1. STORY / GAME MODES
If you didn’t know already, this is a zombie game. You play the character of Frank West, a freelance photojournalist whose suspicion gets the better of him as he finds himself on a helicopter to ‘hell’. Well, it’s not hell in the literal sense but according to Carlito Keyes, it is the closest thing to it on earth. You see what Frank didn’t realise was that this mall wasn’t just the centre of a scheduled riot or anything along those lines, but had literally taken over by the walking dead. Or in other words: Zombies, lots of them.
The game continues throughout to play as a sort of mystery/survival story based around our photojournalist, his few allied survivors and the ever uninteresting ‘terrorists’, Carlito and his sister Isabela. As a whole, the story is decent but never goes anywhere and features a very weak ending that leaves a lot to be desired. Characters themselves show some promise but aside from Frank and Brad (one of Frank’s allies), most of them are forgettable due to a strong lack of characterisation. There are lots of very minor subplots here and there too, that at times actually feel more interesting than the main plot at times but most don’t last that long and usually only offer a psychopath to speak his crazed sentences before trying to turn you into zombie-meat. So I guess what I’m getting at here is that if you want a story-driven zombie game, you should probably stick to Resident Evil. It’s not terrible however, and doesn’t hinder the game at any point so yes, it’s simply okay.
In terms of games modes, Dead Rising does another decent job, but again doesn’t cash in on icing to top off the cake. There are three modes in the game, 72 Hour Mode (The main game/story mode), Overtime Mode (an extra day with a lot less zombies) and Infinite Mode (Survival only, lots of zombies). When you first play the game however you will only have the option of 72 Hour Mode, which you’ll have to complete to get Overtime, and in turn you must complete that to gain Infinite Mode. The strongest of the three is probably the basic 72 Hour Mode mainly due to the constant array of missions/subplots that carry you through along with a sense of free-will open-endedness at the same time. Overtime Mode on the other hand isn’t quite as successful. As I mentioned above, there’s not that much zombies walking around most of the time and will have you sneaking around from Armed Forces instead of decapitating zombies for most of it, so as you can probably sense by now, isn’t that much fun, at least in comparison to the other more zombie-killing-orientated modes. Overtime mode is fantastic for a more pick up and play arcade gameplay experience as there is nothing more you have to do other than slaughter the brain-dead, eat food and survive for as long as you can. It’s very fun but also limiting at times due to the fact that you have to constantly eat but as a whole, a whole lot more enjoyable than Overtime Mode. A nice selection overall but a little bit more variety or multiplayer mode could have helped the game tremendously. Instead however you will have to work with what you’ve got, which isn’t that bad at all.
Story (2) & Game Modes (4) Rating: 6/10
2. GAMEPLAY & CONTROL
Controls are simple and efficient. You move around with the thumb sticks, attack & jump with the face buttons, and you get the point. There’s no messing around here, each button has at the most 2 functions and adapts well to the game’s pick up and play nature. So there’s no problem with the controls at all and players should encounter no tricky situations that are only made more problematic by the dodgy control structure.
Dead Rising’s core gameplay is relatively simple and extremely fun all at the same time. The gameplay I’m talking about of course being the act of chopping up zombies, lots of times, over and over again in as many ways as possible. So if that last sentence got your attention then you certainly won’t be disappointed as Dead Rising just about covers that area with a fine tooth comb, making it one of the best zombie-hacking gameplay experiences of all time. What makes it truly brilliant though is the variety of ways in which you can carry out such a simple activity. Everything from motorcycles, cars, shotguns, bowling balls, benches, baseball bats and handbags can be used to get those meat-bags out your way, and it really is just great fun.
Alongside that you have a few more traditional elements to play around with including a levelling up system, special skills that come with higher levels and photography, all of which are linked with each other. In order to level up you will have to take good photographs, kill enemies and psychopaths (boss-like enemies) and be creative with weapons. All of the above work well and lend themselves greatly to the game, offering a break from the sometimes repetitive missions and ‘hack and slash’.
This brings me onto the games more disappointing areas. First of all the natures of the game’s missions are very repetitive and shallow. Usually they will consist of defeating a psychopath, getting to certain area in the mall or rescuing survivors. All of which are great and very enjoyable at first (well, except rescuing survivors), but after the 10 or 15 time of doing so, things can start to wear thin and you may begin to wish someone could have come up with something a little more creative or new. What’s even more frustrating however is the strict time slots in which you must begin missions in, lest they disappear forever. What this means is that you will be informed of a mission and have 3 game hours to get there and initiate (sometimes complete) it. It’s fair enough terms on its own yes, but coupled with maybe 3 or 4 other missions which are needing to be done in around the same allotted time and you may run into problems that cause a little bit of frustration and constant reloading. Add to this the already infamous ‘one save slot’ feature and indeed and the fact that you can’t load a saved game unless you reboot the game to the start menu and you may end up loosing quite a few of those hairs on your head.
Gameplay & Control Rating: 8/10
3. GRAPHICS AND DESIGN
Graphics in the game are for the most part extremely impressive. Character models all look sharp and heavily detailed, with zombies themselves looking very… dead, and with plenty of varied models scattered throughout the mall too. Visual effects such as blood spraying everywhere, explosions limbs flying off and stains on character clothing all add an extra dimension of ‘realism’ to the game and of course look great. Dead Rising also offers a huge amount of NPCs on screen at one time, and for the most part the frame rate stays steady. There were times on the other hand, when the game did slow down (once close to stopping altogether) but to be honest, it didn’t happen all that often, which is impressive. Environments also look fantastic, along with extra clothing, the vast array of weaponry and vehicles. One problem I should point out however is that if you have a standard definition television set, you might want to invest in a magnifying glass of some sort because the subtitles will have you squinting your eyes for most of the time they show themselves.
Graphics & Design Rating: 9/10
Dead Rising’s sound is essentially hit and miss. On the one hand you have a marvellous cast full of fantastic actors who really nail down the kind of performance you’d generally hear in your typical run of the mill zombie flick, which is great. Each main character in the game does have their own things to say every now and again and even though it is of a high standard, there just isn’t enough of it. Instead you will be treated to the subtitles which are going to be a real pain if you have a standard television set. I really feel that a whole lot more depth could have been added to the game’s story had there been a lot more vocal tracks but importunely it’s not the case and as a whole, the sound department and the whole game suffers as a result. A redeeming factor for the sound effect department is the great variety of weapon sounds for each one, well maybe there’s the odd sound duplicated here and there but there is a lot and each one sounds just as it should. As for music, well that’s just about the same. Music in Dead Rising isn’t your typical game music that plays anonymously from some unknown origin, instead every piece as far as I know will emit from the mall itself. Yes that’s right, most of the music I mall music. So even though all of it sounds extremely authentic and does add a whole lot to the realism, it’s ultimately boring but then again, there are always custom soundtracks.
Sound Rating: 8/10
Dead Rising works on a time system itself where 1 game hour is approximately 15 real-time minutes. So taking that the main game mode lasts 72 game hours, you can expect at least 18 hours of gameplay and that’s if you don’t die and have to restart from a millennia ago, which is highly unlikely. It took me around 21 hours to complete 72 hour mode, then a further 7 hours for overtime mode. As far as replay value goes, there’s quite a lot to offer here as you more than likely won’t get the most out of the game on your first play through. Then there’s infinite mode which challenges you to get through 7 game days (42 real-time hours) but unfortunately I think most people out there don’t have the time or the patience to do such a thing, but it is on offer and must be taken into consideration. As a whole I’d day there’s a good 80 hours on offer in the game on average so you’ll more than likely get your moneys worth.
Lifeline Rating: 8/10
6. DIFFICULTY BALANCE
The balance in Dead Rising is fairly erratic and can be very annoying at times. This essentially comes down to three things: the single save feature; the random difficulty of side-quest psychotics and the fact that zombies gets stronger at night and almost double in number. So instead of a clear progression of difficulty from start to the beginning, the game jumps around a lot meaning you’ll be caught off guard a lot and have to restart from your last save point, which happened to be when dinosaurs roamed the earth… not really, it was a joke. To be fair though, things are never too easy nor are they too hard (with the exception of the final boss who will take a few tries unless you’re built like the terminator) and things do pick up in difficulty as you go along as long as you stick only to the main objectives.
Difficulty Balance Score: 6/10
Dead Rising is a pretty original game, there’s doubt about it. Sure there’s quite a selection of zombie games out there but none offer the same gameplay nor are they as open-ended as this one right here. On the other hand however the story is about as original as a tuna sandwich and we’ve all played an action role-playing game before but the fact is: Dead Rising lets you beat zombies to death with handbags and frying pans, bottom line.
Originality Score: 8/10
Saying that Dead Rising is one of the most enjoyable games to come out in 2006 is like saying Nintendogs was one of the worst, it’s simply 100% true. Although the game does its moments where the save system will make you curse unrelentingly at the television, as I’ve mentioned time and time again throughout this review, the game’s main source of entertainment simply comes from surviving in a mall full zombies and a couple hundred shops full of weapons. Completing the game and going through the story is also fun, but we all know why we’ll be coming back to Dead Rising, and it probably won’t be to rescue some whiny shop assistants.
Enjoyment Score: 9/10
Story & Game Modes: 6
Gameplay & Control: 8
FINAL SCORE: 7.8/10
XGD RATING: 8/10
Even though the game does have its problems you just can’t miss out on this opportunity to play a more than decent zombie game with some of the most entertaining and enjoyable gameplay on the Xbox 360 to date. Don’t get this game if you want a solid story resembling Capcom’s other franchise, instead if you just want to vent out some frustration on some living dead and be treated to a very nice looking and sounding experience, then by all means go ahead and buy Dead Rising. If not, then it deserves at least a rent, you’ll more than likely not regret it.
Written Entirely by Jamie Robert Ward for XGD.com