Dead Rising (2006, 360)

By Wolfilla / December 26, 2016

Dead Rising is important to me. I can distinctly remember waiting for months and months for this game back in 2006, and it in fact was the only reason I had bought an Xbox 360. Ten years on and I was just as excited to replay this game following the announcement of a remaster early this year and, apart from the obviously dated graphics and unorthodox game mechanics, this game is just as weird, just as violent, and just as brilliant as it was a decade ago.
   Of course, since its initial release we have seen several sequels to this game, but none have managed to nail the same vibe that the original game had, and I think this is down to later titles being developed by Western developers. There is just something distinctly Japanese about this game, despite its the obvious Western influences, whether it be the weird and often perverted sense of humour, or its baffling mission mechanics. Dead Rising has just the right balance between humour and horror to ensure that it remains unique and completely timeless.
   You play as Frank West, a photojournalist with an interesting taste in outfits and a dab hand at undead slaughter, who receives a tip off that sends him on an investigation to the town of Willamette, Colorado. Upon his arrival, he discovers that the town is swarming with hordes of the recently deceased. After holding up at the nearby mall, he discovers that the mystery of the Willamette Mall runs deeper than first thought, and he sets off in search of his next "big scoop".

   Frank has become somewhat of an iconic character, so much so that he's managed to get himself into 60% of the games in series. I say 60%, as I don't really consider non-canon titles like Off the Record to be anything other than a glorified cash grab from Capcom in order to make up for Dead Rising 2's dull main character, Chuck Greene. Frank's pudgey, slow and everyman appearance was always at odds with his surprising survival skills, but it somehow felt organic; he was just a normal guy, for all intents and purposes, trying to survive in an impossible scenario, and this is what I feel led to his massive success as a character.
   Capcom had very nearly nailed this approach a few years prior, releasing two Biohazard spinoffs titled Outbreak, both of which featured relatively normal protagonists, compared to the action heroes of the main series. Unfortunately, whilst both games were fairly good, nobody really played them, and they're very much a forgotten part of the Biohazard series. Dead Rising definitely feels like an evolution of these two games, and, whilst the end product is certainly much different, you can see the origins of this game quite clearly in them.
   One of the biggest gripes people had with the original Dead Rising was its time mechanic. Frank is given 72 hours before he is picked up by his helicopter pilot, and seeing everything the first time around is almost impossible. This is one feature that I have a love/hate relationship with, since, as frustrating a concept as it seemed, the sense of urgency that I felt when I was rushing to each part of the mall in order to save this person or kill that psychopath is something that just could not be replicated in future games. It's sad to hear that the upcoming Dead Rising 4 will have no timer as, to me at least, this feature is synonymous with the series.

   Dead Rising’s pioneering technology of the time was the amount of zombies it could have on screen, and even though it’s not quite as impressive as it once was, the sheer number of undead cannon fodder on screen is still quite a sight to behold. And cannon fodder they are. At least during the day, where the zombies are sluggish and weak (at night they become more active, tougher, and more numerous), something I discovered after a few playthroughs was that the volume of the zombies within the mall actually increases day by day. If you take a walk around the Paradise Plaza on day 1, you can actually avoid almost all of the zombies if you wish, however, by day 3, it's almost impossible to move through the shambling hordes, a really neat feature I didn't really notice the first time around.
   Frank can use almost anything he finds as a weapon against the increasing horde. Some of the weapons deal minimal damage, some massive amounts. I have to admit, whilst the concept is a bit ridiculous, using a giant pair of shears to snip a zombie in half never gets old. Frank can also change his appearance. Ever wanted to walk around as a bald cross-dresser wielding a scythe? Dead Rising allowed you to do so. As a said, I was never a huge fan of the sillier aspects of the original game, which is perhaps why I never enjoyed any of the later titles. I always found the subdued ridiculousness of the first game to be much more interesting and once again I think this is something the later games in the series have failed to recapture.
   Bosses in this game were fantastic, with each one having a different attack and defense pattern, and a different method required to defeat them. And some of these bosses are tough, and I mean really tough, and it can take plenty of tries before you can finally defeat them, but all of them of brilliantly designed, Adam the Clown being a particularly disturbing highlight. And they often drop unique weapons, such as the massively overpowered swinging chainsaws, or unlock areas of the mall previously unreachable, so defeating as many of them as you can is essential.

   Dead Rising incorporated an XP system based on earning Prestige Points, or "PP" as they’re named in game. Being the aforementioned hard-edged photojournalist he is, Frank is able to take pictures of his exploits throughout the game. Prestige Points are earned for taking pictures containing Horror, Drama, Erotica, Outtakes and Brutality elements. This is not the only way to gather PP points however, as completing the main Case Files of the story will earn massive amounts of points, as well as escorting survivors to the security room (if you have the patience). Levelling up Frank will unlock special moves and increased health, so it’s a good idea to take as many pictures of zombies slipping over on gumballs or of skimpy undead stripper zombies as you can.
   I said earlier that Dead Rising is full of weird and often annoying game mechanics, and none more so than the survivor escort missions. Let’s be clear here, we all hate escort missions, they rank up there along with the tail missions from Assassin’s Creed as some of the most frustrating and tiresome forms of game design. Dead Rising’s escort missions are so bad that they’ve managed to transcend the boundary of bad game design and become one of the best things ever created. The survivor AI is laughable. You will spend hours and hours waiting for these idiots to follow your commands and making sure they don’t get devoured by the zombies that they seem oh so keen to walk straight into the path of, and once you’ve finally managed to get all of them into the security room, you'll get the absolute pleasure of hearing them say the same three lines over, and over, and over again.
   It sounds like I’m complaining, but without these little quirks, Dead Rising wouldn’t be the same game. It’s a wholly unique experience, without a doubt one of the finest zombie games you will ever play, and one which even its own sequels can’t hold a candle to even after all these years.

Dead Rising is runner-up to Insomnia's 2006 Game of the Year.