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'Dead Rising' Review (Xbox 360)


Brains! Want brains! If you know anything about horror movies, you probably are sitting here thinking that a game about zombies in a mall should be called Dawn of the Dead, but you'd be wrong, because Capcom has taken that idea and transformed it into this wonderful little game. Yeah, it isn't perfect, and has some glaring flaws, but the package and presentation is so well done that for the most part it easily makes up for its shortcomings, as it has quickly climbed up the rankings of my favorite Xbox 360 games yet.

You play as Frank West (a strong, manly name if I've ever heard one – I guess Max Power was taken), a freelance photographer/journalist who received a scoop about something that would be happening in this little, isolated town in the middle of nowhere, where literally the only thing to do is go to the mall. Arriving by helicopter, Frank sees that the military has quarantined the town, and as he touches down at the mall, he heads in, only to find that the mall and all the crazy people he saw as he approached, were a bunch of zombies. After one idiotic decision, the mall is soon overrun with zombies, and Frank must decide what to do for the next 72 hours while he waits for his helicopter to get back: should he get his exclusive story, try to help other people stranded in the mall, or simply survive?

The wonderful thing about Dead Rising, which actually surprised me, was the story. Though it is presented in a very B-movie-esque manner, it is actually top notch and could end up being the reason you find yourself constantly playing it (I know it was the reason I had such a great time with it). On your first play through the game, I'd highly recommend that you focus on completing all the case files mainly, because successfully doing those will get you the best ending to the game and will allow you to experience the full story; centered around some terrorist actions, the reason and symbology behind the zombies got me off guard by how interesting it was (it reminded me of Dawn of the Dead and how it was a symbol for blind, consumerism).

Besides the cases, pay special attention to the notes regarding strange individuals, as these leads to boss battles with various psychopaths, and this is where the really fun cheese comes into play. A killer clown (the scariest clown I've seen since It) wielding chainsaws, a man who thinks he is still in Vietnam, a grocery store manager who won't abandon his post, etc. Each of the bosses are way out there, but are really fun to kill.

The rest of the story comes from the survivors you can choose to save, which are sometimes strangely touching, like a mother who lost her baby or two friends who got separated. Though the survivor escort missions can be a pain to complete, they also have perhaps the most heart of all, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Survive for 72 hours – that is the name of the game (it isn't a real 72 hours, because the in-game clock is sped up). If you want to just hang around the helipad to simply survive, you can easily do that, though you'll have a boring time and get a really crappy ending more than likely. Instead, to really play the game and experience it to its fullest, you'll want to complete all the case files and try to fight as many psychopath bosses and rescue as many civilians as you can. You're main base of operations is a security room, and you'll find yourself returning to it time and time again, partly because it is a convenient save room, but mainly because you have to bring all survivors back to it and it is where many of your case files begin.

The great thing about Dead Rising is how the game pulls you in, cause since the whole game takes place at one, singular mall, it really feels like you are trying to survive in this real world location. You'll track through the same hallways time and time again, trying to reach a case file or scoop (psychopaths and survivors) in time, but I never got tired of my surroundings, but rather slowly found myself being assimilated by them, as I learned shortcuts I could take, the placement of certain weapons, or where I could go for health items.

As you play, your character amasses experience points, which help level up your character and give them new moves to their arsenal or either upgrade their abilities, like making Frank run faster, giving him more item slots to carry health items or weapons, give him more life, etc. You get experience by killing enemies, completing cases, and escorting survivors, but also by taking pictures, since you are a photojournalist need I remind you. By taking pictures of various objects or scenarios, you get points for Drama (a couple hugging), Erotica (taking pictures of a woman's chest or underwear), and other such categories.

All the cases, psychos, and survivors are based on a time system, so you only have a certain amount of time to complete any given task. While this assures that you won't experience everything on the first go through, that isn't such a bad thing, but what is bad is when you find yourself rushing to complete something, or you save your game, only to find out you won't be able to get to where you need to in the right time, and thus your game is completely ruined; it never happened to me, because I planned ahead, but I've read countless reports to people this has happened to, and I can see why.

Since the game only has one save slot, you have to be very careful how and when you save; if you save in the wrong place your game could be ruined and you might have to start over. Anytime you die or fail to miss a case, you can choose to either load up your last game or either save your status and quit, which allows you to keep all the experience and levels you have managed to gain so far, but you'll have to start the game all over (I never had to do this though, so as long as you think ahead you should be fine). The other big problems with Dead Rising are the fact that the places you can save are so far away from each other, and that the in-game text (and I'm not sure if this is because my television isn't high-def or not big enough – 26 inches on my behalf) is so hard to read, I missed some of the bosses and never could fully read what was on the screen. I know this is because of one of those two reasons, because others on message boards have had no problem with this.

The case files are self-explanatory, as you simply follow them to their conclusion. The psychopaths are the bosses, which can be either rather difficult, making you play them several times to learn their habits, or either are a breeze your first time through. As you play, you'll run across certain weapons like the mini-chainsaws, which make all boss fights extremely easy for the most part, so you go beat that clown and be sure to always carry one around with you. Speaking of the difficulty, just to throw this out there, the game can be a rather difficult challenge, and though that might frustrate some, I found it welcomed and made me appreciate the game even more.

As I started to say earlier, the survivor escort missions are both the most challenging thing about the game, but also some of the most touching. Some of the survivors will come with you easily, while some you must talk to enough to convince them to follow you, or either figure out what you have to do to make them work with you (like beating on a guy until you knock some sense into them or finding a Japanese language book so you can talk to a pair of survivors). Once you have them following you, you can give the survivors weapons so they can defend themselves, tell them to follow you, tell them spots to stay at, or, and this is where the heart comes in, you can choose to let them rest on your shoulder, piggyback them, or hold them by the hand. There is something touching about helping fellow survivors in this way, as it gives the game an emotional connection. One time I had a woman who lost her best friend, and I said I would help her. I grabbed her by the hand, and helped guide her through zombies up to the other floor, and there was her friend, and they had a happy reunion. I then grabbed that friend by the hand as well, so I was running through patches of zombies, guiding them by the hand, and it made me feel so proud in a strange way. I just saved two people. I felt good about myself. You can't help everyone in this way, but for the women you mostly can. The only bad thing about the survivor missions is how stupid the AI is, because they'll get stuck behind objects, run directly into zombies, etc. There were a few times where either I didn't know how to get someone to follow me or they did something stupid, and I just said, "forget it" and let them die. Hey, I didn't ever say I was perfect.

After you complete the game, you have an Overtime Mode that you need to complete to get the full ending, and then there is an Infinite Mode, which has you trying to survive for as long as you can, as your health is constantly going down and depleting. These modes, plus the fact you won't see everything on your first run through the game and all the achievements, mean you'll have quite a bit to be playing for a good while.

The characters are modeled well, the cinematics (all in-game) are always directed well, the environments (for what it is – a mall) are done well, but the real thing about Dead Rising, showing off the power of the Xbox 360, is the sheer amount of number of enemies that can be on the screen at once. We aren't talking about Resident Evil here, where there are only a handful of enemies on the screen at a time, but rather we are talking about tens upon tens upon a hundred enemies all on the screen at one time, and you've got to wade through them all. The number can be daunting at times, but it is always fun.

The groans of the zombies are creepy, the weapons (like the chainsaw) sounds exactly like you'd expect it, and the characters (at least the main ones involved in the story) are voiced well, though they have that B-movie quality about them.

I'm usually terrible at horror games, as I get too easily freaked out by them (I can watch horror movies easily and not get scared, but Silent Hill and Resident Evil games…can't beat them). Due to the more arcade beat'em-up style, the game relies less on the slowly building tension, so you'll probably never get too scared to play it, but you will be tense at some points, and a few things could scare you.

I love Dead Rising and it might be my favorite Xbox 360 game up to this point. Given that, I can't reward it a perfect score no matter how much I want to, because it does have some huge faults, like the save system, unreadable text, stupid survivor AI, etc. However, like any B-movie (Snakes on a Plane come to my mind), if you truly find yourself becoming attached to it, you can look past the flaws, and see only the diamond that lurks beneath.

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