Shall I cut off an arm, or a leg?
One of the most anticipated games of the year is now here and it has only gone and created and almighty shitstorm amongst the gaming community. I have ritually stripped all the praise and grumbling from the prose of the world's gamers and have distilled them into two, cop out but catch all points.
- Why the game is rubbish?
- Why the game is great?
How can a game manage to split opinion so much? A lot of folk thought they were going to get a sandbox adventure with Dead Rising. They thought they were going to get a mall packed with zombies and they could run around and do what they liked in their own sweet time. Instead, they got a very tightly scripted and timed adventure that doesn't hold back any punches when dealing harshly with the new player. It was all a bit of a shock and many gamers cried out in terror and not at the zombies either.
The opening scene of Dead Rising is a wonderful lesson in how to begin a game. Your character, the square jawed ‘Frank' is in a helicopter en route to a small town called Willamette. He's a photographer with a rather large nose for a story and as he flies over the town it begins to dawn on him that things are not good in the sleepy town of Willamette, not good at all. The game then throws you into taking photos from the helicopter of a few scripted scenes as the pilot navigates. There is so much atmosphere in this scene and it's one that you will remember for a long time to come. It also serves as a tutorial on how to use the camera, which you'll need throughout the game as taking great photos earns you points which level up your character.
Zombie man, you broke my heart and ate my sister
Yes, I did say level up. In fact most things in the game earn you PP points whether it's imaginatively carving up zombies or rescuing Japanese tourists. More about levelling up later. Once the helicopter introduction is out of the way the pilot drops you off on the roof of the huge shopping centre surrounded by hordes of zombies, Willamette Mall. He tells you he'll be back in three days to pick you up and that's exactly the amount of time you have to figure out what is going on in the town. That is one of the main shocks for folk who had played the demo. The player is no longer in control of events and is tied quite strictly to when and where the game decides things must happen. This works surprisingly well however. Capcom has a story they want to tell. They have great characters they wish to tell it with and they aren't about to miss a trick in creating one of the most tense and atmospheric games ever to have been released.
The first few hours of Dead Rising can be a lesson in abject frustration. You just want to do your own thing, explore a little and cut up the walking dead. The story immediately kicks in and you find that not only are the time limits very strict but the zombies are actually quite deadly. Then you die for the first time and you get an odd option. Would you like to go back to your last save, or restart the game? Pardon? Why on earth would you want to start again? Well, Capcom knows that the new gamer will probably find it hard to keep up with the story and they also know that Frank is also a little weak and it's easy to die. They have put this option in because if you choose to restart you can do so with all PP points you have earned carried over. This is where the levelling up really comes into it. Frank gets stronger as he gains PP, his life bar increases and he can hold more items. These are essential for later in the game. He also becomes stronger and learns lots of really fun moves such as the Knee Stomp or Double Lariat.
Frank! I love you but we only have 72 hours to save Willamette!
When you realise that Frank is getting tougher you really don't mind restarting a few times to level him up a bit and get that extra item slot you so desire. By now you should know a little of the layouts of the mall, found a few deadly weapons, rescued a few people, discovered the orange juice and have a fair idea of how to do the first part of the story. With Frank around level 15 you should be thinking of tackling the main story proper as you are now strong enough to go toe to toe with the zombies and survive.
The main characters are fantastically realised and the voice acting is perfectly hammy and totally up to scratch. The cut scenes are quite long but never dull and have some of the most gruesome moments I've ever seen during my gaming journeys. The story itself moves along at a fair old pace and is actually quite good, as far as zombie plot lines go. Throughout your time in the mall you will meet up with some of the crazed human's who have taken refuge inside. These psychos are always accompanied with a fantastic cut scene and they then follow this with a usually quite difficult boss fight. It's great fun giving them a shoeing with the various weapons in your inventory.
My main criticism of the game revolves around the fact that you only have one save slot. Given this, it's relatively easy to save yourself into an impossible situation you can't get out of, thus necessitating a restart. My advice here is to save smart. Don't save the game just as a case file is about to end, leave yourself a couple of hours in case you find that you have run to the other side of the mall and do something first. With this knowledge you should be able to avoid any major problems, and I don't think I managed to trip myself up even once by saving with the above in mind. I do feel that an extra save slot would have been a good thing, and would have helped a lot of folk get into the game who otherwise couldn't get to grips with it and gave up in frustration.
Japanese tourists deserve to die
This timed story component alongside the one slot save system creates what is quite a tough game, though going hand in hand with the toughness are some fantastic moments of tension as you rush headlong back to your objective before time runs out with only one slot of health left. Brilliantly engaging stuff.
The graphics are a marvel and only when you see what appears to be hundreds, possibly thousands of zombies milling around do you really appreciate what Capcom has done. The animation is nothing short of stunning and the whole mall is wonderfully believable. The game itself is designed to encourage repeat play. I don't often play through games a second time but I'm already half way through another run, I just can't resist now Frank is fully tooled up and ready to rock. There are still some Psychos I haven't found and I intend for them to taste the hot lead of my shotgun, or the cold steel of my katana.
After playing the demo of Dead Rising I came away thinking the game wasn't really for me but it has turned out to be far better than I expected. It's easily one of my favourite games of the year and once I learned to play the game how it's meant to be played and not how I thought it should be played, I was able to settle in and really enjoy it. So, it's a bit of a marmite game and it seems that most folk will fall into the love it or hate it camp with few in between. I know which camp I belong to and my score says it all. I'm not going to justify the score in a final sentence as I've just spent the last thousand words doing just that. Dead Rising is a fantastic game with a few problems which I didn't find game breaking in any way. You owe it to yourself to play it just in case you enjoy it as much as me. If you don't try it, how will you know?
9 / 10