Typical scenario. I'm two steps from death, bleeding and broken. I've been backed into a corner by an infinite army of the undead, cowering in a maintenance room with nothing but a half empty shotgun, a traffic cone, and a can of spray paint for company. My daughter (A rare example of a likeable video game child) Is huddled in a safe room and needs her medicine in the next 15 minutes or she's going to go zombie on me. There is a psychopath holding a woman hostage on the other side of the courtyard who needs rescuing, but doing that and getting back to my daughter in time is going to be risky at best. Weak and lacking equipment, I've found myself in an difficult situation, what do I do?
Dead Rising is all about time management. I mean, sure, it's about bludgeoning zombies in the face with a rake as well, but for a lot of the game, success and failure revolve around being able to set things up so you are in the right place at the right time. Ex motocross champion Chuck Greene has a lot on his plate. He's got his sick daughter to take care of, a grand conspiracy to unravel to find the truth behind the zombie invasion of Fortune City, and a gaggle of civilians trapped in the city that need rescuing, and Chuck has to do it all, as well as hold out for 3 days until the military arrive to rescue him.
Interestingly all this happens in accelerated real time, and more than that, the plot runs to a schedule. Where another game might have timed sections, Dead rising is constantly timed. At no point does the timer reset, there's nothing you can do to earn extra time. A mission will become available at a certain point in time, and if you can't get to it in time then it's gone forever. If the mission is plot critical then the plot ends there and then (The game continues however, and ignoring the plot and holding out for rescue is possible.)
Answering calls to rescue survivors or deal with psychopaths (brutally hard optional boss fights) nets you lots of XP (known as PP, or progression points in DR) for improving your zombie bashing skills, but it takes up valuable time that you may not have. Trying to rescue as many people as possible without losing track of the main quest is fun and challenging, and it's this balancing act that brings the real tension to the game, You don't want to abandon your mission, but neither do you wish to abandon other survivors. You can't let these people get torn apart by zombies and psychopaths! What kind of a person are you? (Not to mention the PP bonus for a rescue is enormous)
So yeah, I cant bear to sacrifice people. Option 1 is no option at all.
Option 2 then. Come out guns blazing. Rescue the hostage, bludgeon the psycho, be the god damn hero.
Problem. Guns blazing requires guns. I could come out swinging, but a traffic cone doesn't really make for a decent club, and spray paint isn't really a great distraction against he legions of undead. So what do we do? We improvise. In the maintenance room I'm cowering within lies a workbench. A workbench that allows me to combine items. Turns out that a traffic cone and a can of spray paint makes an air horn. An air horn that explodes zombie heads. Who knew?
The combo system replaces the photography based levelling of the original game Wandering the malls and Casinos of Fortune City will find Chuck full of armfuls of things he can bodge together with a little duct tape, and combo weapons are consistently brutal, imaginative, and hilarious. It's an enormous pleasure to play around and discover a new way to horribly maim the hapless dead, and the game rewards your efforts with buckets of PP
Even without combining the junk scattered around the city, you'll rarely find yourself yourself struggling to deal with the undead. Zombies swarm in intimidating hordes thousands strong, but ultimately are pretty soft, going down in a few hits. Staying clear of groups will protect you from the worst of the bites and grabs, and it's the pressure of the time limit forcing you to take risky routes or fighting without health or weapons that get you into trouble. Still, since I'm planning on taking out the psycho this time, I can spare a couple of minutes arming myself. Blades from a kitchen, a sledgehammer from a hardware shop, and a couple of slices of cake for health, and I'm ready to face this guy.
30 embarassing seconds later, and I crumple in a heap. Reload. Die horribly. Reload. Die horribly. Good grief.
Dead Rising has ridiculous bosses. Enormous health sponge bosses. Lacking any kind of zombie mutations or supernatural powers to explain their impossible resilience, they quickly become frustrating. This would be more tolerable if things were consistent, but instead weapons damages frequently seem entirely arbitrary. An enormous jack hammer modified with a brutal spear might lose out to a simple machete, and most firearms only do the most cursory damage.
Coming from cleaving a swath through the easy hordes of zombies, it's something of a shock, and I wouldn't be surprised if the nature of the bosses turned more than a few people away from the game.
However, eventually, after a harrowing, drawn out slugging match, he falls. Hostage rescued! To the safe room!
Escorting in most games is famously frustrating, and it was never more so than in the first Dead Rising, notorious for idiotic NPC allies who lagged behind and got themselves mobbed by zombies. That's no longer the case here. Survivors follow much more aggressively, and if given a weapon will fend for themselves admirably. Personally I think that that the game goes just a little too far in making them self sufficient, making the escorting of survivors something of a breeze. That is, until you meet an increasing amount of survivors later in the game who need to be carried after an injury, or who require a sequence of bizarre requests fulfilled before they will return with you to safety. This can occasionally be frustrating. I battled through a sea of zombies to get to you, and you send me on a Fed ex quest? Thanks a lot guy.
No such problems with this one, however, but it's clear that the fight has taken too much time. No matter how fast we go, how efficient the route, we aren't going to make it in time for the mission. I've failed.
Option 3. Quit out and restart.
That's a valid option in Dead Rising, hell, sometimes it seems like it's required. Your first run through the game will likely be an exercise in frustration. Lacking information on the order of events, you'll bumble around, your slow movement speed, limited health, and tiny inventory crippling your attempts to progress the plot beyond the first few hours of the game. Fortunately then that it's fun to simply bash zombies in the face for a while, but the fact remains that you are very likely to get stuck, missing loads of side missions and struggling desperately against the rock solid bosses.
So you restart, and another unusual design shows itself. Every game is New Game Plus. You can always carry your level and money to a new game. Combined with the experience you've gained from playing it through, and you'll find everything slots together in a much neater way. And then you get stuck again, and another restart.
By the time I finished the game I had probably restarted around 3 times. I'm absolutely sure I could have done it with less if I was willing to abandon most of the survivors and side missions. Thing is, I'm not, and so every play through the game saw the experience expand, more survivors rescued,, more efficient, more places visited, more free time to experiment with the weapon creation and the various mini games. Ultimately I enjoyed it. It's satisfying and compelling to fail, train up, and crush the challenge on your next try, but at the same time there's a nagging doubt that I am enjoying busywork, that you shouldn't be struggling to complete the game just because you haven't ground your level up. I get the feeling that making the starting character a little tougher and faster would balance this out a little. Ultimately it didn't stop me from enjoying the game, but it might well stop you. Be warned.
Something that else that might stop you are the technical issues. Dead Rising was, as an early Xbox title, a stunning game. Four years later we have a title that manages to look and perform worse than the original. Performance is extremely variable on both Xbox and PS3, with frame rates taking a tumble into the low teens at times. This seems even less acceptable when you consider the fairly rudimentary graphics. The world looks decent as a function of strong art direction, but it wont stop you noticing that texture and lighting detail are average, and some of the effects (In particular the ever present blood splashed over Chuck) look terrible. There are certainly an amazing amount of zombies on screen at a given time, but I'm not sure that's enough to warrant the performance trade off. If you have the option, consider getting the PC version over the console versions, as it's a very solid port and runs well.
The rest of the presentation is interesting. The plot is driven by a selection of fairly serious characters, playing things mostly straight amidst a horde of bizarre happenings. There's a strong absurd streak running through Dead Rising, and it's an entirely welcome change from the more serious horror games on the market. It's a shame then that a lot of the characters you meet are voiced only in text, outside of the few stock phrases that they shout. It's a strange carry over from the first game that seems out of place and makes the game come across as rather cheap when it really shouldn't.
But that's entirely typical of Dead Rising. Really. I can't emphasis strongly enough that when Dead Rising is going well it's an enormous amount of fun. Charging around the mall, running against the clock and bashing in zombie faces is brilliant, but some of the other design choices are questionable, and for a lot of people they will be too much. For me? I think they knock off, ooh, shall we say 3 points?