Dead Rising Reader Review
I love zombies. It's a peculiar little obsession - it may be part of the reason why I didn't like Resident Evil 5 (they seemed way more human than the ganados of Resident Evil 4 I think), and why I continue to adore Left4Dead and L4D2. However, as much as I adore zombies and would like to feed several people to them in an act of supreme vengeance and Darwinian justice, sometimes too much of a good thing can kind of distract you. Dead Rising, for me, is like that.
Now, I am fully prepared for pitchforked mobs descending on me and a lot of "but that's the point!" stuff to come, so let me clear this up. In no way is Dead Rising a BAD game. It's not, it's a game of simple sadistic pleasure - I just think that the fun of mass zombie carnage is all there is.
Frank West is not really much of a step up from most heroes in a Survival Horror game, only Frank - being a renegade freelance photographer - commits the first cardinal sin of any survival horror in that, despite the first flyover where he SEES zombies (and takes photos of them!) requests he is dropped off so he can take a better look. Yes, Frank West is an idiot. I'm sorry, but he is, and what is worse I find him a wholly UNLIKABLE idiot. He's brash and arrogant and despite being confronted by zombies on his way over, he doesn't seem to twig this until a fat, middle-aged man bosses him about over it. He has questionable fashion sense, the bedside manner of a serial killer and yet, for all his smarts and wits, he has about as much intelligence as a plank of wood. No, I retract that statement because the plank of wood is more likely to sue me.
Character-wise, it's a steep plummet down into annoying caricatures, stupid dialogue and saving people who, frankly, should die if only because I don't think the gene pool would benefit from their existence in reality. I have immense sympathy for the emotive impact of some of the survivors, but others just have no real point of surviving. A man who thinks he can hide from zombies by building a wall of empty cardboard boxes - I mean, SERIOUSLY?! Why save someone that incredibly dense? Am I missing something, because compassion can only go so far...
In any case, Frank's job is to expose the secrets at play, take some frankly disturbing pictures that even The News of the World would discard for being too extreme and escape on a scheduled helicopter with survivors in tow. It's a game that enjoys making you feel like you are against the clock, it's a race to the finish, strung out with easily the best part of the game - the zombie slaying.
And oh, what slaying. Guns, baseball bats, chainsaws, katanas and even plastic toy swords and footballs can be used to swiftly fell, dismember and generally cause untold damage to legions - and I mean LEGIONS - of zombies. They seem to come from nowhere, respawn faster than rabbits on speed, and huddle together in huge packs that just beg for massive area-attack fun. To mix it up, Frank - being a photojournalist - can also take pictures of the hordes of undead fodder, be it the mess he makes or whacking a great big comedy plastic head on them, and watching as they wander around completely blinded, humiliated for his own personal pleasure. This, make no bones about it, is where the game shines. It encourages and even rewards you not just for killing zombies nor for taking photographs, but for setting them up. A little imagination, a little patience and a real sadistic streak can rack you up some serious points, and it's glorious.
Which is a shame then that the story rather ruins it, as do the psychopath bosses (some are too easy, some are insanely hard and others just make me want to plunge rusty spoons up their nasal passages). When the game is over, you get a glorious survival mode but the game clearly leads you astray from the path of finishing the game by being so utterly thrilled at giving you means, methods and opportunities to indulge in zombie slaying, ritual humiliation and general carnage. It took me ages to finish the game, even one ending, because I would end up completely besotted with the zombies and playing with them that I forgot (readas; didn't care) about the survivors, or why the zombies were there, or the general idiocy that led up to it. The general setup is dumb, the script is even more silly, and the characterisations are frankly laughable.
But this is, I admit it, missing the point because I got months - if not years - of perfectly acceptable entertainment just from the zombies. You don't have to care about the survivors, you don't have to care about the politics or the science and you certainly don't have to care about Frank himself, because the game seems to unashamedly encourage wanton violence in the extreme. It's a game that revels in the technical achievement of having so many zombies independently running about for you to do with as you please that plot, common sense and characterisation is often long forgotten about. You will of course end up wanting to shove the radio that Otis the Janitor constantly pesters you on up his rectum and toss him to the zombies outside, but even then his indignant cries of annoyance and clingy persona failed to pull me in and focus me on being a nice guy. I was too busy running around, being a complete jackass and cackling maniacally until four in the morning as I made it look like two zombies were doing it behind the counter of Jill's Sandwiches (bonus points for the reference!).
I do love Dead Rising, but it's not because it's a great game. The actual game aspect - the plot, the dialogue and the do-goody-goody stuff - is pretty weak and to me, rather pointless. But the freedom to mess around in a huge mall, with near-limitless means to annoy, humiliate and enrage the undead is second to none, but even then - for me, it totally drowns out the little niggle in my head and from the radio Frank carries around to actually stop messing around and get on with actually doing something meaningful.
It's brilliant, amazing and funny - but badly written with characters you would and probably will take great and almost sadistic pleasure in seeing mauled by zombies, a paper-thin plot and generally suffering an identity crisis. It wants and begs you to play the game properly, and yet encourages and wills you to forget that and go off and have fun, then getting extremely annoyed that you appear to be having fun at the expense of the story someone spent a whole night writing out on notepad.
It's a conflict of interest that doesn't quite work in the real world of gaming, but this is entirely pointless of course. Because I went in for the zombie carnage, as I am sure most of us did, and as much as the game saw fit to scream, yell, punish us and throw tantrums demanding we take it seriously and get on with the missions and saving of survivors, we knew why we were there. The plot, the survivors, the bosses - all were there to try and add something that probably didn't need to be there. All we needed was Frank West, a camera, a mall filled with zombies and an infinite number of ways to wreak havoc, humiliation and have fun.
And it's a good reminder to developers and gamers alike sometimes the story really isn't important - when you make the journey so much fun you don't want to stop, the destination is completely irrelevant, no matter how much you insist on getting us there and no matter how many times you prompt us with annoying characters.
Hopefully Dead Rising 2 will understand that better, if not at least try to find a way to get us to care about the living more than the dead - but as introductions go, Dead Rising hit a goldmine that will be remembered for many years to come. It's just a pity that when I want carnage, I remember that it's offset with some of the most annoying characters I've ever seen in gaming. It's a zombie murder simulator, a glorious sandbox of reckless violence to play with as you see fit. Anything else was completely irrelevant.
If we have to have survivors and companions in Dead Rising 2, at the very least let us set up some of these characters with our zombie friends over a candlelit table. We'd be doing them and all of us a favour, surely?
Plus I'd wager that would give some serious PP...