Yawn of the dead

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
Rating: 2.5 stars
August 15, 2006 6:36:50 PM

HORROR? COMEDY? Capcom tries for a little of both.

To make a successful zombie game, a developer needs to go one of two ways: horror or comedy. For Dead Rising, Capcom has chosen Option C. There’s a little of both — but not much of either — surrounded by a whole lot of nonsense, and some busted game mechanics for good measure.

The premise should be familiar to even the most casual horror fans. The dead have risen and are hunting for delicious brains inside a shopping mall. Playing as photojournalist Frank West, you enter the mall looking for the scoop of a lifetime and spend the next three days bashing the walking undead into piles of goo with anything you can get your hands on.

These sorts of beat-’em-ups tend to get boring quickly. Dead Rising staves off the tedium by allowing Frank to use almost anything in the mall, from conventional weapons like baseball bats and rifles to unorthodox items like parasols and benches. Even so, after a while it becomes hard to appreciate the subtle distinctions between a 2x4 and a lead pipe. Fortunately, there are plenty of wacky possibilities strewn through the environment. (Keep an eye out for Mega Man’s blaster.) And because the weapons degrade over time, Frank has to keep looking for new ones. Plus, he gets points by taking photos of the undead — close-ups, group shots. Especially gory pictures mean extra points.

HOT TIP: You can start a new game at any time with the upgraded stats you’ve already earned — something you’ll almost certainly need to do
Although hundreds of zombies can appear on screen at once, Dead Rising lacks the kinds of jacked-up thrills Capcom’s Resident Evil series is known for. There are boss battles, but they tend to be goofy rather than frightening. And the zombie hordes, as described by one character at the beginning of the game, are slow and stupid. This makes them excellent cannon fodder, but it also means that the narrative thrust of the game unfurls through endless cutscenes. They don’t quite descend to the self-parodying level of Metal Gear Solid, but sometimes it’s close.

Development time, it’s clear, focused on zombie death animations, a defensible choice in theory. (Not to mention that you can do things like throw pies in their faces and plunk buckets over their heads to neutralize them.) But other aspects of the game are ragged. Typos in on-screen text are forgivable, if grating. More-devastating bugs can hinder play. Several game hours after defeating a boss in the mall’s courtyard, the boss suddenly respawned when I was low on health and heading back to the safe room.

Dead Rising also suffers from a poorly implemented, user-unfriendly save system. Frank can save his progress wherever he finds a couch or a bathroom. The game doesn’t auto-save at any point or even offer checkpoints. If you get caught up in completing concurrent missions and meet an untimely death, you may lose a significant amount of progress. You don’t expect that kind of sadism from Capcom.

Because it’s a sandbox-style game, Dead Rising includes many different clothing options for your character. And though there’s a grim humor involved in chopping up zombies with a chainsaw while wearing a dress and a gigantic Lego mask, it’s so much useless puffery when the effort could have been better spent elsewhere. The same could be said of the annoying NPCs, the constant need to answer Frank’s cellphone, and even the chainsaw-juggling clown. Dead Rising throws so much at the wall that nothing sticks. The inherent appeal of zombie slaying keeps it from ever dropping below mediocrity. But it feels like a missed opportunity.


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