Dead Rising as a franchise has, unfortunately, seen a series of misfortunes as of late. From the mixed reception of Dead Rising 4 to the closing down of Capcom Vancouver in September 2018, the developer responsible for developing the series since Dead Rising 2 in late 2010. It seems this closure has had a bit more of an impact on me then I first realised, to the point where I felt a bit deflated watching the Xbox E3 press conference, knowing my beloved game series would not rise from the grave once more. While there is no clear future for the series as of writing, we will always have the classics to go back to. Thanks to QLOC, we have a stellar PC port to experience the original Dead Rising on.
Dead Rising follows the events of Frank West, a photojournalist looking to take his career up a level. Receiving a tip from an anonymous source, Frank hires a helicopter to take him into the area of the supposed leak, the small town of Willamette, Colorado. From the moment he arrives, things seem off. A military checkpoint is stationed at the only bridge in the town, meaning no one can leave. After a brief photographing section to introduce you the one of the game’s most interesting mechanics and of course the zombies, you arrive at the mall. From here, you’re goal is to crack the mystery of the epidemic, and perhaps a large amount of zombie heads while you’re at it. The story does a good job in presenting you as a photojournalist by using “case files” instead of the typical mission to mission structure most games adhere to. It provides a sense of progression, as you slowly develop your evidence and learn facts as each case is passed.
The characters are also a strong point in the game, with each character integral to the story having clear motivations and personality. Frank West in particular is a well written character, featuring a lot of humorous dialogue at the right moments, yet able to feel compassion for the many suffering around him. His appearance and personality make him extremely relatable. I personally enjoyed how you learnt more about each character as the story moved along, with elements such as the antagonist’ s backstory shedding light on the fact that he may not be a heartless monster we perceive him to be in the beginning. The stories of survivors you find around the mall, while not each uniquely voice acted, have backstories. This provides incentive to save them, no matter how hard the game seems to make it. The story provides an engaging narrative that ties in well with all of the gameplay elements.
What truly makes Dead Rising unique however is it’s gameplay. The game features a day-night cycle, which ties in with the game’s time limit style mission structure. Each case begins at a specific time, expecting the player to be organised enough to be at the starting point at the right time. This strict time mechanic is in fact one of the biggest obstacles in the game, with the zombies acting as more of a means to slow you down. This gives the game a sense of urgency, as you are given very little time to waste. This means the difficulty of the game is decided by yourself, and how prepared you are for each encounter the game brings your way. Although there are massively overpowered weapons which can make the game an utter cakewalk, such as the mini chainsaws with various magazines to practically make it unbreakable. Inventory management is also important to stay on top of, as there are plenty of useful objects around the mall.
Some weapons are more useful than others…
Speaking of which, the mall is the main area the entire game is set, so it’s a good job that a lot of attention to detail was given to it. There are a large variety do stores, each containing unique weapons and outfits for you to equip. The mall also has an accessible layout, with each section being linked through the maintenance tunnels. Mall music can be heard while traversing it during the day, providing an amusing contrast between a visit to a normal mall and the hell hole you’re stuck in. The park in the middle of the mall can also be used as a shortcut to cut a few seconds out of a journey. The mall also encourages exploration, with powerful weapons being hidden in areas of the mall.
Sometimes these more effective weapons are essential, especially when facing the game’s psychopaths. These are limited time missions in which you are forced to fight a mini boss of sorts. Each psycho has a different fighting style, and a story of how they got to the point they were at. For example, Adam the clown is seen near the start of the game. Once you arrive to the indoor rollercoaster he was spotted at, it is clear the outbreak has had a severe impact on his mental health, as he can no longer make anyone laugh (maybe it has something to do with the fact they’re shuffling corpses?). His attacks consist of throwing poisonous balloons and knives, and several types of attacks with his mini chainsaws.
There are over 10 psychopaths in the game, with each providing a satisfying fight and usually a reward for beating them. Each psycho also has a theme song, giving them a larger sense of character, and dread when you hear a song from a psycho who has beat you multiple times. Survivors are also scattered throughout the mall. Saving them provides a large amount of PP to level up your character, but is also a heavily stressful encounter. The SO of the survivors are so perfectly inept, often thinking it as a good idea to punch zombies in the face or stand still as a horde approaches them. The game does provide a means to increase your odds of a safe return to the safe house, allowing you to tell survivors where to go by aiming and press the “follow me” button, being X, square or CTRL depending on your peripheral.
The PC version of Dead Rising has several features which are impressive from a port of a 2006 game. For one, the frame rate is capped at 300 fps, allowing for high refresh gameplay. High FPS is also easily achievable with most setups, as I saw minimal drops with a GTX 1060 and Ryzen 5 2600. This is probably due to the game’s low quality textures, which have not received and major reworkings from the original on Xbox 360. The port also receives good keyboard and mouse support, although some of Dead Rising’s features are somewhat outdated. For example, the game experiences an odd stutter effect when hitting zombies with high impact weapons, such as a bat or bench.
While it may be intended to add more impact to the hit, it is jarring while playing, especially when large groups of zombies are hit.
One of the more annoying drawbacks of the game’s controls is your receiver. Each time you are contacted by the game’s main mission gives, Otis, you are forced to put away your weapon, and are unable to jump. This leaves you especially vulnerable in crowded areas. Worse still, if you do not finish the conversation, it will take a while to resume it from where you left off. Sound is in point however, with each weapon providing a satisfying feedback to let you know you’ve done some damage, from the slash of a katana to the smashing of pots.
As for the replayability of the game? Dead Rising offers multiple endings, 3 different game modes and plenty of chances to fail. As you learn more about the mall, and the little shortcuts you can find, it makes the game’s strict time limit easier to follow. Upon starting a new game, you can keep the levels you had in the previous game, giving you a stronger, faster character from the start. After getting the game’s “best” ending and completing the epilogue, you are given various unlockables (one of which being the bane of every psychopath’s existence) and infinite mode. Infinite mode is essentially a test to see how long you can survive. Your health constantly drains, and survivors have become hostile, making every single human encounter a dicey one. While this mode has the least replayability of all, it is intriguing for the first few times.
- Gameplay - 85%85%
- Graphics & Sound - 75%75%
- Control - 65%65%
- Replayability - 90%90%
Overall, Dead Rising is considered a cult classic and still maintains a large following to this day. It provides an intriguing story with interesting characters, satisfying gameplay loop with a lot of replayability and superb sound design, although it is dragged back a bit by dated graphics and a questionable control scheme. It is impossible to deny its impact on open world games and the creation of the zombie survival sandbox as a whole.