Zombies were once kings of the horror genre. Thanks to George A. Romero and movies like Night of the Living Dead, people lived in fear of an undead uprising. Unsurprisingly, the brain-muchers translated incredibly well to the world of video games. Titles like Resident Evil and House of the Dead turned the gaming world upside down with moments of zombie-filled suspense and terror.
Then, the market became over saturated, and instead of zombies being terrifying creatures, they merely served as distractions in a bigger battle. Some odd zombie games came out (I’m looking at you Typing of the Dead) and it wasn’t long before zombies were completely written out of Resident Evil 4.
Capcom, the masters of the survival horror genre, are bringing zombies back, and then proceed to hit them with baseball bats, cash registers, sledgehammers and just about everything else you can get your hands on with Dead Rising for the Xbox 360.
Dead Rising follows Frank West, a freelance photojournalist who gets a tip that something strange is happening in the sleepy little town of Williamette, Colorado. Flying high above in a hired chopper, Frank sees the town over run with the living dead, who are destroying everything in sight, and devouring anyone who crosses their path. Like any rational human would do, Frank tells the pilot to let him down on the roof of the town’s mega mall, and to be back in exactly three days.
From here on in, you’re more or less on your own to cut through the thousands of zombies roaming the shopping center. From benches, to rocks and baseball bats, practically everything can be used as a weapon, and some in very humorous and satisfying fashion. Try not to snicker as you rifle a bowling ball down a crowded staircase, watching your undead foes fall like it’s League bowling night, or render a zombie helpless as you place a novelty horse or servebot (of mega-man fame) mask over their head, and watch them bump into walls. Some weapons are much more gruesome, but never manage to lose the fun factor. Simple items like hedge clippers and chainsaws can completely sever your opponents in half, while shopping carts and lawn mowers run down zombies like a semi running through a herd of unaware animals.
Watching the number of zombies you send back to their graves rise is uniquely satisfying and never seems to get completely redundant, it’s just a shame that more time isn’t allotted to it. Since you only have 72 hours to figure out why the zombies have returned (revealed to you in a sequence of case-files – think of them as chapters), your time must be strictly managed to complete the games many tasks, or you will miss a vital clue.
Though the game tries to run in real time, the system just manages to come across as hokey and full of holes. Time runs very fast in Williamette, and it sometimes causes you to miss important information that is needed to continue in the game. Combine this with an awkward and dated save system that allows only one save per storage device, and you’re in for some long and frustrating, zombie-filled nights.
The games tasks vary between the main missions like helping other survivors fight weird bosses, and side missions, that range from aiding a fellow photographer to helping save survivors, barricaded in stores. Helping these survivors essentially becomes an escort mission, which can prove very tough, especially when you never know how each one will react. Some, are grateful, and will attempt (read — attempt) to assist you, while others won’t trust you in the least and will attack you before you can even begin to save them.
That uncertainty is an example of one of Dead Risings best features. The mall, actually fells like a mall you would find in everyday suburban America. As you go through zombie after zombie, the speakers pump out elevator music and recorded advertisements for stores. It’s all fun and games until around 11pm on each night, when the malls lights go out, meaning you’ll have to keep moving, though now in almost pitch black.
The game can be mighty challenging, especially if you don’t take the time to level Frank up, RPG style. Every time you do level Frank up, you gain more health, learn a new skill, or add more space to your inventory, all things you keep if you miss a case-file and have to start the game again. While the challenge is a welcome change of pace from the slew of unbelievably easy games that we’ve seen released lately, it seems that the developers are just milking the game for replay value.
While Dead Rising isn’t the best game available for the Xbox 360, it is an addicting experience that puts a fun new spin on the survival horror genre. Gamers looking for something to get them through the summer months will find Dead Rising a welcome addition to their library. Welcome back my undead friends, welcome back.