Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dead Rising (XB360)


Dead Rising
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 8/8/06

Capcom and zombies seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter, so it’s hardly a surprise to see another undead-infested title coming from them. What IS surprising is that the “Resident Evil” name isn’t attached to it; indeed, Dead Rising is about as far as one can get from RE without removing the legions of shambling dead (though Capcom DID remove that very thing in RE 4…). Set up as a “Dawn of the Dead simulator” (that screams “WE TOTALLY DIDN’T RIP OFF DAWN OF THE DEAD, NO SIR, NOT US”), Dead Rising is less about “survival horror” and more about “survival, period”.

Now, I’m all for games with zombies in them, and I’m all for destroying anything that moves, so it’s pretty safe to say that I was all about Dead Rising. The concept of being set loose on the dead in a mall was keen, and the idea that there’d be LOTS AND LOTS of the dead, well, now you’re talking. But the idea of being able to use ANYTHING as a weapon was what really sold me on the game; hey, if all you can find to defend yourself is a toothpick and a rusty Swiss Army Spoon, you’ll make do if you value life. Things like “storyline” and “originality” didn’t really matter to me; I just wanted to return the dead to their final rest, ideally in ways I’d yet to experience in a game.

So, is Dead Rising a worthwhile 360 purchase? Does it rip off the fine works of mister Romero or go in its own direction? And are you going to enjoy it, or be left screaming “I’m sick of these mother f’in zombies in this-”

I’m so disgusted at my own attempt at SOAP humor that I’m not even going to finish my lame joke. Let’s move on to the review.


1. STORY


You play as Frank West, ace photojournalist with a hankering for the truth. Apparently, he was disgusted by father’s career choice, but found interest in the cinematic aspect of it, and turned to a life of exposing others to the harsh light of truth, instead of following in daddy’s footsteps and exposing, well, himself.

If you didn’t get that, I apologize. That one was kind of for me. Sorry.

Frank has decided to investigate an incident that’s going on in the town of Willamette, as said incident has attracted the interest of the armed forces, who have presently quarantined the entire town for unknown reasons. Of course, the reasons don’t stay unknown for long: it seems the town has come down with a big case of zombies. Frank sure has his work cut out for him; he not only has to survive the next 72 hours in the Willamette Mall, but he also has to try and find the truth about how this infestation came about before he escapes.

All told, the storyline itself has good and bad points, but never really manages to get to a point where one surmounts the other. On one hand, Frank is a very strong, interesting character, and taken in context, he’s actually pretty cool, and Brad (one half of the mysterious folks trying to uncover the mystery as well) is also a strong character who’s pretty well written. On the other, most of the rest of the characters aren’t so interesting; Jessie is sweater meat, and the story doesn’t give her much worthwhile to do, and everyone else fills stereotype roles (we have the politically motivated bad guy, the reticent formerly evil good guy, the asshole who caused the problem in the first place, etc) and never really dig their way out of them. Also, the various psychopaths that pop up in the mall vary in the same regard; the Viet Nam vet who goes apeshit makes sense, as do several others, but the fat man-hating implied lesbian police officer? What the hell was THAT all about?

The biggest storyline flaw, though, is probably the pseudo-science the zombie infection is based on. Instead of being based on some type of virus or bacteria, it’s based on being infected with a parasite, which might have sounded like a good idea on paper, but doesn’t work too well in execution. When the game explains WHY the parasite was discovered in the first place, and what research was taking place in relation to this, you’re hard pressed to come up with a reason WHY one relates to the other. How the parasite is passed makes no sense, because it just doesn’t seem POSSIBLE that it could be done the way the game says it is. Oh, and trying to understand how, exactly, the parasites can go from nonexistent to maturity instantly makes my brain hurt (and how else could you explain someone dying and INSTANTLY becoming a zombie?). There are other problems with the science involved, of course, but the point isn’t to dissect the concept; the point is that the T-Virus, clichÃÆ’© though it was, worked in execution, because it was a virus, while this does not.

Oh, and that the game implies that a zombiosis-inducing parasite exists in nature is really kind of silly, and I don’t think I needed to be told that.

All told, the story is a giant stereotype, but one that’s inoffensive to the game. It screams “Late night Cinemax flick”, yeah, and the science is wonky at best, but it’s charming, even when it’s being cheesy. The major concepts are strong enough (zombies in a mall, mass carnage, anyone can die, etc) that they manage to carry the story to something workable, and it’s decent enough overall. It’s pure B-movie madness, but it tries to take itself seriously, which is pretty much the only really BAD thing one can say about it; you just CAN’T take this seriously. But hey, it’s better than the story for Resident Evil Zero, so I’ll take what I can get.

Story Rating: 5/10


2. GRAPHICS


Dead Rising, while by no means the best looking title on the 360 at this point, is one of the most visually impressive titles to grace the system to date. Frank’s very well animated, and moves fluidly at pretty much all times, especially when laying the smack down on the undead. The various other characters in the game vary in appearance quality, however; important characters like Brad and Jessie are well rendered and look good, and the various psychopaths look solid and animate well, but the various other survivors look acceptable, but not as good as the “important” characters. This is understandable, as the more important characters will be involved in the game more frequently, but the difference is noticeable. The zombies also animate fairly well, though their animation sets are somewhat limited, and their character maps are solid, if repetitive; the trade-off is, of course, that there are HUNDREDS of them on screen at any one time, and there’s virtually no slowdown at any point, plus dead zombies stay where they’re slain (until you walk too far away), which is a good touch. The game environment also looks very good, and conveys the expected mall atmosphere quite nicely.

That all said, there are some notable visual issues with the game, though only one is of any consequence. Clipping is infrequent, but does exist, especially when one is wearing one of the various novelty masks in the game. The draw-in distance isn’t the best, and there are plenty of times that zombies will just seem to pop in on the horizon line. But the single biggest graphical complaint is that you pretty much NEED an HDTV to play the game; the font Capcom chose to use to convey missions and such is small and looks fuzzy on all but the largest SDTV’s. I mean, HDTV is the wave of the future, absolutely, and the game DOES look really good in Hi-Def… but if all you own is a SDTV, you’re going to go blind trying to figure out what the text on-screen says, and that’s just unacceptable.

All told, Dead Rising is a good looking game. It’s a serious shame that Capcom designed the game to be notably less functional on non-Hi-Def setups, and there are some mild flaws here and there otherwise, but for the most part, the game looks quite nice throughout. It’s very satisfying to carve up an entire room full of zombies, then look back and survey your handiwork, and even if you’re not running top of the line equipment, you’ll still be able to appreciate that.

Graphics Rating: 7/10


3. SOUND

Dead Rising’s soundtrack consists of two different kinds of music: dramatic music that is played in high tension or dramatic situations, and environmental tunes. The former are quite good, as is a Capcom standard (I still get the save game music from RE1 stuck in my head from time to time), but the latter tunes are the more interesting of the lot. When running around the mall, you’ll hear music playing over the PA system at various points, which all basically sounds like cheesy mall music. In other words, it’s appropriate and kind of funny.

Oh, and Dead Rising isn’t really compatible with custom soundtracks; the dialogue and the soundtrack are on the same audio layer, so using a custom soundtrack means no speech in cutscenes. This won’t be an issue on your second or third playthrough, but the first time around it kind of sucks. Just so you know.

Speaking of the speech, the voice acting is quite good overall. All of the actors deliver a convincing performance, and even though some of the acting is a little hammy at times (Dr. Barnaby comes to mind), overall it’s quite enjoyable and well done. The sound effects are also largely spot on and well arranged. The various zombie grunts and groans sound as the movies have taught us to imagine them, and the various weapons (both real and improvised) sound as you’d expect as they smack, pierce and cleave the legions of undead.

All in all, Dead Rising is a great sounding game, though that’s not really a surprise. Capcom’s audio guys deliver a great experience that helps establish and keep the mood from beginning to end, and it all sounds solid and convincing. Thumbs up.

Sound Rating: 9/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


And once again we come to the dealbreaker: the gameplay.

See, here’s the thing: Dead Rising is insanely fun on the most basic level: kicking the crap out of zombies. Frank is a remorseless zombie wrecking machine, and between the various weaponry one can obtain, the simple to use control schematics, and the abilities Frank can learn, beating the holy hell out of the undead is far and away the single greatest experience one will take away from the game. The controls are simple to pick up; left stick moves, right stick moves the camera, X attacks, A jumps. You cycle your inventory with the bumpers, the right trigger enables the over-the-shoulder camera for aiming, and the left trigger pops your camera (Frank’s a photojournalist, remember) when photo ops arise. You can pick up the basics of the controls even without a tutorial, and the game DOES offer you a basic introduction to the various controls as needed (which can be disabled from the options menu if you don’t need it). Most of Frank’s acquired special attacks are also very easy to pull off, and many are simple presses of X+A from various directions, which makes hand-to-hand combat a snap to master. Weapons are just as easy to use in battle, though, so you’ll most likely favor armed combat (though there’s something to be said for pulling off a facebuster on an unsuspecting zombie). There are some minor functionality issues with the controls (mostly due to timing), and shaking off groups of zombies can be a pain at times, but overall, the game is very simple to play and easy to learn, which works in its favor.

The experience system in the game also works well, which is good to see. Basically, as you play the game, Frank acquires “Prestige Points”, or PP, for the various things he does. Aside from what you’d expect to earn PP for (killing zombies), you can also earn PP for saving survivors, taking pictures of things (better pictures are worth more points, and some events grant extra PP because they’re particularly interesting), wasting Psychopaths (more on them in a bit), and even for doing “extra” stuff you might not think to do (heating up certain foods, using the oven, running on treadmills, etc). This PP allows Frank to go up levels, and each time he does so, he’ll randomly earn things to make his life easier, like more health blocks, more inventory space, greater attack damage, and so on. The absurdity of learning how to fight like a master in 72 hours aside, it’s a well-implemented dynamic that rewards players for doing more than the bare minimum to succeed; killing zombies, for instance, doesn’t reward a player nearly as well as saving survivors, so the greater the ingenuity or risk involved, the greater the reward.

The problems come in not with the controls, but with everything else, because just about everything else in the game is love it or hate it. Dead Rising is set on an internal 72 hour timer (game time), which equates to roughly six real-time hours. Within these six hours, various missions (called “Scoops”) will pop up, each with its own independent timer. If you can make it to the scoop in the time allotted, you’ll be able to take the scoop on. The problem is, you’re fighting against the clock at all times to accomplish things, and you’ll either love the sense of urgency it places upon you, or you’ll hate that you keep missing important events because you run out of time. Missing minor Scoops isn’t a big deal, but missing storyline Scoops means you either have to start the game over again, hope you saved previously, or miss the storyline until your next playthrough, which will probably piss off a few people.


This feeling permeates a lot of the other elements of the game, sadly. The save system is another example; you’re allowed only one save file per system profile and storage device, which means if you save in a position where you can’t POSSIBLY do what’s expected of you in the time allotted, that’s it, thanks for playing, try again. In theory, this forces you to better manage when and where you save; in practice, you have to strike a balance with your saves, because if you die, you have to load… there’s no “retry” option, either. You can carry over your levels, though, so some concession is provided, but having to replay from day one when you lose everything during day three can be a bit much to take.

The Scoops themselves also tend to contribute to this problem, too. With the exception of the few variant missions (which are usually tied to the storyline) Scoops either amount to saving someone, killing someone, killing someone so you can save someone, or being somewhere at a certain time so you can be prepared to kill or save someone. Yep. Killing Psychopaths (the euphemism for “bosses” that Dead Rising uses; they’re basically normal people who go batshit crazy) can either be simple or a pain in the ass, depending on how prepared you are, which makes sense. Rescuing survivors, on the other hand, is a bit more frustrating. There are three “kinds” of survivors: survivors who can fight on their own, survivors who can hold your hand (but not weapons), and survivors you can support/carry back to base. In theory, carrying people to safety would seem to be the most frustrating; in practice, it’s the easiest method of saving someone, as the zombies tend to have difficulty attacking you when you’re running someone home as fast as possible. Holding hands with survivors doesn’t work very well because as soon as they bump into… well, almost anything, they let go, and arming survivors doesn’t work terribly well either, because they’re stupid. How stupid? Well, that depends on the survivor, but in more than a few instances you’ll find yourself having to go back and save someone you armed with a shotgun, chainsaw, or other weapon of improvised mass destruction because they’re hung up on ONE zombie. This is another situation where you’ll either think the game is good because “it’s replicating the fear someone would experience in such a situation” or you’ll think it’s bad because, hey, if you can’t fight off ONE zombie, you don’t really deserve to live.

Aside from the above, a few other minor issues raise their heads from time to time. When you begin the game, you’re provided a radio by Otis (the janitor) so that he can keep you up to date on things he sees on the various security monitors. Three issues are raised by this: first, it’s 2006, why does Frank have to hold the damn radio up to his ear to listen (which causes him to be unable to attack, jump, or basically do anything but move around) when headsets for these things have been available for years? Second, if Otis can see Frank on the monitors (and he can), why does it seem that he chooses some of the most inappropriate times to call (and, more importantly, why does he get upset when you hung up on him because you were being bitten in the neck)? Third, if Otis can see Frank, why doesn’t he warn him about more things from time to time? Also, while the game is amusing enough on its own, there seems to be less to do with it than there should be; beating the game opens up a Survival mode (called “Infinity Mode” here, which expects you to play for up to 14 hours straight to unlock certain things; I can’t even CONCEIVE of doing such a thing), but there’s no kind of Free Play option at all, which seems natural.

Oh, and there’s no online. I’m guessing Capcom couldn’t figure out a way to break the game as badly as they broke RE: Outbreak, so they decided not to bother. You heard me.

That’s all a shame, because Dead Rising really is a good game at its core. If you’re willing to sit down with the game and deal with what it asks of you, you’ll find the experience to be engrossing and entertaining. The ultimate problem with the game is that you’re really forced to play the game the way Capcom feels you should if you want to achieve anything, which is just odd for such an otherwise open-ended experience. For some, that sort of trial-and-error gameplay will be entertaining, and for others, the experience the game provides will be enough to overcome the odd design choices. But if you’re not really interested in trial-and-error gaming, or you’re not a fan of the old-school conventions that were included for the sake of difficulty, you’ll probably want to rent this first before you commit your cash. Or, at the very least, invest in the strategy guide.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 6/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

There’s a ton of items to unlock that you’ll undoubtedly miss your first time around, and no less than fifty achievements to perform, each of variable difficulty, and many also unlock some of those noted hidden items. Infinity Mode should also be a solid reason to come back for more, if only to see how long you can survive. What it really comes down to is this, though: killing zombies is fun. Killing LOTS of zombies is LOTS of fun. Obliterating every single undead entity from existence using anything and everything you can find in the mall is an absolute blast, and should keep you coming back long after you beat the game. It’s a simple formula, yes, but it’s a damn entertaining one, and it more than makes Dead Rising worth what you pay for it.

Replayability Rating: 8/10


6. BALANCE

On one hand, the single save file, time limit restrictions, and lack of a retry option artificially inflate the difficulty in the early goings, and regardless of whether or not you agree with this design schematic, these elements will cause some major frustration at points. On the other hand, being able to carry over Frank’s levels between games will mitigate this somewhat on repeat plays, and taking the time to prepare for the adversity you’re expected to face will reduce the difficulty quite a bit. All told, most of the frustration of the game comes from playing the game the way you THINK you’re supposed to play it, and once you learn how the game WANTS you to play, you’ll have a lot easier of a go of it. That said, that the game forces you to play a certain way is somewhat of a pain, and the end result is an experience that seems unbalanced, whether it was intended to be or not.

Balance Rating: 6/10


7. ORIGINALITY

I bet you think this is going to get a low score, don’t you? Guess again.

At its core, Dead Rising feels like a cross between Beatdown and Resident Evil, but the presentation and style of the game keep the concept fresh and interesting pretty much all the way through. Instead of being beset by the standard elements of “survival horror” (IE dogs jumping out of a window, or having to deal with six zombies with a handgun), DR simply presents you with the path you need to travel and just asks you to survive through the thousands of zombies that are between you and your goal. The end result is fresh and different (for now), and when combined with the time restrictions and the rescuing of survivors/killing of psychopaths, you end up with a game that feels familiar, but is really unlike anything you’ve ever played.

And hey, name another game where you can beat something to death with a shower head. That’s definitely worth some bonus points.

Originality Rating: 7/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS


I can’t stop playing it.

Seriously.

Whenever I’m not doing something that NEEDS doing, in some form or fashion, I’m killing the dead. Again.

I mean, okay, the story’s not terribly motivational to forward progression. Some of the battles are rough. Some of the game mechanics are perhaps a tad unforgiving. And when it comes right down to it, you can see most of what the game has to offer within a few hours.

Doesn’t matter.

Look, picking up a gumball machine, or a chainsaw, or a giant lipstick display, or a mannequin, or a two-handed power drill, and wreaking havoc is outright awesome. Running down the dead in a truck, bowling them over with a bowling ball, smacking the crap out of them with soccer balls and baseball bats, german suplexing them through windows, running around in a Servbot mask and your undershorts cleaving through the dead with a battleaxe… the amount of ways you can amuse yourself in Dead Rising are limited only by your mind.

I mean, come on. With a little work and a few unlockables, you can dress up as Mega Man and run around blasting the crap out of everything you see. That’s at LEAST an hour’s worth of killed time.

I’m having a blast, and I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s GTA with zombies, what more do you need to know?

Addictiveness Rating: 9/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Capcom certainly seems to have a virtual monopoly on zombies, don’t they? I guess it’s a good thing they make good games with them (certain opinions of certain staff members notwithstanding). Point being, gamers have pretty much been bred to see a Capcom game with zombies in it and shell out the dough first, then ask questions later. Plus, this is the closest a game has come to replicating the end-of-the-world scenarios seen in various George Romero movies, and it does a damn fine job of it, which should certainly appeal to those on the fence about anything with the Resident Evil touch upon it. Lack of an online component hurts the appeal a little (who WOULDN’T want to tear around a mall with their friends braining the undead with frying pans and television sets?), but this is definitely a game that’s about as close to being of universal appeal that an M rated game can be.

Appeal Rating: 8/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

Well, aside from the illegible text problems, several people (myself included) have been receiving disc read errors from their copies of Dead Rising, usually at the most inconvenient of times. It seems to be a sporadic problem, and appears to be game related (as many users, myself included, aren’t having the problem with any other titles), but no official announcements have been made as of yet.

Oh, and for the record: beating the main game (72 hour mode) with the A ending (the best one) unlocks a second mission called “Overtime Mode”. Overtime Mode, in comparison to the rest of the game, is largely bland and uninteresting, and the final two boss battles are kind of lame, especially compared to the six or so hours that came before it. This is in no way meant to be a condemnation of the whole game, but as you have to beat Overtime Mode to beat the game, it’s kind of a letdown to what was otherwise a solid experience.

On the other hand, Capcom’s already supporting the title with Xbox Live downloads (only clothing, so far), so they seem to want to support the title, which is good. Hopefully they’ll address the problems that gamers are having with the title in the near future.

On a personal note, I think it’s pretty obvious I like the game, and I’m glad I invested in it, but I’m not really sure why the game seems to be designed in such a way as to agitate people. Look, I don’t have a problem with the single save file setup and I’m only mildly annoyed by the lack of a retry option, but these two things seem to be pissing a lot of people off. Had Capcom implemented multiple save files and a retry option, I can pretty much guarantee that people complaining that these things ARE in the game would be virtually nonexistent. Controversy doesn’t equal sales, people; if it did, Ninja Gaiden would have gone Platinum Hits years ago. All controversy and complaining do is scare people away from your game.

That said, if you can get past the issues in the game (and they’re there, believe me) and enjoy what it does RIGHT, you’ll find the title to be fun. Lots of fun, in fact.

I mean, hey, look at it this way. I’m the guy that complained about how hard DOA 4 was, right? I’m also someone who beat Ninja Gaiden, so perhaps my tolerances are warped, but that’s not the point. It’s pretty apparent, I think, that if the game were rough, I’d be happy to tell you about it.

That said, even with the small text, disc read errors, questionable AI, and somewhat fuzzy balance issues, I’ve managed to beat the game with the A ending, rescue nearly fifty survivors, and rack up about forty Achievements, and I’m still coming back to the game. Do the afore mentioned issues suck? Yes. Have I experienced them? Yes, multiple times. Should these issues concern you? Probably. Am I still playing the game?

Yes.

And I will probably keep playing it for a long time after this, too.

If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores:
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 9/10
Control/Gameplay: 6/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 9/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10

Overall Score: 7.0/10
Final Score: 7 (GOOD).

Short Attention Span Summary
Dead Rising is yet another solid addition to the 360 lineup of games. Some notable technical issues, questionable design choices, and a lack of certain things that seem natural keep the game from the upper echelons of gaming quality, but what you’re given is still an incredibly entertaining experience. Even if the issues seem a little scary, Dead Rising is definitely worth the investment of a rental, and the sheer amusement of killing lots of zombies is enough to justify the cost of ownership on alone. Worth a look, if nothing else.