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.