Kris Wall reviews Dead Rising HD…
It’s been 10 years since the first Dead Rising was released as an Xbox 360 exclusive. It played as the crazier and funnier cousin to Capcom’s own Resident Evil series as players took on an overwhelming amount of onscreen zombies with whatever they could lay their hands on. At the time it arrived I was a PlayStation 3 owner, and I’d just been hit with my first console exclusive disappointment in Heavenly Sword. Up to this point I’d always been a Sony console owner, but something about Dead Rising captivated my attention, all of those zombies on the screen at once, the fact that it looked like a funny Dawn of the Dead, the sinking realisation that I’d never have this on my PlayStation 3, I couldn’t ignore it. Well it was enough to provide the turning point for me to jump over to Xbox for the rest of that generation. To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the series on the run up to Dead Rising 4 in December, Dead Rising 1, 2 and Off The Record have been given the HD treatment to mark the occasion and re-released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
The first Dead Rising centered around photojournalist, Frank West, high of hairline and smug of attitude. The town of Willamette, Colorado has been sealed off by the National Guard. Sensing a good story and armed with just hit camera, Frank heads into the quarantine zone in a helicopter to begin investigating. The investigation quickly leads him to the sprawling complex of Willamette Mall, where Frank is given 72 hours to crack the story and get the hell out of town. Unfortunately for Frank, that’s 72 hours trapped inside the mall with a host of weird survivors, a bunch of crazy psychopaths, and when the attempted rescue of a small dog goes seriously awry, an entire town of ravenous zombies too. Frank’s about to have the longest three days of his life.
The 72 Hour Timer proved to be a divisive inclusion at the time of release, and I see good arguments for both sides of the debate. Frank’s story runs to a strict 72 hour time limit (Around 7-8 hours in real time), and his scoops which advanced the main plot were locked to designated times and areas, if you didn’t get to where you needed to be at the time you were meant to, the story was closed off and you just had to survive until the helicopter returned. Some people found it to be restrictive and unfair, limiting and ultimately punishing players for exploring the mall (there’s an unlockable sandbox mode for that). I personally found the timer added a great deal of tension to the game, you’re always aware of that ticking timer, but you’re always been lured away in pursuit of side quests, leveling up, and generally having fun around the mall.
There’s a great element of risk vs reward at play in Dead Rising. You can do the absolute bare minimum if you want, focus on the main story scoops, kill the zombies and the challenging cast of psychos roaming the mall, survive for the three days and finish the game, but you’d be missing the point of the game. Dead Rising is very clever at constantly tempting you off the beaten path,there’s the maintenance man who regularly relays side scoops to further develop around the main story, there are over 50 survivors to locate around the mall and bring to safety, photo opportunities for Frank to locate and capture, and challenges aplenty such as destroying 55,000 zombies. All of this is rewarded with precious Prestige Points (PP) which go towards leveling Frank’s abilities. Unfortunately some weak and erratic NPC A.I means that some rescue missions are more troublesome than they’re worth as they easily get themselves caught up in swarms of the dead. Though its undeniably fraught with tension (and humour) leading a daisy chain of tooled up survivors to safety, it’s brutal seeing them being chomped and your PP bonus goes with them.
The Willamette mall is huge, featuring over 250 different shops from hardware stores and food courts, to gymnasiums and even a roller coaster. Despite the constantly ticking timer you’re encouraged to explore this sprawling utopia and create your own fun. While later games in the Dead Rising series would focus on creating some hilariously ridiculous weapons of mass zombie destruction such as the brilliant paddlesaw (an oar with two chainsaws gaffer taped on), the first Dead Rising was more a straight up game of survival with whatever Frank could lay his hands on, be it skull crushing baseball bats and hammers, slicing and dicing katanas and axes, a small selection of firearms, and even frying pans, toy swords. Plus for all the Braindead fans out there, you can use a lawnmower to cut a path through the zombies. On top of all the weapons littered around the mall, Frank can play dress up at one of the many clothing outlets around the mall, taking the fight to the dead dressed in wrestling attire, ladies clothing and fancy dress outfits, should the mood strike you. Despite all the gore, this is a game that never takes itself too seriously, and is all the more fun for it.
There’s a great feeling Frank’s empowerment as the game progresses and you earn more PP to level up, to a maximum of 50. When Frank starts out, he’s quite cumbersome, can hardly carry anything, and is overwhelmed very easily. Irritatingly easy actually. The difficulty curve in Dead Rising is quite steep, the dead are almost constantly everywhere, the psychos are very powerful, and the game relies on players to manually save their own games at restrooms and the security center, and in an age of autosaving, it’s surprisingly easy to forget and frustratingly lose loads of hard earned progress. However, keep at it and Frank slowly starts getting faster, more powerful, able to carry more weapons, and unlock special moves such as being able to walk across the top of a herd of zombies or a series of wrestling moves designed solely for squashing zombie brains. By the time level 50 rolls around, Frank has become the equivalent of a zombie destroying human tank.
The HD update for Dead Rising certainly makes the game look shinier, and there seems to be even more zombies on screen now than there was in the original, and it’s been given the obligatory 60FPS overhaul so that everything moves along at a smoother pace. The game is beginning to show its decade old bones now and there’s only so much the HD overhaul can to do bring it into the here and now. Worst of all though, the frame rate drops that mired the original release 10 years ago are still persistent here in this re-release, and while it’s not seemingly as frequent as it was, the game still judders along when Frank swings a sledgehammer into a crowd of zombies or the onscreen action starts to get a bit chaotic.
Dead Rising is still an incredibly fun game, though it’s definitely beginning to show its age now. Capcom’s love letter to Dawn of the Dead and Braindead will still find a loving home with any fan of the great zombie movies of the past. The crazy weapon creating possibilities of the later games definitely feel missed here and the persistent frame rate issues still irritate, but if you’re not having fun skateboarding around the mall, cutting the undead to shreds while dressed in a giant toy alien helmet you should probably check your pulse, you’re possibly undead already.
Dead Rising HD was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
+ Still a hell of a lot of fun to play
+ Frank’s development feels empowering
+ The psycho characters offer a good challenge
+ Risk Vs Reward of the 72 hour time keeps gameplay tense
– Still has the same frame rate issues from 10 years ago
– NPC A.I isn’t great
– Lacks the crazy weapon combos of Dead Rising 2, Off The Record, and Dead Rising 3