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LTTP: Dead Rising

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LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for us to catch up and write about games we missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.

After the honeymoon weeks with the original Gears of War back in November of 2006, I began looking through the Xbox Live! Marketplace for some new demos. Capcom’s Dead Rising was the first demo I gravitated towards. It reviewed well, but at the time I just didn’t get it and thought it lacked substance. Two years later and I still didn’t get it! For the first few hours, I felt disoriented, lost and clumsy – nothing was working the way I expected. Despite all of that, I managed to complete the game and even enjoyed it. Hell, I even put off starting Fable II to finish the game properly.

The game starts with a freelance reporter named Frank West being flown into the town of Willamette, Colorado where “something” was going down. Frank quickly learns that the town has been overtaken by zombies and that the survivors have barricaded themselves inside a mall. Frank is dropped off on the mall’s roof, but not before instructing his helicopter pilot to pick him up in three day’s time.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Frank’s mission.

Use the next 72 hours to get his scoop, survive and get back onto the roof to meet the helicopter. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s a familiar premise and one that, surprisingly, hasn’t been done in a videogame. However, understanding the premise is one thing, but understanding how it all works is another.

Frank’s 72 hours was segmented into mandatory events called cases. I had to engage in every one of these mandatory cases and complete them within the allotted time or else the game would abruptly end. This concept, especially completing the case before the time expires, was not clearly documented anywhere. So when I defeated Isabella, watched her ride away on her motorcycle and was greeted with what was essentially a game over screen – I was puzzled to say the least. Thank goodness for GameFAQs for clarification.

Third person action games have come a long way since Dead Rising; especially in the controls department. It took me a few hours before I was accustomed to how Frank moved and reacted to everything. You would think shooting a zombie would be easier than slicing them with a knife, but that is not the case with Dead Rising due to the inability to properly run n’ gun. It’s reminiscent of Resident Evil and disappointing in a game where mobility is such a critical factor.

The zombies are everywhere and scattered throughout the entire mall are survivors which Frank will be tipped on. The survivors are completely optional and for a majority of the time, leading them back to the safety of the security room is an exercise in frustration. The zombies are understandably dumb, but these survivors are simply useless without Frank clearing the path for them. It’s actually easier to rescue an injured survivor than a healthy one since Frank could carry the injured ones on his back.

So what’s the incentive for rescuing the survivors? Prestige Points. These points serve as Dead Rising’s experience which enables Frank to learn new skills and improve statistics. This minor RPG element is a nice addition, but feels random and arbitrary since I couldn’t choose which stat or skill to learn. I tried to save everyone in Dead Rising, but that quickly degenerated to me simply meeting every survivor for a portion of the Prestige Points. Yes, successfully helping the survivors back to the security room would have given me more experience, but that was quite the difficult task considering Frank’s initial stats and abilities.

The past two years have been kind to Dead Rising. It’s not going to win any “Best Looking Game of 2008” awards, but Dead Rising isn’t an eye sore. On average, having dozens upon dozens of zombies on screen doesn’t even show signs of slowdown and to me that’s impressive. I could describe Dead Rising’s technical work as competent, but the level of interactivity with environment puts many other games to shame – that deserves a lot of praise. Everything from potted plants, benches, brooms, cans to stuffed teddy bears can be used as weapon. Not all of them were equally effective and having the weapons break after a finite number of uses was a bit of a downer, but it did promote creative use of the environment. It’s also worth noting that you didn’t need to horde the good weapons since every area of the mall was recreated with items intact after every load screen. A point of abuse? Definitely considering load screens were quite frequent.

I was ready to call it quits on Dead Rising after the first two real world hours. I was all set to put it on the trading block, but as I invested more time and began to learn how the game flowed and operated — it began to fall into place and grow on me. By the end of the second ending (yes, Dead Rising has two of them), I was entertaining the idea of going back and starting a new game plus with Frank’s beefed up stats. If this wasn’t an already crowded holiday gaming season, I would have. In many ways, I found Dead Rising to be an accurate zombie survival simulator. People are stupid and only slow you down. Effective time management is the key to the success. Resource management and creativity goes a long way. But, when I’ve cleared an area’s worth of zombies, turn the corner and decide to walk back to find the zombies had returned in full numbers: I am grounded by gaming reality once again.

Worth A Try

Check our Ratings Guide

For more information on Dead Rising, visit the official website.

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