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Xbox 360 Review: Dead Rising

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It's a perfect video-game scenario. There's a mall, there's a chainsaw, and there's zombies. Lots of zombies. More zombies than should be theoretically possible actually. There's that big, bold "M" rating on the box too. Somehow, however, through the design process Dead Rising was packed with a few crippling issues that destroy what should have been enjoyable mindless zombie-bashing… with shovels… and a lawnmower… and golf clubs… and of course zucchini.

If there's anything Dead Rising pulls off, it's the sheer absurdity of it all. Pushed forward with a generic, predictable plot, players control a photojournalist snagging the story of a lifetime. It's a small town mall, infested by something that's caused the entire town to become, well, dead and living simultaneously. To uncover the story, Frank needs to be in certain spots within a set time limit.

This of course leads the game's classic zombie-smashing. It's never a straight shot from one place to the other given the malls halls are packed with the groaning and awfully hungry townsfolk. To get to the next destination, it takes a massive amount of bloodletting.

The real-time aspects are intriguing. With three days to play with until his rescue chopper returns, all the key missions need to be completed within that timeframe. Side missions involving rescuing people are an additional set of challenges. If the game is making any type of statement, it must be how ridiculously stupid the average American mall shopper is. These poor trapped souls stop in the center of a zombie holocaust to be eaten alive unless the player is guiding them every step. Even then, they'll still manage to find the best way to become food for the mindless.

That begins a string of frustrations for Dead Rising, and after the initial glee of being given the opportunity to pop zombies with a nail gun wears off, the entire game falls apart. At the core of the title's gameplay issues is the save system. Players can head into any bathroom to stop play or by finding an area to lie down. There are also a few auto saves.

That works to increase dramatic tension as you rush to find a save point after a tricky mission. It kills the game when you realize you saved at a point where you have only a few minutes left to complete a key mission and it's impossible to make the run. It's a small human error that very well could send you all the way back to the beginning of the game. With only one single save slot, you need to be absolutely sure you're doing the right thing when saving the game.

Nearly all of Dead Rising's play value is derived from replaying the game. Stuck inside a genre known for sheer repetitiveness (a beat-em-up with a focus on exploration), the last thing you'll want to do is continually face off against the same boss that you'll need to cross a large section of the mall to get to in the first place. It's a ridiculously cheap way to extend the life of the title.

Leveling up also seems to revolve around the concept of replaying. Trying to make it straight through the game without restarting will leave the player without enough life, strength, item slots, or speed to complete many missions. Expect to play through the opening moments multiple times before getting involved since all earned experience is carried over in the new game.

It's unfathomable to imagine a game featuring thousands of gory targets waiting around to be hacked up with a lightsaber toy to end up a failure. While not a total loss (it's impossible to make zombie mutilation dull in any form), Dead Rising's full potential is never found. Its goal isn't to let the player enjoy its superbly crafted playground; it's only here to lead the player to one frustrating failure to another due to an absurd save system that's a far too critical design choice to ignore.

Dead Rising is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Use of Alcohol.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • joey

    Perfect review. Right on the money.

  • http://www.stuartthompson.net Stuart Thompson

    That is SO upsetting. I had extremely high hopes for this game, but having been frustrated in the past with similarly flawed save game features I know that I won’t be able to reach enjoyment here. Why can’t designers get it through their heads that mandating the same section to be replayed over and over isn’t fun, isn’t cool and almost fulfils a classical definition of insanity? Arrggghhhh. If there is one area of video game design that has the power to destroy an otherwise great game it’s the save feature. My favorite save features are in GTA (console) and WoW (PC). You can turn off the console any time, any place and pick up later exactly where you left off. When you die, you respawn at a known safe location and keep going, albeit with a time-based loss to return to where you died. It’s easy, let’s me jump in and out of the game quickly and easily and fulfils the “fun” part of playing games.

  • fdr

    Yes the key word of this game is “frustration”. the way we have to save ruins the game. And don’t get me going on the odd control style. You look around with the right thumb stick until you try to aim then you look around with the left stick. With no options to change up the control style.

  • John

    I found this comment to be very accurate. But I wanted to add a few key issues of my own.

    First and foremost is the auto-aiming mechanism. For those who are not familiar, if you do not manually point the character in a direction to attack, he will automatically attack the nearest enemy (in theory).

    Two important places I’ve found this auto-aiming mech. to fall face first onto failure. One: when attempting to rescue civilians from a death grapple with a zombie. If you attempt to let your char. auto aim to kill the wayward zombie, you will not hit the zombie…no, you will hit the civilian. Unfortunately I figured this out while equipped with the jackhammer and killed the civilian in one fell swoop. Two: While attempting to kill the ‘more than just menacing’ psychopaths who ride around leisure park on a hummer. It takes more than just skill in order to actually hit these fools. Trying to shoot them with a gun is pointless, you will undoubtedly be shot and lose any trigger view previously engaged in. Trying to hit them with a non-projectile weapon is equally as fruitless – try running up to the vehicle, and attempt to attack the psychos. You will quickly discover that Frank, your character, will spend most of his time hitting the side or rear of the hummer, despite the fact that you may be aimed right at the psychos themselves. Frustrating.

    I also found that knowing which scoop pertains to the main story line can be unnecessarily irritating. When you are called on your transmitter, and given scoop information, some of the scoops are story-line relevant, and some are side missions. Completing all the provided scoops can be incredibly hard bordering impossible, so you must often times pick and choose which ones to take. However, how do you know which ones are story line pertinent? You don’t – you guess, and often you guess wrong; and if you aren’t already aware, if you miss a scoop pertinent to the story line, the ability to follow the main story is eliminated as an option and you must wait until you replay the game to try again.

    Additionally, the HD screen. I am sure most of you already know, but for those who do not, this game is intended for HDTV play only. This means that if you, like myself, play the game on a standard television, you will be hard-pressed to be able to read any of the text displayed on the screen. Once again – Frustrating.

  • mike

    When this game was first out a posted on forums exactly what is being said here and most people actually liked the game (god knows why) but i think time has proven us right, this game has no substance other than bash! bash!