," or, my personal favorite, "disembowl."
The way it gets you to go out into the swarms of zombies is really the triumph of Dead Rising. Do you do a scoop or run around and have a good time slaughtering zombies? Do you stay safe in the control room or go after that psychopath that has been pissing you off. Saves are done in bathrooms, a gym, the control room, and in sparse intervals during the story. For many, the save system is a burden, but it also makes gamers really have to try to survive. It makes the game tough. Remember, zombies are slow and dumb, but they never stop until they're dead...again.
Two kinds of gameplay exist within Dead Rising. The killing zombies and running Scoops is one part. The other part is taking pictures and documenting the events at the Willamette Parkview Mall. It's mostly another way to get PP, but taking pictures is integrated very nicely into Achievement Points, although there are very few missions where you have to take pictures. One tough Achievement has you collecting all the portraits in the Mall. There's also a magazine in the game that gives you super-PP-taking-foresight when you have it inventoried.
There are errors in Dead Rising, certainly. The save system, as I mentioned before, is difficult to get used to. Controlling Frank's special moves can be an exercise in futility. Once in my first play-through I experienced slowdown, but it was during the final boss in Overtime Mode. Also, if you're not on a high-def TV, you'll have difficulty reading the text on screen. Capcom has already addressed this in a letter to their fans and has stated it is impossible to fix the problem with a simple patch. Perhaps future versions of the game will come with the problem solved? I also wish, to the powers that be, that this game had co-op of some kind. I know that a game can be single player only, we love those games too, but man, Dead Rising screams for co-op louder than Ben Afleck screams for a good review.
Since legions of bloggers and forumgoers – critics notwithstanding – have already identified and demanded answers to these flaws, I think I'd rather mention them than defend them. Personally, they didn't get in the way of a phenomenal gaming experience. Take Dead Rising or leave it, you'll have to take it with the flaws as well.
I was very pleased with Dead Rising. It is easily atop my favorite zombie games of all time and up there with Oblivion and Table Tennis as my favorite Xbox 360 games. As of now, I haven't been through the Infinity Mode because I haven't had time, but that's one of my goals for the future. If you're a zombie fan and haven't picked up Dead Rising for the 360, you might be the only one.