Review: Dead Rising (Video Game)

Posted by Matt Wells - October 26th 2008 @ 9:20 am

Developed and produced by Capcom 2006.

I have a confession.  If a game has zombies, odds are I am going to like it. If the game gives me the opportunity to shoot said zombies, odds are I am going to love it.  Thus I am lucky that Capcom loves killing zombies as much as I do, but much how the coach of a little league team judges his son’s performance harsher than the rest of the players, I feel I must do the same.

DEAD RISING tells the story of photojournalist Frank West. He was contacted to come to a small town where he’ll get the story of a lifetime. As he arrives by helicopter, he sees the townsfolk rioting and performing brutal acts on one another.  Dropped off at the Willamette Parkview Mall, where you’ll brilliantly spend the rest of the game, Frank tells the pilot to return in 72 hours.

From here on out, you control Frank. After a few screens you enter the security room. The ‘plot’ is established and now it is up to you control Frank’s destiny. The entire game has a time limit. I believe it is about 1 minute of real time equals 15 minutes of the game.  Game play itself is a sandbox world of interactivity. You can do (or not do) anything you want. You could run around the mall and find survivors, you could follow the plot quests, or you could do neither. You could literally stand in the safe zone of the security room until the three days are up, at which point you will receive the worst game ending possible.

After your first trip to the security room, you get a walkie-talkie from Otis the janitor. Otis will contact you whenever a plot event is going on (or about to expire) or if he spots a survivor in need of rescue. Otis is a good friend and a huge annoyance, as when you answer your walkie-talkie you are left completely vulnerable and cannot use weapons.  If you cut off Otis, he calls you back saying cutting him off is rude and then you must start his conversation all over again. Getting back to survivors, there are time-specific survivors scattered throughout the mall. You go up to them; they usually thank you, and thus the escort quest begins.

Some survivors can be carried (either by piggyback or you lending them your shoulder if they are hurt), others can have their hand held, and others will kick serious ass if you give them weapons. These are great and awful at the same time. The game’s AI is simply dreadful. Path finding is horrendous, and if you are escorting several survivors that are wielding weapons (either melee or firearm) they will have no moral qualm about hitting you or other survivors. Several times I had survivors accidentally killing other survivors that were low on health.

Survivors aren’t satisfied with you bringing them to the security room. Occasionally, a few decide they want more out of you (such as food, alcohol, or even wanting to leave the mall and go for help). If you ignore them, they will seek these things on their own. Due to their own ineptitude, they will die. You rely on Otis, once again, to inform of the ungrateful surviving allies. If you are able to avoid the survivors’ coup, you receive a hefty amount of exp. Now, my copy of this game was very bugged. If Otis would contact me and inform me about the inevitable revolt, I would go back to the security room and nothing would happen, and the quest would disappear from the quest log.

Dead Rising throws ‘psychopaths’ in your path in terms of bosses. These are people who have gone crazy in the midst of the zombie outbreak. Their grip on reality is shattered and they are out to kill everything they see, human and zombie alike. Otis will usually notify you about a psychopath in the area. To replenish your health during all this chaos, you simply grab (and store) any of the numerous food items scattered throughout the mall.

Survivors and psychopaths alike operate on their own time limit. If you don’t arrive within the designated time, your chance to rescue/kill them is lost forever and you either ignore it or are forced to restart your game.

Let’s talk about the weapons. The entire mall is filled with items to use for weapons. In a toy store, there is even a toy Mega Buster (an obvious reference to Capcom’s Megaman series). You can pick up golf clubs, CDs, weapons from the knife & sword store, sledgehammers, 2×4’s, guns, etc. If you can think of something in a mall that can be used as a weapon, this game has it. The variety of weapons and the number of ways to mow down path blocking zombies is one of the biggest selling points of the gam.

Seeing how Frank is SUCH a great photojournalist (he claims to have covered wars), his camera comes into play as well, allowing you to snap pictures of anything for exp. Depending on how ‘good’ the picture is, the more exp to get. Also, the more zombies and psychopaths you kill, the more survivors you rescue, the more exp you get.  Rack up enough exp, gain a level. You either gain a new melee move (i.e. Karate Chop), more health, more running speed, more strength, or more throwing distance. These attributes are random each level, so take what you can get.

That is everything the game throws at you in terms of killing time before the helicopter returns. There are several endings to the game, depending on the outcome of certain plot events. If you skip even one, the best ending is impossible, forcing the game into “Overtime Mode” (a continuation of the main story). If you are fortunate enough to acquire the best ending, you still get “Overtime Mode”, which is oddly becomes the last chapter of the game.

As for the story…well…there is one, which is about all I can say. It is kind of pointless, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and you don’t care about it. If you are looking for depth or substance, look somewhere else. I am still figuring out why one of your allies turns into a zombie later in the game. The dialogue is about as cheesy as they come. Luckily the voice acting isn’t too bad with some recognizable names, such as Steve Blum, lending talent to the game.

The graphics are average.  Two years old at this point and even for its time it was nothing to write home about. How much praise and acclaim the game has gotten shows how overlooked the graphics really are, something I can’t argue with.

Now thus far, I have been enthusiastic for DEAD RISING, but this game has its share of flaws. The more survivors you try to save the more frustrated you will become. I CANNOT stress the awful AI enough. From survivors walking into walls, not obeying way-point directions, to shooting you and your other survivors…it is maddening to try and be a ‘nice guy’ and save people. I had to restart the game several times and uttered many obscenities when survivors screw up (my own sense of perfection). The reason restarting is necessary is simple; you get ONE save file! That’s it! If you start a new game, you can accidentally save over your friend’s game.

The game’s time limit feature is by no means new, but it is interesting. The more people you try to save, the more psychopaths you try to kill…the harder you make it for yourself.   The main enemy in trying to accomplish everything in DEAD RISING is the ticking clock, actually.  This becomes a very annoying feature late in the game, as there is nothing you can do should the game be saved in the wrong spot in the timeline. As much as I appreciate a challenge in a game, it almost seems unfair at times with the very, VERY large amount of optional things to do with such a limited time to do them.

The bugs, awful AI, the allotted ONE save file, and time difficulty really bring a GREAT game down quite a bit. It seems to me that if DEAD RISING was delayed about 3-5 months and the bugs were fixed, it would have been a phenomenal game. The core is phenomenal, no doubt in my mind about that. But the little things that tried to give substance just bog the rest down.  I’d love to give a more a favorable review, but I’ve still got such a bitter taste in my mouth over what could have been.

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rss 7 comments
  1. Matt J.
    October 27th, 2008 | 4:13 pm | #1

    I agree on this one. There were so many points in the game that frustrated me as I played through that it was hard to enjoy the game. I had more fun with the game just running around the mall killing zombies…and that got boring quick.

  2. R.J. Sayer
    October 27th, 2008 | 4:17 pm | #2

    man, you would bitch about free nachos.

    BEST. GAME. EVER.

  3. Brian
    October 27th, 2008 | 4:35 pm | #3

    RJ just inspired me to pick this up online from Walmart for $15.

    The wife has been complaining about GTA4 and that my only goal in the game is to kill police officers. I’m not sure she will like this game any better but at least my victims will be dead already.

  4. Matt Wells
    October 27th, 2008 | 4:41 pm | #4

    It was the little things that just killed it for me. The Wii port is coming out next year, if I can get it cheap I’ll pick it up. SUPPOSEDLY they are fixing the bugs and changing the concept of time, so we’ll see how that works out.

  5. October 31st, 2008 | 4:14 pm | #5

    Helpful hint: Everyone says the mini chainsaws are the best weapon. Given where you have to go just to get them, that’s nonsense. Instead, triple book the mannequin torso.

    (A friend of mine got all 1000 Gamerscore for this game. Considering the DIRT STUPID survivor AI, I have NO idea how in hell he pulled that off.)

  6. October 31st, 2008 | 4:34 pm | #6

    Yes, Mannequin torso is BY FAR the best weapon in the game in terms of how easy they are to come by to how much damage they do.

    The katana is incredibly useful (though hard to come by) and if you are in the right area, the battle axe is phenomenal as well.

  7. October 31st, 2008 | 4:35 pm | #7

    (and kudos for bringing the comment thread back about Dead Rising)

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