This is a repost of a previously-published review on a now-defunct site.
Tossing an apple and some cabbage in the blender, you mix yourself up a green energizer shake before slamming it in one long pull. Feeling untouchable, you adjust your Mega Man helmet and tee up a golf ball, smashing it off the face of a nearby undead who had been shambling toward you unsteadily before being introduced to Mr. Titleist. Taking no time to admire your shot, you grab a nearby frying pan off the grill and quickly apply it to another zombie’s face. Welcome to Dead Rising. This is not your father’s zombie game, or even your older brother’s.
While Capcom has found plenty of zombified success with its Resident Evil series, Dead Rising takes a strong departure from the established norms in undead destruction. No longer are you placed in the shoes of somebody who knows their way around a little killing. That would be too easy. No, this time you’re Frank West, a freelance photojournalist who, upon hearing about some wild happenings going down in a small town in Colorado, decides to charter himself a helicopter into the center of the fracas. After watching a series of increasingly zombie-like occurrences en-route, Frank still seems to think it’s a good call to pop in for a visit and soon finds himself swimming in a sea of the undead, all looking to bite him in and around his face.
As Frank delves deeper into the mysterious truth behind the zombie outbreak he begins to realize all is not as it seems and that this is no ordinary ho-hum zombie outbreak. Frank also proves, unsurprisingly, to be the only mall survivor competent enough to save pretty much every other mall survivor. Through time you can guide the plucky camera-jockey along his evolution from an awkward man who can barely throw a punch into a zombie-killing machine, wielding a chainsaw expertly while possibly wearing a dress.
The Good: To say that Dead Rising has replay value is somewhat akin to saying Halo was a popular title. Technically you’re right, but it’s a bit of an understatement. The game provides you with a wide array of hand-to-hand finishing moves to but zombies down for the count in style, but where it truly shines is when it comes to what items Frank encounters in the mall that he can then turn into a weapon. In short, pretty-much all of them. While there’s of course the standard fare you’d expect in a game which promises an endless supply of guilt-free (hey, they’re already dead, and they’re monsters) slaughter, namely guns, swords and, most entertainingly, a battle axe to swing in wide deadly circles, the game also features more inventive weapons for Frank to employ. Want to see a zombie stumble around aimlessly — well, more aimlessly than usual? Slap a plastic helmet on one, blinding it. If you want to see how they handle a slick floor (hint: poorly) you need only spread a little cooking oil around and enjoy watching Zombies on Ice. In fact, with many weapons containing multiple methods of attack, you can spend an entire day playing around in the mall without encountering all the many ways to dispose of the formerly-living.
The Bad: Don’t count on having a day’s game play to devote to playing around, at least not if you want to get your story. It’s like Capcom spent all this money designing the world’s most-fun playground, then installed it at a high school where the students schedules don’t account for recess. Seldom over the course of Frank’s three days in mall do you get time to just go wild on the undead population, leaving players with the choice of being a good-little hero and getting the earth-shattering story or running around with a sledgehammer to pop heads. Suffice it to say it makes advancing the plot, despite knowing you’re progressing towards a final goal, still feel a bit like you’re not playing it right. Another problem the strict schedule creates comes with the game’s “unique” save system, which some might describe as mind-blowingly stupid. Dead Rising allots you a grand total of one save space per profile which is automatically overwritten when you save your game. While this is frustrating enough on its own, it reaches a new level when you get to day three and hurry off to a mall bathroom to save your game only to discover, upon picking the controller back up later, that from your lone save point you don’t have time to get where you need to go to continue getting the story, and you’ll have to restart the whole thing if you hope to beat the game. Tough luck, kiddo.
The Ugly: Capcom’s already successful Resident Evil series reached new levels of popularity with Resident Evil 4. After months of careful study, the designers must have come to the conclusion that what everybody loved about the game wasn’t all the zombie killing, it was those exhilarating times you got to escort the inept Ashley, because nearly all side-quests in Dead Rising, as well as several plot-mandatory quests, entail leading one or more survivors through the mall. Repetitive missions are bad enough by themselves, but constantly forcing gamers to put up with escort missions, long established as one of the most frustrating challenges in gaming, is just plain mean.
The Verdict: At the end of the day, the pure fun of Dead Rising’s gameplay is enough to overcome some of its less-desirable quirks. Sure the single save file can grate on your nerves at times, but there’s nothing that says you can’t simply go to town with the mall’s arsenal without saving afterward, and destroying your progress when you feel like a little GTA-caliber mayhem. The game does also attempt to add a little variety into the copious escort missions, changing the number and abilities of the escorted, who will range from able to fend for themselves with weapons to needing to be carried. While Dead Rising may not be a flawless effort, it’s still a unique title that packs plenty of bang for your buck.