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    Dead Rising
    has always held a strange position in the pantheon of zombie games. With the legendary Keiji Inafune on as producer and Resident Evil already filling the role for Capcom of a traditional zombie horror series, it was free to experiment with the zombie genre. Inafune’s sensibilities led the game to emphasize humour and pursue the openness of a sandbox zombie game, making the zombies less horrifying monstrosities and more helpless playthings for you to mess with, though carelessness around a horde could still have deadly consequences. This tension creates the basic gameplay dynamic of the series at its best: there’s a world of possibilities to explore, but you’ve got to know when it’s okay to let loose and when to stay guarded.

    You play as Frank West, a photojournalist who hopes to make his career by uncovering why the National Guard has sealed off the town of Willamette, Colorado. Sneaking in on a helicopter, Frank is dropped off on the roof of the mall and tells his pilot to return in three days. Once inside, he quickly discovers that the town has been overrun with zombies and decides to use his time rescuing as many people as possible while pursuing the truth behind the outbreak.

    You may have been tipped off by the part above about sneaking in on a helicopter, but Dead Rising is not a game that takes its story particularly seriously. It gets by on a B-horror movie charm, anchored by a terrific comedic performance from T.J. Rotolo, who makes Frank the right balance of earnest everyman and over-confident wisecracker. Smartly, the game never indulges too deeply in its camp, showing enough restraint to leave a lingering doubt as to whether the schlock is intentional or not. The only exception to this is during the psychopath fights, boss battles against regular civilians who have snapped, which run the risk of going too broad but are spread out enough that they don’t become tiresome. None of it is super memorable, but it’s serviceable and has some fun moments along the way.

    Dead Rising 1.1.jpeg
    The humour that really lands comes naturally from exploring the world. As you might expect, the mall is littered with a litany of objects, only a handful of which are actually useful for fighting zombies. It’s important to remember the locations of the useful weapons, but in between you’ll be stringing yourself along with improvised tools that range from silly but effective (rolling a bowling ball and taking zombies out at the knees), to desperate but workable in a pinch (flinging CD cases at zombie’s heads), and completely absurd (a toy Mega Man Mega Buster that uselessly fires airsoft balls). There’s also a variety of outfits around the mall you can use to customize Frank’s appearance and several masks or helmets to throw on the zombies for added humiliation before you kill them. Using zombies as comedy props is nothing new, but Dead Rising combines that with the freedom of an open-world video game and there’s a lot of fun to be had seeing just what kind of weirdness the mall has been filled with.

    You’re further encouraged to create comic chaos through the photography system. Long before the era of dedicated share buttons, Dead Rising let its players capture their favourite moments with Frank’s camera. Whenever you take a picture, you’ll be granted experience based on a variety of factors, including brutality, horror, erotica and comedy. If you find a particularly big horde of zombies, a picture of it might grant you a lot of points, but you’d be wise to use whatever’s in the area to spice up the photo. Slap some anime headgear on the zombies or emphasize a scantily-clad female zombie and you’ll be rewarded for showing a side of the zombie apocalypse not often seen. If you really want to play Frank as an evil bastard, you can feed one of your fellow survivors to the horde to capture a live death on film. It forces you to change the way you look at the world and subtly encourages players who don’t enjoy making mayhem for mayhem’s sake to indulge in whatever inspiration strikes from the options provided by the mall.

    Dead Rising 2.1.jpg
    Dead Rising 2.2.jpg Dead Rising 2.3.jpg Dead Rising 2.4.jpg
    The Willamette Parkview Mall is a perfect video game setting. It’s a big enough sandbox that it gives you plenty to do without being overwhelming. Each section is quickly distinguishable from another because of their different layouts and colour schemes, and each is structured to affect your play style. The Al Fresca plaza is defined by its tight walkways and denser zombie concentration, forcing you to make frequent stops in stores for relief; the North plaza is still under construction, its scaffolding offering easy pathways to escape zombies, but fewer operating stores means fewer supplies. Not only does this reduce the monotony of exploring the mall, but it gives each area its own identity and makes them, and the way they connect to each other, more memorable.

    The fact that the map is so memorable is key to why Dead Rising works so well. Infamously, the entire game is on a strict timer, meaning both main missions and side quests will expire after a certain amount of time passes, regardless of if you’re in the middle of them or if you’re off slaughtering zombies at the opposite end of the mall. This creates a ton of pressure to complete things as efficiently as you can, and the possibilities in terms of transportation method and route give you a lot of options. The fact that I rarely, if ever, looked at the in-game map past the first couple hours of play meant that I could adapt my strategies on the fly. I understood the mechanics of each area well enough to know how long it would take to fight through an area, what supplies I could find there, or how hard it is to carry survivors safely through, all without having to grind the action to a halt to look at my map. It’s hard to overstate how immersive it is to know the map inside and out like that, to be able to navigate it like I would my own neighbourhood, and the wonders it does for speeding up the pace of the gameplay.

    Dead Rising 3.1.jpg
    Speaking of the survivors, they are, without a doubt, the biggest issue with Dead Rising. Survivors are controlled by a suicidally stupid AI that will stop randomly in the middle of hordes, get confused if you stray too far away and freeze up if you kill any zombies near them. The basic idea makes sense; these are scared, confused, ordinary people who need an extraordinary person to save them. But the execution nearly topples everything the game has going for it. Survivors can very easily get killed and depending on how committed you are to saving everyone (or, God forbid, if they’re mission critical), you can lose a lot of progress very quickly.

    This is only exacerbated by the save system. Save points are generally out of the way; you’re only prompted to save at the beginning of new story missions, there’s only one save slot, and there are no checkpoints, meaning when you die you have two options: go back to your last manual save or restart from the beginning, retaining your experience and unlocked abilities. This second option is an interesting way to mitigate the damage done by the cruelty of the save system, but ultimately feels like a lazy work-around, giving players an opportunity to advance without having to re-balance or fix the save system. The save system would be passable on its own, but combined with the punishing ineptitude of the AI it can be a bit much.

    Of course, if the timers and the buggy AI sound like too much of a restriction on your freedom, you don’t need to be bothered. There’s no penalty for ignoring side quests and even if you fail a story mission, you’re given the option of spending the rest of Frank’s three days in the mall doing whatever you please. Survivors and side quests will still appear if you want a bit of direction, but you’re also free to explore the mall and experiment with different weapons, and you’ll bring your earned experience into the next playthrough.

    Dead Rising 4.1.jpg
    A lot of these issues were addressed in Dead Rising 2. The AI is far more competent (a bit too competent, but it’s hard to complain about that given the disastrous AI that preceded it), the difficulty was toned down, and it offered two extra save slots to give a little more leniency. It’s probably a better game, objectively, than the first one, but it’s never held the same appeal to me. The writing is aggressively silly, casting a steely-eyed, no-nonsense single father as its protagonist and amping up the ridiculousness of the whole world around him. The idea was probably that it would be funny to see such a hard-faced man subjugated to the whims of the audience, but he already feels like such a cartoon character that there’s not much fun in making him look stupid. Frank West may not have had the strongest personality, but he always felt like a real person, which made it all the funnier to see him stop to snap a pic in the middle of a horde of zombies and bemoan that it wasn't a great shot, or wander through a cutscene dressed as Mega Man.

    Dead Rising 2’s map also isn’t as memorable as the original’s, either. Set in a Las Vegas-themed casino resort, too many of the areas play and look similarly to each other to stand out and you lose the immersion that made the Willamette Parkview Mall so smooth. Still, the games are usually bundled together on current-gen consoles so if you’re having trouble getting into the original, the sequel (or, even better, the Frank West-centric spin-off, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record) makes for a great alternative. That’s really the trouble with Dead Rising. It’s like a TV show that doesn’t get good until the second season; it does some truly unique things, but it’s so brutally unwelcoming to new players that it’s hard to argue when people get scared off.

    Dead Rising 5.1.jpg
    Some open-world games focus so much on creating a world that’s fun to explore and mess around in that they forget to create a compelling game to put in that world. If the only compelling thing to do in the game is goof off, it's easy to lose any sense of structure or progression and the whole thing starts to feel a little pointless. Dead Rising is so good because it's a tightly-constructed survival horror that can ratchet up the pressure when it needs to and provides the perfect tools to blow off steam in whatever way you want. It’s unfortunate that the best parts of the game are hidden behind such a steep learning curve, but if you can stick with it, there’s nothing else like it out there.



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    TAGS: Dead Rising
     
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  2. Discussion (24 replies)

  3. relauby

    OP relauby Contributor
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    This article was originally going to be a retrospective on the entire Dead Rising series, but I decided to cut it down to just the first game, mainly due to length concerns. Still, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the other games in the series, so I took what I had written and posted it on my blog. If you’re curious about the other games, you can check it out there.
     
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  4. ChibiMofo

    ChibiMofo NPC Chibi-Robo for Wii needs a fan translation
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    Nice. Keep these retrospectives coming.
     
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  5. Sonic Angel Knight

    Sonic Angel Knight GBAtemp Legend
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    I never really been a fan of survival games. Resident evil in general is interesting for the characters and story, but I can't get behind the gameplay of how it is structured. Unlike earlier games in the series, the 5 & 6 games are fun to me for not feeling like survival, having co-op and just feeling more like an arcade game. It just makes me think of contra at times. I only know about Dead Rising for the Mega Man references. But never tried it once. (Maybe if it comes to switch...) :ninja:
     
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  6. Chary

    Chary Never sleeps.
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    Never got around to 1, but I have played 2. It’s fun, I guess. But it feels kind of in the way of Borderlands 2 where its humor comes from doing what the first game did, but overblowing it and trying too hard? At least, that’s how it feels like to me. The gameplay itself is fun though, but it never really came across as mind blowing. Might try the first now that it’s on Steam iirc.
     
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  7. nWo

    nWo The Game Master
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    I like this section. Keep it up.
     
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  8. matthi321

    matthi321 GBAtemp Fan
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    tried the first one recently, and found it boring and confusing what to do next.
     
  9. relauby

    OP relauby Contributor
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    I only touched on it here, but yeah, Dead Rising 2 is pretty much the definition of trying too hard. It does a lot of things right, but I’ve always had a hard time moving past that.
     
  10. FAST6191

    FAST6191 Techromancer
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    Do you recommend the Wii version? Or better yet Wii version or 3?

    More seriously I also really liked this game, and made a specific effort to give it a spin when I got set up with a 360. A bit clunky but I have also found a rather amusing streak wherein many that complain too hard about that also consider Resident Evil without tank controls to be RE in name only. While "true immersion" was never quite managed I did find the world actually more believable than I found many other far more shiny open world games (better than Watch-Dogs or GTA for me). It might also be one of the very few recent history games that I would like to get remastered in the modern world, albeit by a team that never played the second games.
    Never managed to do the case west part of the sequel justice but I would suggest picking up the "demo" that preceded the second game.
     
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  11. relauby

    OP relauby Contributor
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    I've owned the Wii version for years and keep meaning to get around to it, but haven't taken the time yet. I'm always interested in demakes like that and one for a game I know so well sounds interesting. Have you played it?

    Also, I don't have any real love for 3, but I do think it's kinda fun just for zoning out. That game lets you weld a steamroller to the front of motorcycle and attach a flamethrower, and mowing down zombies mindlessly, working towards one of the zombie-killing achievements, is satisfying enough if you're looking for something to do while you listen to a podcast or audiobook or something.
     
  12. DANTENDO

    DANTENDO I Won year sub Edge mag 1996 hot topic digitiser
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    Flawed game design adding the timer issue in this game would of sold millions more if was total freedom
     
  13. FAST6191

    FAST6191 Techromancer
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    While I can't count the timer as a complete positive and it did cause some frustrations (several photo/I can see the finish line moments if nothing else) they had such a mode in the game, that they did not release an update to add it without beating the game first or anything says most of what I would want to know there.

    I was mostly just being silly there. Would it count as a demake? I know it is not the most well defined term but if someone says demake to me I usually think someone trying to render the themes and elements of gameplay in a radically older style (borderlands had that hype builder flash game, all those homebrew versions of Portal doing portals in 2d, any number of other things people made for old consoles) where this is just a port to a lesser system not unlike we used to see all the time before all the consoles became the same.

    I don't have many games that aren't tetris, minesweeper or the like that I can play like that. Got a few I might relax to (mx vs atv free roam most of all) but they still require some measure of focus.
     
  14. Armadillo

    Armadillo GBAtemp Psycho!
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    Best of the series. Went downhill after the first game.
     
  15. qqq1

    qqq1 GBAtemp Regular
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    Being a huge Dawn of the Dead fan I really liked this game.
     
  16. Unleanone999

    Unleanone999 GBAtemp Advanced Fan
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    Love the series but I agree the time constraint kinda soured the game for a lot people especially the third one which they made open world. Also psa dead rising 4 is like 5 bucks on steam right now so a definite must buy.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2019
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  17. Ericzander

    Ericzander Always sleeps.
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    Ericzander recommends: Anything Relauby writes. Seriously, nice article!

    I never got around to playing this series, but this sparked an interest in doing so. I see that right now it's 70% off so I might just have to pick it up for a nice $6.
     
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  18. relauby

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    From what I’m seeing on Steam, that’s the DLC, Frank Rising. The full game is at $20 (Canadian, probably around $15 American).

    But yeah, I didn’t even think about the winter sales on right now. Like @Ericzander pointed out, DR1 is in the $5-$7 range on Steam and PSN. Given the game’s steep learning curve I’d say now’s a good time to get it (or the Triple Pack with DR2 and Off the Record) with relatively little risk in case it’s not your thing.
     
  19. Unleanone999

    Unleanone999 GBAtemp Advanced Fan
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    Its the base game https://store.steampowered.com/app/543460/Dead_Rising_4/
     
  20. relauby

    OP relauby Contributor
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  21. Unleanone999

    Unleanone999 GBAtemp Advanced Fan
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    That sucks. It's only like 6 or 7 bucks here in my country.
     
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