Catharsis. The simple purging of emotional tensions, if we're going to take the dictionary at face value, it's the kind of thing that drives us to watch scary movies or play scary video games to allow us to experience, say, fear, an emotion we wouldn't get to (nor want to) experience naturally, and purge that tension from our systems.
I, for example, am mortally afraid of zombies. I mean, of course I understand that they don't exist, probably never will exist and never have existed, but man they freak me out. That relentless passion for brains. The near indestructibility. And the swarming... Oh god, the swarming. There's rarely a night that I don't waste hours cursing my decision to live in a ground floor flat and my lack of suitable zombie bludgeons until I fall asleep, but yet, somehow, I love zombie films and video games. Love them to bloody, gory bits. It's just a natural form of catharsis.
But yet, somehow, that's not the only cathartic reason that Dead Rising is without a doubt my personal (drum roll, please) game of the show E3 2006. The other reason might be because after spending three days with crowds of near brain dead, corpse stinking E3 attendees, swarming around demo pods and grasping and moaning clumsily for swag, it was near orgasmically pleasurable to kill the hell out some zombies. Just to bloody murder 'em.
Dead Rising is astounding. It really has made me wonder why I've accepted guff like the Resident Evil series (bar 4) as zombie game with their ponderous requirements of puzzle solving and their paltry amount of zombies floating about. Opening with the only story section of a game that managed to be wholly captivating on the sensory overload of the E3 south hall show floor, it introduces main character, journalist Frank West, who quite clearly is a total lunatic, choosing to take a helicopter to a quarantined city in an attempt to get a scoop. As you fly over the town, in control of your camera and able to take shots of what you see, it soon becomes clear that the town is catastrophically over run with zombies. So what does Frank do? Drops himself off at the mall and decides to get a closer look.
Now Frank, though he may be an ugly moron, does at least have the strength required to take on at least a few zombies at a time. With three days (translating to about 3 hours in real time) to explore the town, killing zombies, saving people (or not!) and taking great pictures, you're entirely left to your own devices as to what you want to do. You could literally just stand Frank at the helipad for three days and when the helicopter came back you'd still win the game.
By providing a short story mode that can be played through repeatedly for different plot occurrences and outcomes, Dead Rising's structure is almost a complete rejection of gaming's now-traditional demands. If that doesn't already fill you with a weird kind of anticipation, then, well, get out now.
For example, one time I found myself in a section of the mall with a population of zombies significant enough that if I wasn't careful I'd end up in trouble. I simply ran into the nearest toy shop, grabbed an inventory full of teddy bear masks, ran back out and carefully placed one of them on each zombie, blinding them, before hastily snapping off a quick picture to get a 'comedy' bonus. Have you ever seen a room full of zombies wearing teddy bear masks bumping into each other? It's priceless. But probably not as priceless as whipping out a samurai sword and cleaving the majority of them into two blood geyzering chunks. Or simply picking up pot plants and piles of CDs (a skewed Shaun of the Dead reference, perhaps?) to chuck at them.
The amount of things to do and fun to be had with zombies seems to be utterly limitless. It's a wonderful sandbox design, made even more wonderful by the amount of objects in the game that are fun to play with but serve absolutely no use, such as Frisbees (just bounce of zombie's heads stupidly) or toy lightsabers. For example, within a couple of minutes I'd decided to change the originally quite conservatively dressed Frank West into children's clothes that were far too small for him, white suede shoes and topped it all of with a Servbot mask. Wandering around becoming increasingly blood splattered from smashing zombie skulls with a fire axe, it was like my very own deranged psychopath simulator.
There are more top quality references for Capcom fans in the game over and above Tron Bonne's lovable Servbots from Megaman Legends, with my particular favourite going to a little eatery called 'Jill's Sandwiches' but it's not as if this game is relentlessly silly after it's atmospheric opening. The beauty, you see, is that it offers you the chance to play the game that way. Much like, say, Katamari Damacy, it allows you to just enjoy, and attempt to seek out the most pointless things for the sheer joy of them. It's entirely up to you if you want to play it straight.
Which, of course, is perfectly possible, as this game can (particularly if you step outside) turn from being amusing into genuinely terrifying as you find yourself surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of swarming zombies. While initially it's easy to be unimpressed with Dead Rising's generally unspectacular visuals (it looks nice, don't get us wrong, but not fantastic) once you see the swarms, oh god, the swarms, you'll change your tune.
Dead Rising is probably the first game on the 360 that's would make me go out and buy the console just to play it. It really is that good.
Dead Rising is due on Xbox 360 in September 2006 from Capcom.