Flashback: Dead Rising

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 13 - 2009

dead_risingJust a couple of days ago I wrote about my excitement for the upcoming Dead Rising 2 and my love for the Xbox 360 original. As it turns out, I reviewed Dead Rising for my college paper and I thought I’d share that review with you all, since I am typically lazy on Fridays. Plus, I think I am going to play through some of it again this weekend and next week, which will probably mean some new thoughts I’ll want to share on it. In turn, that means it might be useful for you all to have the original review to provide context. These days you can get the game for $20 or less, so if you have an box 360, love zombies and somehow missed it, click through and read my review, then rush out and buy the thing. You will thank me.

Dreaming.

I think I must be dreaming, because here I am again, surrounded by hordes of the undead, fighting for my very life. It’s a dream I’ve had over and over for the past 10 years, the near-hopeless fight against an implacable foe, hungry for my flesh. There’s little fear, but considerable despair – how can I fight so many of them? Is there any escape?

But now, instead of waking up to ask myself why I keep having this dream, I find myself holding a controller, playing what is, quite literally, the game of my dreams – Dead Rising. Obviously, Capcom producer Keiji Inafune shares my dream, because he’s made it a reality – a virtual reality, anyway – bringing it to life in glorious high-definition video and surround sound on the Xbox 360.

If Inafune isn’t having the same dreams I do, he at least shares my love of classic zombie movies, most notably George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Inafune’s Dead Rising shares the same shopping mall setting as that movie and offers numerous other nods to Romero’s work, such as a multiracial supporting cast and a healthy dose of social commentary mixed in with the unending battle against the living dead. Romero’s films tackled issues such as racism, class warfare and the empty pursuit of material wealth, while Inafune’s storyline casts a questioning eye on America’s exploitation of the third world, excessive government secrecy, environmental degradation and, of course, the empty pursuit of material wealth – it is set in a shopping mall, after all. Luckily, Inafune learned the most important message of all from Romero’s work – never let your message get in the way of a gory good time.

This is a video game, after all. If it isn’t fun to play, it serves no purpose. Luckily, Dead Rising is an absolute blast to play. Inafune has managed to wring incredible technical achievements from Microsoft’s new console, putting dozens, even hundreds of detailed enemies on the screen simultaneously. The sheer numbers of zombies on screen brings home the true horror of the zombie apocalypse. In small numbers, zombies aren’t really that scary. They’re slow, stupid and clumsy. Facing hundreds and hundreds of them, isolated and cut off from the basic necessities of life, is a different story altogether. That’s the story Dead Rising tells so well.

The game casts players as photojournalist Frank West, out for the biggest scoop of his life. Dropped off via helicopter into the mall of a sleepy Colorado town, West begins to unravel a story of a terrorist’s revenge for government research gone awry. To survive and get the story, players have to guide Frank through the most harrowing shopping experiences of all time. As if the zombies themselves weren’t enough trouble, the game throws a nice variety of other challenges at players. These range from bizarre cultists to escaped convicts, from ruthless survivalists loathe to share precious resources to normal folks driven mad by the horror they face. The variety in enemies is nice but the game wisely never strays far from its core attraction: killing zombies in every imaginable way, and many ways I’d never dreamt of before playing it.

Frank is handy enough with a shotgun or hunting knife, but if those are in short supply he’s just as apt to pick up a bowling ball or television to bludgeon his zombified assailants. Making his way into a hardware store yields rich returns ranging from the obvious to the awesomely inspired. A lead pipe gets the job done, but it’s nowhere near as fun as the excavator, a giant drill that impales zombies and spins their corpses, flinging buckets of blood, viscera and stray body parts. Nearly everything to be found can be used as a weapon and there’s a great deal of enjoyment in just discovering how many ways a zombie can be killed – or humiliated. Traffic cones and novelty masks can be placed on the creatures’ heads, sending them stumbling around blind, or they can be lured into a strategically placed pool of cooking oil for zombie pratfalls. There’s even a point to all this, as Frank can snap pictures of these hijinks that earn him Prestige Points, which add up to new abilities, stronger attacks and the ability to take more damage before dying. Frank also gets points for particularly horrific, violent or “erotic” shots (what’s erotic about an upskirt photo of a zombie?), as well as for certain predetermined events. Points are also earned for killing lots of zombies and particularly gruesome deaths such as decapitations.

In case it isn’t already obvious, Dead Rising is not suitable for children or the squeamish. This is a game that earns its Mature rating. A sledgehammer blow to the head of a zombie results in truly impressive gouts of blood, and running over a few dozen of the restless dead with a lawnmower is messy, to say the least. The violence may be presented in a comedic way, but there’s a lot of it and it is explicitly gory.

Inafune has created something of a gaming masterpiece with Dead Rising. Sure, it has its flaws, notably a frustrating save system and a few overly-difficult missions. Those flaws pale in comparison to the technical achievement, excellent writing and acting and, most important, absolutely killer gameplay. Zombies are probably the second most popular video game enemy (after Nazis) of all time, and Inafune has created what should be recognized as the best zombie game ever made. My zombie dream was the last one I would have ever hoped to come true, but now that it has, I couldn’t be happier.

This review originally appeared in The Metropolitan, the college newspaper of Metropolitan State College of Denver. It can be found in its original context here.

5 Responses to “Flashback: Dead Rising

  1. […] post by The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse […]

  2. […] a gamerpic, play one of the featured games (including two of my absolute all-time zombie favorites Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead) or watch one of the featured movies (some great choices such as Shaun of the Dead […]

  3. […] original Dead Rising was probably my favorite zombie game ever (admittedly, Left 4 Dead is rapidly gaining on it…) and one of my favorite games, period. I […]

  4. […] action RPG Dead Rising is coming to Xbox Live’s Games on Demand service January 26. Read my review of it here, and play it already if you’ve somehow missed out so far. […]

  5. […] looks like Dead Rising, one of my favorite zombie games of all time (review here), is set to become a  live-action movie directed and co-written by Keiji Inafune, the same man […]

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