Game Review: Dead Rising

I’ve never been too in love with sandbox games, as I found that the ability to do everything came at the price of not actually being able to do everything. The games were usually too busy with pointless sidequests, sporting a barebones, lackluster story that was trying not to motivate you too hard with hope that the player defines his own experience. Like the horror movie, however, all things are remedied once you throw zombies into the fray. It is the simplistic endeavors of the undead coupled with the dark humor and powerful motivation that makes Dead Rising a success.

True to its sandbox style, Dead Rising’s hero is an everyman: Frank West. He is a freelance photojournalist whose career rests on covering wars and atrocities. (Yes, he’s covered wars.) This defines a slight sense of helplessness while giving him a reason not to be one of the frightened populous of zombie infected Wilamette, CO. His role fits in well with the story: you jump hap hazardously into the center of town – the Wilamette Parkview Mall – to discover the truth within three days.

As a character, Frank is incredibly diverse – or at least as diverse as the hero of a zombie game would allow to be. On the onset, he’s a bit cocky and self-centered. However, unlike to the effect of most typical game heroes, Frank comes off dorky and goofy when he attempts to be remotely cool. He doesn’t spew one-liners at every corner, but he’s not one to be spoken down to. However, true to fashion of all memorable and classic video game heroes, his actions speak loudest.

As you begin the game, the story is presented to you immediately – you cannot progress very far into the mall without activating key story points. However, once you’re actually in the mall, whether you want to continue the story is entirely up to you. The game will present you with two types of missions: case files and scoops. While neither are necessary to actually complete the game, the case files are your main storyline. Your ending rests on being able to complete the case files.

While many say that the game’s one save-per-device system is punishing, this is only apparent during challenge runs of the game, where you are trying to unlock some of the harder achievements or complete all of the game’s missions. If you’re just playing the game casually, it’s not at all that punishing. You have some freedom to wander and do side missions. This is also softened by the fact that a New Game + feature is available from the very beginning of the game. Finding it too difficult to survive at level 4 or 5? Play the game for a little bit, save where you’re stuck, and load a new game wit your leveled character to give yourself the edge. Frank doesn’t begin as a powerhouse, and while he’s never an unstoppable juggernaut, there’s a clear progression as he gains levels and he eventually achieves a proficient ability to stop and defend against the undead.

Throughout the course of the game, there are over 60 survivors in the mall. These extra survivors comprise the scopps, the game’s optional missions. Their locations will be revealed to you by an iconically annoying walkie-talkie transciever held by the equally iconically annoying mall security manager, Otis Washington. Each of these calls will provide information that will hint at what to expect when you meet these survivors and a timer showing you how much time you have before these survivors go missing and are presumed dead. It is your decision whether you want to – or are realistically able to – activate these missions. As you continue playing, you are not limited to which missions you are allowed to do, but it’s easy to see that in your lower levels you won’t be able to save everyone. This creates a real sense of moral deliberation: do you save the mother who just lost her child or the injured man? Even at higher levels, saving everybody possible is difficult, and you feel like a real zombie hero if you accomplish that.

While most of the survivors are friendly, about a dozen of these survivors are hostile. The hostile survivors of this game – the Psychopaths – comprise the game’s bosses. These bosses are staunchly memorable, whether they are so goofy it’s funny or their touching backstory will make a symphathetic note ring in your heart. Many of the psychopaths carry a unique weapon that is powerful, and in homage to Mega Man games, you can pick them up once they die. That’s not the only homage to the Mega Man games, but you’ll have to find out the rest yourself.

Of course, whether you want to do any of the above is entirely up to you. You are, after all, in a zombie-infested mall, and there’s plenty to do in the mall and with the zombies. The standard fanfare of generic guns can be found littered throughout the game, though of course the more effective weapons are much harder to come by. Of course, the more interesting weapons are the more creative ones, like using hedge trimmers to decaptitate zombies. The volume of ways to kill a zombie is impressive: you can throw dinner plates to bludgeon a zombie to death and you can even use a plastic discus to score a headshot. Does it sound strange on paper? Say it aloud: “I scored a headshot with a dinner plate.” If that doesn’t give you the giggles, I’m not sure what will. Let’s not forget that you can indulge yourself with a snazzy – or questionable, if that’s to your liking – new outfit, ride the kiddy ride, cook some food, mix juices, and a plethora of other closed-mall activities.

This game also gives you a number of nifty unlockables, including extended gameplay modes, bonus weapons, and extra costumes. If you want to unlock some of the better weapons and experience the most out of this game, you need to play through the story mode. While some of the tasks are menial chores, like killing the town’s population in zombies or surviving in the unlockable Infinity Mode, there’s always a way to find ways to make it entertaining.

What makes this game so wonderful is the fact that, aside from the above mentioned, most of the tasks in the game are enjoyable. If you’re going to play through the story and the side missions, there’s much to be done, and you’ll meet some colorful characters. If you’re just going to run around killing zombies or try and reach a high kill count, there’s plenty of entertaning and/or efficient ways to do that. Even after you’ve reached the maximum level for your character or cleared all achievements, you can still find reason to come back to this game because it’s fun. No matter what you decide to do, there’s a good chance you’ll find something to do with your time in Dead Rising.

~ Setsuna Setsunai

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