Imagine a slightly pre-apocalyptic world and you are trapped at the epicenter of the coming plague, quarantined with the infected, trapped in a world that knows naught but death and fear. You have 3 days to uncover what happened and haul your ass out of zombietown or you might as well count yourself among the dead. This is vaguely the plot setup in Dead Rising, the new zombie beat-em-up from Capcom. Yes, it seems like the world may end. The twist? You don’t actually have to care! You play a bravado-laden photojournalist with balls of steel and fists of fury. Despite his testicular material and suspicious fighting skills, he has no problem taking time out of braining zombies and fighting off psychopaths (the disturbingly accurate name given to the mini bosses you encounter throughout the game) to do what any red-blooded American would do in an abandoned mall – loot a new wardrobe. Under the column “disgustingly fun aspects of Dead Rising,” you will find, among many other things, “dressing up Frank.” Lego heads, MegaMan armor, slick suits, biker shorts there is no look this playboy can’t pull off. The best part about it is that, whatever you put on, stays on during the cut-scenes. I have to say, no matter how imminent death may seem, I can not take a guy seriously if he’s wearing a gigantic lego head. It’s like the president giving the state of the union with a giant foam cowboy hat on.
The reason I so thoroughly enjoy the wardrobe options is that they represent the level of freedom that could be available to you, the zombie-hungry player. The number of items lying around is rather impressive; the landscape is littered with boomerangs, katanas, lawnmowers, 2x4’s frying pans and a host of other fantastic everyday killing implements. The disappointments in the zombie killing department are few but existent. I would have liked to see a cricket bat and a crate of records (there are CDs but everyone knows it’s better with vinyl.) The only other thing I could, and frequently do, ask for is more explosions. I cannot emphasize this enough, if a game is going to work as a mindless slaughterfest (read: Serious Sam, GTA2, State of Emergency) you always want more explosions. I should not find myself in a situation where I go from one plot point to the next without getting the chance to blow something up. This is a problem in Dead Rising, not only because of the noticeably low explosion count, but also because it has a tendency to sort of push you along on to the next plot point in order to cram as much lackluster plot as they can into what doesn’t amount to more than 10 hours of gameplay for the basic 72 hour mode.
The constraints they impose on you to try and get you through the plot are somewhat of an inconvenience a lot of the time. It’s a lot like putting you in a room full of giant red levers and telling you to flip the tiny unremarkable light switch: you are surrounded by large blunt objects and whirring machines of absolute joy and endless fields of mindless, soulless, heartless automatons with limbs that are held together with scotch tape just waiting to have their heads popped off like dandelions by your shiny new sickle. But you’re too busy having grenades chucked at you by a weirdo in a cheesy suit from the roofs in the food court. I’m not saying the plotline is bad just inconvenient.
The intended side effect of the restricting setup is to increase replayability, at which I begrudgingly admit it did succeed. After the first time through, however, you come face to face with the biggest drawback Dead Rising has to offer. Absolutely hideous AI. To level up, one of your tasks is to rescue survivors and bring them back to the safety of the security room. Unfortunately, anyone still alive in the mall is as such because they lack what the stereotypical zombie desires – brains. It’s like a bad horror movie when one of the last three members of the party decides to go wander off and investigate that strange sound coming from the dark woods behind the house where all his friends died and nobody stops to tell him that he will probably die. Well in this analogy, you, as Frank, play the part of the frustrated movie-goer who has absolutely no control over the events unfolding before your eyes – tragic though they may be. It is unfortunate because they allow some of the NPCs to carry weapons, you could have, in theory, raised a small task force of chainsaw wielding, zombie wrecking machines, but they seem content, no matter what weapon you may give them, to sit back and wait for the cold grip of undeath… but that won’t stop them from bitching about it.
Bottom line: this game is a great play if you’re the type of person who walks by everyday objects and thinks “I wonder how efficient that would be if I needed to kill somebody with it.” but you don’t like how your roommate looks at you when you cackle maniacally while killing civilians – it’s okay to take pleasure in this, they are evil, soulless, killing machines. Movement and camera control is great, very responsive and predictable. Joyous mayhem abounds in this slightly sarcastic romp through a would-be B-movie. The game itself looks and sounds fantastic. Afterall, half of the satisfaction of spinning a zombie around on an excavator tossing limbs everywhere until you’re left with a spinning nugget of a former zombie and a trail of fallen zombies in your wake is the fantastic sound of high speed zombie on zombie impact. Overall, a very complete and enjoyable game. If you want a cutting edge innovative game that makes you question the future of the gaming world… you should probably just rent this one and save your buying budget for something a little more groundbreaking.