CAPCOM are known for their fun, inventive and quirky titles as well as their various hit franchies. Devil May Cry springs to mind and of course the king of the zombie genre: Resident Evil. So when we heard that there was a new zombie game on the horizon for the 360 that wasn't part of this franchise we were interested to see what it would be like.
Enter: Dead Rising.
Throwing the traditional RE style of gameplay out of the window Dead Rising bursts onto the 360 with a blood soaked bang.
A small sleepy town of several thousand individuals interests a freelance journalist, Frank West. West hires a chopper pilot to take him up and over the obvious military blockade and into the no-fly zone, what he expects to find is a case of civil unrest and a big scoop.
What he finds is that the town of Willamette has been turned into a zombie infested play-pen and the dead are literally rising in droves. Frank is forced to head to the roof of a local mall to check out the scoop and has 72 hours before the chopper pilot returns to pick him up.
Right from the start you're against the clock in Dead Rising, the timer's ticking and you have 72 hours to get the scoop of a lifetime. The game is played from a third person view and is a hybrid of action/adventure and even features a little slice of RPG-style character levelling.
Frank begins with very little in the way of combat skill and must battle hordes of the undead to find out the truth behind the game's schlock-horror conspiracy story. As you complete tasks (scoops) in Dead Rising, rescue survivors and take photographs you earn Prestige Points (PP) that are akin to experience in most RPG's.
From slaying hundreds and thousands of zombies to saving those people trapped in the mall, Franks PP will climb until he levels up and gains a random ability boost. This could be to any one of his statistics such as life, throw, and stock or even a skill upgrade (of which there are quite a few).
As Frank powers up he can battle the dead more effectively, he learns to walk on the backs of the zombies rather like crowd surfing and even gains wrestling moves allowing him to pull of their heads, smash them into the floor suplex style.
Frank is always armed with a camera, and taking inventive photographs is an excellent way to earn more PP. Snap the right shot (a pair of grateful survivors embracing for the first time) and you could earn up to 5,000 PP (even more if the shot's framed correctly).
As well as his camera Frank can take advantage of virtually every item in the mall, and there are hundreds of things to play around with. From a boomerang that comes back when thrown to a masonry drill that can be used to impale a zombie on the spinning end, Dead Rising is packed with inventive weapons to slay the undead hordes.
And when I say hordes, I mean hordes. There are hundreds and hundreds of zombies on screen at any one time and the game throws them at you in shambling pockets as well as tightly packed groups and wandering loners. The zombies are slow and stupid for the most part but don't be fooled by this, they can still catch you unawares as you try and get from place to place (the mall is bloody huge) following the story as it unfolds.
Since the game is played against the clock, time is an all important factor and your main story is broken down into cases. Each case has a number of sub-parts and they interlink to tell the whole story. If you want to see it unfold you must spend a lot of time running around the mall, checking your watch and making a note of the time that the next case either begins, or how long you've got to get where you are.
The watch can also be used to set a guide marker and this will give you a general idea of where to go.
If you miss a story segment or someone important dies, this can have varying effects on the main story, so it's not too much of a problem unless you want the best ending in the game. You will often be forced into choosing who lives and who dies as you're trying to get to your next case file and a survivor scoop shows up. All the survivors have varying motives - some might even decide that you're the threat and should be eliminated.
If you manage to escort people back to safety (in this case the security room of the mall) you'll get a massive PP boost and their undying gratitude.
The various sub scoops that show up as the 3 days pass, will be a mixture of people to rescue and Psychopaths to battle. These are an eclectic mix of bad guys that require some serious thought in some cases - you can't just go running in and expect to finish them off FPS style - you'll end up very dead, very quickly.
For example: There's a guy locked in a gun shop, he doesn't want to give up those guns and he's going to make someone dead if they try to take them. That someone ends up being you. These battles are time specific mostly and only occur at a certain time of day or night. The Psychopath in the gun shop is a brutal fellow and we died many times before we worked out the correct way to take him down, it was a frustrating battle but satisfying in the end because we figured it out.
The game uses just one save slot and you can only save in set places. A couch in the security room and any restroom in the mall will serve as save spots. If you die, you can reload the game and you'll be back in the last place you saved. This could be a frustrating feature since most people like to use multi save slots, like me. However I can respect and understand why the developers chose this route.
If you find that things are too tough the first time around, you can also restart the main story and Frank will keep his level and statistics. This helps a great deal especially if you forget to save and accidentally ruin the main storyline like I did. One of the surviving heroes died and the whole case file notebook went red. I attempted to get to a save spot but the masses of zombies took me down, Frank's first adventure ended in his death.
I didn't mention that this happened at night, when the zombies get faster and even more aggressive - oh joy.
You'll also find that a guy called Otis gives you a radio transceiver and this will be your primary source of contact for your scoops. Otis however doesn't really care that you're knee deep in zombie guts most of the time and he'll call you up even in the middle of a boss battle (we found this was the most irritating thing in Dead Rising) and longed to be able to put a shovel in the guy's head.
Scoops aside the rest of the game is focussed on action; it's not like RE, where it's thoughtful maiming of the undead and big mutant monsters. Dead Rising is a game that focuses upon the wholesale slaughter of the zombie menace via any means at your disposal. We had the following inventory stock of around 7 items during some point in the game.
1: Lead Pipe - this makes a great zombie smashing weapon; it lasts a good while and is fairly quick to use. Zombies don't like it when you smack them in the teeth with it.
2: Katana - for quick sushi-style chopping skills, the samurai's favourite weapon of choice carves a bloody swathe through the zombie hordes. It doesn't last too long so make the best of it.
3: Untouchable drink - more about drinks in a short while. Not only does it taste of pie and orange juice, it's also able to restore most of your health as well as stop the zombies from grappling you for a short duration.
4: Quickstep - Another drink that seems to double or triple Frank's foot boogie power.
5: Machine gun: One of the many weapons found later on in the game, careful conservation of ammo allows you to use this as a quick way to carve off chunks of a boss' health - or mow down quite a few zombies.
6: A queen - Without spoiling the plot, zombie smart bomb, say no more.
7: Shotgun - A wider spread makes this weapon good to blast a clear path through the undead.
There are weapons that can't be held in your inventory, like the big drill, the parasol and the chainsaw. There's a lawn mower and even a toy laser sword (this doesn't make a good weapon at all, but its fun).
There are other non lethal items, books that whilst in your inventory will give you certain bonuses and various food stuffs that can be consumed. If you can find a blender you can mix food stuffs to create special bonus drinks, some of these drinks will have a strange and bizarre effect, and others will give you a definite bonus. Such as the formerly mentioned Untouchable drink (pie and OJ) for example.
As a general rule of thumb, if it has a small icon next to it, then it can be picked up, interacted with or used in some way, shape or form. It's up to you to find out what each and every item in the mall does, some like the shopping trolley have to be pushed with X to keep them going. But if you press A then Frank will boot the trolley at the nearest group of zombies.
There are also costumes that you can wear and novelty hats and certain items that will impede the zombies' teeth. Ramming a coat hanger into their mouth stops them from biting you and can provide a comedy shot if you're quick enough with the camera.
Put a lego-man style head on a zombie and watch it bumble around completely blind and unable to do anything. Get a group of these and you can take an amusing photo to earn a wad of PP.
Watch out for PP icons (little stickers) on various objects throughout the mall as well, these icons will show up with a small percent meter on your camera - take the right snap to earn a mega bonus of PP.
So there are a lot of things to keep you occupied in Dead Rising, especially in terms of exploration and discovery. Most of the best weapons and items are in other areas of the mall and the story takes you to some of these places but to find the other items, you're going to have to either wait for a break in the story or use the time to just explore.
Frank can arm any survivors he meets by giving them his equipped weapon, be careful as some of these people are just out to get what they want from you and if you give them a gun, you might end up as the target. Mostly they're just pleased to see you and will be grateful if you get them out of their sticky situation, they can be ordered to follow you or given a command to head to and guard a location.
Useful if you have given them a gun, they'll fend off any zombies that try to come near.
We've talked a little about the gameplay style, now onto the controls. I felt that the control scheme and camera could have used a little tweaking. The major annoyance I have is that if you pull the right trigger to aim a gun, you move the gun with the left thumb stick.
If you pull the left trigger to aim the camera, you move the camera with the right thumb stick. This confused me at first but once I'd gotten used to it - it became second nature.
Weapon cycle is on the left and right shoulder buttons, attacks are performed by using X and either tapping it or holding it in. Various fighting game style combinations trigger Frank's ever expanding arsenal of hand to hand attacks and can deal various amounts of damage to the dead.
There's the map, Frank's watch (where you can get a handle on scoops) and the D-pad controls the answering of Otis' annoying transmissions, as well as dropping or placing items on the ground.
The game has an auto aim but the closer a zombie is to you, the auto aim suffers, especially with a gun. So it's best to use manual aim with the right trigger.
The 360 churns out hordes of undead without blinking, sometimes there's the odd frame rate drop when you're ploughing through the zombies in a car and there's lots of explosions (usually caused by zombies walking around with fuel canisters on little wheeled trolleys) - there's a lot going on however and it can be forgiven in that respect.
There are hundreds of zombies on screen at once and you'll be knee deep in shambling corpses in no time, Frank can rack up an impressive kill count in just a few minutes of exploration even at the earlier stages of the game, expect to see thousands of the dead made even deader. The game has dynamic light/shadow effects, time passes and as night draws closer the zombie eyes begin to take on a shade of glowing red.
There's something about being in the dark in this game that's truly disturbing as you can see all of the nice little touches like this. The textures in Dead Rising are great, the palette is a vibrant one and it's captured with an artistic flair that puts RE to shame on the Gamecube.
It doesn't cut back on the blood either; bits of viscera fly everywhere as you mow down the zombie menace. Frank gets covered in gallons of the red stuff (which fades quickly) and zombies leave trails of blood around as they walk through fresh claret. It reminds me of the first time I saw a Half Life Deathmatch and the walls were splattered like an abattoir.
The level of detail on Frank and the survivors is excellent, as well as the zombies, each one is unique in some way and they don't tend to all look the same. The various injuries really would make the Godfather of the zombie genre (George.A.Romero) proud.
The story scenes are all told using the in-game engine and are realised with crisp visuals and excellent direction/camera work.
The animation in Dead Rising is top notch, the zombies are excellently animated as well as the main characters, they move in a fairly lifelike manner and the level of detail on their faces/facial expression is impressive.
As well as the excellent amount of detail in the game, the models have all been realised to a suitable level of detail as well. The various bad guys such as the Psychopaths, all have a unique look to them as well as a unique design, especially Adam - the Clown.
The mall loads in chunks, not surprising really considering it's a massive place. Each area is suitably large with enough secrets and little hidden bonuses to keep the explorer in you happy. The actual design of the mall is a definite homage to the one seen in Romero's movie. You will get to see quite a lot of the mall if you follow the main storyline, of course you won't see it all unless you go off wandering and explore.
The mall is well designed and there's a nice level of interconnectivity between the various sections, as well as inside the mall itself - each floor has stairs and even a few inside the shops, you'll need to memorise and effective route since the zombie menace congregates in certain areas more than others depending on the time of day and the time that's passed in general.
The AI in Dead Rising is a mixed bag. You can forgive the zombies for being dumb as walking undead rocks, but the survivors have a really weird AI that tends to cause a lot of problems when you're trying to escort them. Now this happens to be something you'll be doing a lot, to earn a lot of PP and level up Frank.
You don't want the AI for the survivors blasting you in the back every five seconds with a shotgun, or using an area effect weapon like a sledgehammer to clear their path. If you give them there weapons, they'll use them on the zombies and you. Some of the time they don't mean to use the weapons on you, but they don't care if you get in the way of a spread-shot of lead for example.
There are various AI systems at work, the survivors all have different temperaments and desires - they all have different survival mechanisms, but they can get caught on scenery and in some cases they'll go nuts and wade into a massive group of zombies off to one side when there's a perfectly clear path for them to go through the middle - here's it is useful to learn how to set a waypoint with the aim trigger and Y.
There are times as well when you have no control over the AI you're meant to be escorting, they'll run ahead and often if you're not on the ball, they'll get themselves killed and you'll fail the scoop. This is frustrating if you've actually spent precious hours doing the scoop and only have a few minutes to get to the next case start or point.
I feel that the AI could have been a lot better.
The audio department of Dead Rising certainly doesn't skimp at all. It's packed with zombie moans, groans, sounds of destruction and violence along with the odd spot effect or two depending where you are in the mall. The rev of the chainsaw is a particularly gruesome sound as well as a satisfying one and there's much amusement to be had by listening to the clang of a well paced shovel.
The music to Dead Rising shifts through the traditional horror style instrumental pieces, to rip roaring hard metal style tunes in the various boss battles. There's even the obligatory mall music that plays in the background.
The voices have come a long way since the days of RE and 'Take this Jill, it's a lock pick'. The voice acting in Dead Rising is great with a genuinely rough personality for Frank West, he's likeable enough but still arrogant and a typical journalist after his big scoop with little care for anyone else. It's obvious that the voice talent in the game is something special with some truly twisted performances from the voice actors, Adam the Clown being one of my all time favourites.
The talent is taken from the world of video games as well as cartoons, and it is top notch. There are no duff performances at all.
Dead Rising is a game that will take more than one play-through to get the secrets, there are plenty of achievements linked in with escorting survivors and some of them like Frank the Pimp require you to escort 8 or so female survivors at once, a task that's not made any easier by the strange and quirky AI.
You can unlock a new mode of gameplay when you complete the game on Overtime mode (where you can get the true ending - there are several endings to get as well) and this game mode is called Infinity mode, it's a survival mode where you can try and last as long as possible in the mall.
The downside is that you lose a health block every minute and you have to plan your route carefully through the mall. There's also no saving allowed as far as I can tell, so you have to have a good chunk of game time to be able to indulge in this mode.
It is zombie slaying fun at its highest however with thousands of zombies to slaughter in inventive ways; there are various combinations that will yield better results than others and plenty of secrets that will make the game easier if you can find them. You can get 2,000 PP just from putting a frying pan on a stove, this allows you to not only use the pan as a swung weapon, but to also press it into the faces of the zombies for that extra amusing 'hiss' of satisfaction.
Dead Rising does what it says on the tin and opens up a new franchise for CAPCOM - what the sequel will bring, is unknown, but for now there's no finer zombie masher out there until Dead Rising 2.
There is no multiplayer on the game but it is LIVE aware and you can compete for the longest time survived online. Rankings are uploaded to the global hall of fame and you can see who's amassed the most PP and survived the longest in Infinity mode.
As an aside: I hope they put in multiplayer for a sequel though, that would be a seriously fun feature across LIVE, coop survival in a mall full of zombies where you could help other survivors out.
I seem to remember something similar on the PS2, but it didn't take off.
Now writing this review has made me want to go and play the game again, so I'll be slaying zombies for the rest of the day. Wolf out.