Dead Rising is an open world Survival Horror game set in a shopping mall of the rural Willamette town that is now chock full of zombies. We play as Frank West, a photojournalist that has caught word of something going on in that town and voluntarily makes his way into town via helicopter. Once in the air, we are introduced to the photography mechanic in where we take pictures of interesting events or objects in exchange for experience points called PP. In that short tutorial we get a glimpse at the devastation that the outbreak caused on the town as the National Guard has it completely quarantined, gas stations are exploding, and a horde is trying to claw its way into a flipped school bus. All this makes for some rather great photos for our boy Frank but being really dedicated to his profession, he decides to land on the mall in order to take a closer look at what is going on.
Upon landing on the mall’s helipad in spectacular fashion, he meets a mysterious man called Carlito that mockingly states that isn’t it a bit too quiet for a riot. As he makes his way through the mall, he encounters a group of survivors barricading the entrance of the mall and is asked to help him. To no one’s surprise, all hell will soon break loose, and we are faced with the viciousness that is a zombie horde. This isn’t your typical zombie game, and you are not a one-man army. Everyone around you will no doubt die, and if you try to save them, you’ll likely join them. Even trying to run doesn’t guarantee anything as the amount of zombies on the screen at any one time is overwhelming with the simple act of surviving being an achievement in itself.
It was one heck of an introduction with the player as likely to die as anyone else and sets the tone perfectly for what you are in for. Yes, you can pick up nearly everything that isn’t nailed down to the floor to fight off the zombies but doing so is usually an act of desperation as weapons break down very quickly. A mailbox isn’t nearly as efficient a weapon as a battle ax though it is certainly a lot better than engaging in fisticuffs with a zombie. You are limited in the amount of things you can carry so you have to balance between healing items, weapons, guns, and books. Believe it or not, books may be one of the most important items in the game as they give very useful perks such as healing items effect increased 100%, edged weapons lasting three times as long and extra PP for things such as zombie slaying.
The catch for books being that they must be in your possession to be active so you must give up an inventory slot for it. For example, having one slot for a book and another for a katana is more efficient than carrying around three katanas with the added bonus that any blade last longer now. You can also throw your weapons, so maybe you would rather have three swords to chuck at foes, it all depends on your playstyle and situation. There are plenty of guns to scavenge with the most common by far being the handguns carried by zombie police officers. A headshot with any one of these will usually kill any zombie though it is limited to 30 rounds with no way to reload meaning that once your magazine is dry, it will become useless. The guns that pack a bigger punch are much more difficult to get whether they are hidden very well around the mall or defended by a psychopath.
These psychos are truly the star of the show. They are people who have succumbed to madness for whatever reason and are far beyond being able to help minus a select few. As cliché as it sounds to say that people are the true threat, that holds extremely true here. Capcom nailed creating these off their rocker characters. They are usually so far gone and with voice acting so convincing that you typically want to turn tail and run before the fight even begins. Fleeing is a valid option here, you frankly will not stand a good chance against a psycho early on unless you learn their attack patterns. It is not as simple as finding a submachine gun and unloading into their skull, a headshot does very little and to further stack the odds against you they have invincibility frames, so you need short, controlled bursts to be effective.
Easier said than done, one can not move while aiming their weapon which is not a particularly safe thing to do when a clown is charging at you with a chainsaw. Zombies won’t just sit around watching either, they will take any chance they get to nibble on your skull if you get distracted. If you do manage to take out a psycho you will be treated to a quite violent cutscene showcasing their demise and will be rewarded for your effort with PP and at times their weapon, vehicle or captives. Most psychopaths are not evil for the sake of it which does lead the player to mourn for them oddly enough, be it a war veteran stuck in a Vietnam flashback after his granddaughter was eaten in front of him or people that are clearly scared out of their wits.
Don’t forget that you are a photojournalist so risking your life to take a cool picture of a psycho will net you quite a bit of PP to help you level up. Do not neglect this photography feature as it greatly helps one to survive the brutality that is being a low-level character. Slowly but surely the power balance will start to favor the player as we increase our inventory amount, attack power, speed and other stats after we level up. These are automatically assigned, we have no control in how to place them, but we can max everything out once we reach level 50. After slaying countless zombies, risking your life multiple times for interesting pictures and killing psychopaths, we will essentially become one our selves. We’ll be calmly walking towards a horde barehanded, jam your hand into a zombie’s stomach to rip out his organs, roundhouse kick another one off the rails onto the cold hard floor below and German suplex one just to show off.
It’s a far road to be able to become a neigh unstoppable badass however. Your fastest yet most difficult way to reach that state is to rescue fellow survivors found through the mall. One can either encounter these unfortunate NPCs by ourselves or be contacted by our friend Otis who keeps a close eye on the mall’s security cameras. Each survivor is unique with different names, dialogue and even behaviors. Some may be cowardly and constantly weeping, others more aggressive and can be equipped with weapons to help you with zombies, while others are either wounded or crippled, forcing you to carry them on your back. To save them we must escort them all the way back to the security room for a massive PP award. Sounds cool right? Well, I’m afraid this is the worst part of the game as their AI is abysmal.
They will unintentionally do whatever they can to get themselves or you killed. Give a survivor a shotgun and run down a hallway with a single zombie and you can bet that he will get himself ensnared into its grips somehow. Others will stop to cry right in the middle of a rapidly approaching horde much to your anger as you span the “come over here” button to no avail. They will occasionally take far more dangerous routes than they should have when they are supposed to follow you and to top it off they run extremely slowly causing you to stop & wait before you get too far ahead. Some zombies can break into a semi-jog, and they are actually faster than someone that still has blood flowing through his legs. You can just imagine the absolute mess that occurs when escorting multiple survivors and stopping to defend one can very well cost you your life which sounds cool but is overshadowed by how cheap it all feels.
You can share your food supplies with them in order to restore some of their health if they are wounded, so stopping clearing out an area to rest will significantly improve the chances of them making it. It all sounds so great on paper, but the execution of it is borderline broken. They also revel in doing all they can to make you absolutely hate the survivors as they call your name multiple times as soon as you are a few feet away from them, don’t lift a finger to help you when a zombie has you pinned to the ground and at times want something from you before even joining you. It’s not over once you finally save them however, simply stepping into the security room to save the game will greet you with all of them crying and shouting at the same time in a symphony that will drive anyone insane. Oh, and some can rile up the other survivors for moronic reasons, getting them all killed and robbing you of your end game survivor bonus if you don’t get there in time to stop it from occurring.
We can also damage the survivors with our attacks when helping them and hitting them too many times will understandably get them to turn on us. I actually love this feature as it adds some unique stories to tell and allows you to kill the survivors yourself if you are feeling particularly evil. Another neat little touch is that if its a zombie that does them in, they will get back up as an undead and join the horde. You can also point to a location to tell them to go or hold up somewhere which would also be nice if the AI didn’t ruin it. It all comes down to the terrible survivor AI at the end and is the sole cause for this unique mechanic to be more of a frustrating chore than anything. Here is the thing though, nearly all of it is optional. There is only a few times in the actual story where you have to escort someone, and in those situations they can more than hold their own or are injured which allows us to carry them on our back, effectively negating the terrible AI.
Before I get to the story, I have to mention the most unique aspect of this title, and that is the passage of time. As is life, time will only flow forward along with the opportunities it once had. You’ll only have three in-game days to complete the story with the clock ever ticking. What you decide to do next is completely up to you. Will you try to go through the main story? Try to save as many people as you can and ignoring the plot, explore the mall or simply slay as many zombies as you can? It is all up to you, and the game features several different endings to reflect your actions to avoid making it feel like a waste of your time to do anything aside from the story. Learning more about the game instead of trying to brute force it to “win” is a mistake many people have done since its initial release in 2006. This world is not built to support you, we are its inhabitants, and whether we succeed or meet a brutal end, it will remain indifferent.
Death is just another beginning in Dead Rising. We can immediately load to the last restroom in the mall we saved from, or we can start the game over with all of our experience intact. Knowledge is just as powerful an ally as simply leveling up. Learning shortcuts to get to your destination faster, where the cool weapons are hidden and the fact that you can cook or blend food together to increase their effectiveness. There is a lot of depth to this title despite looking like a simple hack and slash action game. Break a broom over a zombies head and it turns into a spear-like weapon which you can now throw to impale an enemy, shooting an undead wearing a construction helmet will cause your bullet to ricochet or just throw a pie in their face and laugh as they blindly stumble around. While not all that realistic, it is full to the brim with a ton of little touches such as those that I mentioned that goes a long way as to making one want to experiment or just screw around.
The main story takes itself completely seriously but if we want to dress up in short shorts and wear a teddy bear mask then godspeed. It even shows you as you are in the cutscene making a formerly serious scene into comedy gold. Laugh at a main character that desperately needs some medicine for his gunshot wound and go kickflip down a flight of stairs and skate around the mall. Knowing that wasting time will have serious consequences makes it all the sweeter. On the other side of things, actually trying to accomplish something with every moment wasted putting at risk everything you have worked for is intense. The tension of the clock ticking down is always a looming threat in the back of your mind, that truly makes Dead Rising special. At times you may be forced to make difficult decisions such as leaving a survivor behind to reach the mission in time or if you have enough time to scavenge for food before heading out.
It is all balanced in a way that you can do everything at once if you really, and I mean really try though it is not always fair or situations feel unnecessary. Such as them making you go all the way to the safe house just to show you something they could have very easily told you about on the phone. The maintenance tunnel mission, in particular, bothered me in that they don’t let you back into the mall until you gather all five of a specific object. It would have been far safer to travel in the mall, so they just plain didn’t let you and forced you to drive in that zombie-filled hellhole with a psycho on your heels all the while. The quest marker that leads to the area is also near useless. It just points you in the general direction and updates at the very last second when you need to head a different way, making it pretty confusing to use. It also doesn’t suggest the most ideal route so learning the ins and outs of the mall is a must.
Zombies are slightly different than what we are used to. In Dead Rising we are infected by an insect’s larvae until it develops, turning us undead upon its maturity. This also comes into play in the combat itself. From time to time you may spot a zombie that acts very differently from the rest of the horde and killing it will cause a queen bee to pop out. You can then capture it within a jar and throw it into a group of zombies to instantly kill every one of them in a nearby radius. This secret “weapon” is a great last resort for when you get cornered, or the horde is simply too thick to pass through. It becomes a bigger deal in later games of the franchise, but in this one, the story mostly focuses on how the outbreak happened and why. To find the answers you will have to fight tooth and nail because the person that knows won’t spill the beans without fighting back just as hard.
Most characters are kind of one dimensional though they all do grow on you and one can’t help but feel a bit of sadness when they kick the bucket after having gone through so much. As time passes more and more zombies pour into the mall, making it that much more difficult to move around or save people. One enemy is replaced for another, and things just gradually go downhill from the intro which already seems like the situation is at rock bottom. The only thing that stays the same for most of the game is that friggin Otis will not stop calling you seemingly every five seconds. He tells you where survivors are and the basic gist of what you’ll find in each area of the mall but man, did they handle this poorly. You see, once you answer the phone, Frank can do nothing more than slowly walk around. If you respond and see a zombie slowly walking towards you with a hungry look on its face, you can do nothing more than sigh and take it.
Okay, maybe you can slowly walk away in the world’s most awkward race but simply being able to hang up or press a button to skip the text would have done wonders. We must finish the call at all costs because gods help us if a zombie swipes at us and interrupts Otis. He will immediately call you back and call you rude then start all the way from the beginning of what he was previously saying with the text still taking forever to proceed. Why not ignore him you may wonder. Well, Otis Washington is a persistent man and will not accept no as an answer. The ringing may stop momentarily, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t call you again in the next five seconds to tell you that you are in the Supermarket for the thousandth time. The maddening ringing will never stop until you give in. At least until the next time he has something to tell you, or he is just feeling lonely. Damn you Otis, damn you and your phone giving ways!
Over exaggeration aside, he is a decent character and just a happy old man. Whoever they would have given the task to keep you informed would have been just as hated due to how they implemented the phone. With that said, this title does have a canon ending to get and in doing so, you unlock two extra modes. One is simply called Overtime mode, that takes place immediately after the events that occurred in the main game and does change things up a bit by offering new, more dangerous foes scattered throughout the mall to defeat or avoid. Saying more than that would lead into spoiler territory but I can say that it nicely changes the pace of the ever-evolving situation. Next mode is called Infinity and has no story attached to it. It dumps you right into the mall and dramatically changes how the game plays. Also, it lets you get some rather petty yet all so satisfying payback on Otis Motherlovin Washington!
In Infinity it’s every man for himself. There no longer are innocents or people that need your help. Every human you see will be an enemy and will do all in their power to kill you. It may be a tad surprising to see Otis slowly walking towards you menacingly with frying pan in hand, and I bet it will be even more surprising when you off him then see a bunch of items violently flying out of his corpse. This mode gives you one single task, survive. Survive as long as you can and at any cost. Easy enough may be your first thought, however, a single ingenious addition to this mode really spices things up. You now get hungry. Slowly over time more and more of your life will drain and you must keep refilling it with food. Here is the fun part, food no longer respawns or can be randomly found in trash cans like before. It’s up to you to scavenge the mall and carefully monitor your rations. You can hole up in a safe location, but eventually, you’ll have to move on and risk your life for more food.
Like the Otis situation you can expect to find survivors or even psychopaths in completely different places so exploring the mall suddenly feels fresh once again, as you go outside expecting the PTSD inducing Convicts to show up, only to get sniped in the face by a family of survivors in the park. This mode is great and adds a ton of playtime to an already massive game. Dead Rising was initially an early Xbox 360 exclusive but has recently made its way to current-gen consoles and the PC. The PC version is the one I’ve played, and it has no framerate cap so it can run as smooth as your monitor and hardware will allow while the console version run at 60fps. The amount of zombies on screen at any one time is still impressive even if the game has not been improved visually in any way. All the glitches remain like defeating the Convicts only to later hear THIS when you least expect it, and they run you over. Dead Rising is a flawed yet ambitious title that one either hates or loves with very little in between. It is well worth purchasing even over a decade later and three sequels to its name.