|Dead Rising (2006)
Available for: Xbox 360
One year. That’s exactly how long Capcom made gamers wait before finally unleashing their new zombie title, “Dead Rising,” onto the next-gen masses. And as a lover of all things undead (in the entertainment world, anyways), it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that this game has been sitting at the top of my wish list the entire time. Thankfully, it was worth every minute, because not only has “Dead Rising” satisfied all of my expectations – it’s gone above and beyond them. Complete with an enticing mix of horror and comedy, a fascinating plot raveled in mystery, and an open-ended environment that includes just about every imaginable weapon perfect for slicing up those pesky undead, “Dead Rising” is quite possibly the most original game of the year.
And after spending only twenty minutes with the action/adventure title, it becomes quite clear just how unique this experience really is. You play as Frank West, a freelance photojournalist trapped inside a shopping mall full of zombies. With only 72 hours before your rescue helicopter returns, you’re faced with a pretty important decision: investigate the incident or save innocent lives from certain death. Of course, you could always do both, but with time counting down and an army of zombies poised to rip you limb from limb, it’s probably wise to pick one and stick with it, because as you’ll quickly discover, “Dead Rising” is one tough cookie. Like, really hard. As in, it’s so difficult you’ll probably die… several times. And when you die, guess what? You get to start over!
Well, not really, but with only one save slot at your disposal, and only a limited number of sites to do so at (including restrooms and a few other select locations), you will frequently find yourself wishing you had popped into the bathroom for a quick potty break before taking on another roomful of zombies. And did I mention that time moves by a lot faster in the game? Well, it does, and while “Dead Rising” may not take place over the course of 72 hours, the main storyline only takes about ten to complete. And what if you don’t finish the story in time? Well, you fail to uncover the source of the days’ horrible events and are rewarded with the worst of six (yes, six) possible endings.
It’s not as hard as it sounds, though, since you can always start over (with Frank’s current status intact) as long as you haven’t saved yourself into a corner. The most important thing to remember is this: never disregard a main story mission, because if you choose to complete a side quest and miss the opportunity to complete the more important narrative, well, then you’re screwed. Luckily, not only do you have a wristwatch menu screen to keep track of your time, but you also have dedicates gauges for each mission. As time counts down, the bar representing each individual mission changes to a different color – from blue to red, and finally, to yellow – so as long as you keep on top of this, you should have no problem completing everything in plenty of time.
Of course, the thousands of zombies standing in your way aren’t as easy to brush off, and in order to survive the later stages of your three-day lock-in, you’ll need to level up as much as possible. To do this, Frank will collect Prestige Points for every zombie he kills, mission he completes, and sweet photo that he snaps (What? He is a photojournalist), and as your character levels up, you’ll also receive boosts to your attack, speed, health, item slots and throwing distance. You’re also given a new special move every time you gain a level, and while early rewards include lame abilities like jump kicks and football tackles, the gut disembowelment is a shining gem in the history of video game violence. Then again, what’s the fun of killing zombies if you can’t do it in style, right?
All of the usual suspects are at your disposal (knives, swords, and guns), but the real fun in the destruction of our brain-eating friends is found within a creative arsenal that includes soccer balls and stuffed animals, baseball bats and shovels, chainsaws and sickles, shopping carts and lawnmowers, and my personal favorite, the shower head. Now, this might not sound like an impressive weapon at first sight (and it’s really not), but as soon as you shove it into the head of an unexpecting zombie and watch as the blood spouts out, you’ll understand why it’s quickly become a fan favorite. Not to mention, if you take a picture of the blood-squirting madness, it’ll earn you bonus points. In fact, there’s plenty of ways to earn all sorts of bonuses along the way – the easiest being your skill with the camera – and if you can snap theme-specific shots of drama, horror, brutality, erotica and comedy, you’ll find leveling up isn’t as difficult as it sounds.
And though my criticisms of “Dead Rising” are few and far between, they regrettably still exist. The issue of saving is probably the biggest, since just about everyone seems to think it’s a major setback to the otherwise brilliance of the title. As an incredibly impatient gamer, I certainly don’t enjoy having to replay the same mission over and over again, but if it adds to the overall difficulty and offers more bang for your buck, is it really worth complaining about? Hell no, but there’s plenty of other problems that don’t deserve the same kind of reprieve. For one, the bosses in the game are so ludicrously difficult that you really have no other choice than to avoid them. Of course, the gun shop owner disappears about midway through the game – so if you’re just looking to stock up on ammo, you can always return – but if you’re looking to take down Adam the Chainsaw-Juggling Killer Clown, well, good luck kid, cause you’re gonna need it.
If you can get past the fact that you may never complete every single mission, however, you’ll discover a thoroughly enjoyable experience worthy of multiple visits. Not even the complete lack of realism (i.e. kill every zombie in an entire area, only to return and discover they’re still there) is enough to distract from the richer elements of the title, and while Capcom is prepared to trump the success of their latest zombiefest when "Resident Evil 5" drops on all three consoles next year, diehard fans of the genre should definitely sink their teeth into "Dead Rising" while it's still fresh.