If the zombie films of the last 30 years have taught us anything, it's that facing hoards of the undead armed with only a rusty chainsaw and a shotgun is the epitome of cool. Dead Rising allows you to do just that, as well as giving you the option to destroy zombies in myriad other sick, violent and sometimes humorous ways. The game is insane and over the top -- and it's a blast to play.
Dead Rising takes the plot of the film Dawn of the Dead and transposes it into the videogame universe -- although it's not actually strictly based on that film. You play as Frank West, a photojournalist flying his way via helicopter to the small town of Willamette, Colorado, after getting a mysterious tip-off about strange happenings. From the air, Frank spots what seems to be the army closing off all access to the town, and for good reason -- it look like zombies have taken over. Frank tells his pilot to land on the roof of the local shopping centre and to return for him in three days. Once inside, Frank meets a disparate group of survivors -- and a whole load of undead -- and over the next three days, gets the opportunity to find out what exactly has happened to the town of Willamette.
And when we say a whole load of undead, we mean hundreds and thousands of shuffling zombies all eager to make Frank into a meal. Thanks to the processing grunt of the Xbox 360, Dead Rising pushes literally hundreds of zombies at you at any one time. The sheer visceral thrill of having to fight your way through them using whatever means necessary is the main highlight of the game, particularly as Dead Rising allows you to use almost everything in the shopping mall as a weapon. Benches, golf clubs, frying pans, signs, umbrellas, mannequins, bowling balls, swords, guns, chainsaws -- the number of weapons available is staggering.
And using these weapons is a breeze for the most part. Pressing B will initiate an attack, while holding down B will perform a special move if there's one available. Unarmed, Frank is also quite proficient, with new moves being unlocked as he progresses in skill levels. Frank, however, is only able to carry a certain number of items at once, so careful planning is in order.
Most of the enemies you'll come across in the game are your typical slow moving zombie types, although they do become slightly faster and more aggressive at night. The toughest encounters in the game actually come from human opponents -- those driven insane by the carnage. They are what passes for 'bosses' in Dead Rising.
Dead Rising takes place over 72 game hours and strives to be an open-ended affair, although there are some set story missions which have to be completed at specific times in order to progress the main narrative. Miss any one of these set missions and you'll never find out what's really happening at Willamette. The game also throws a number of other side missions at you, usually involving escorting survivors back to safe havens within the mall. But the game is structured in such a way that you won't be able to play all the side missions and hope to complete the set missions as well -- you simply won't have the time.
Which brings us to the most disappointing aspect of the game -- it's clunky save system. Dead Rising only allows you to save your game at certain locations within the mall, and these are few and far between. You are also limited to having only one save per console -- which means if you save, and then realise you won't be able to make a set mission, there's no way to undo your actions. It's unnecessarily punishing and in the end frustrating.
Of course, if you're unconcerned about the main plotline, Dead Rising also allows you to just spend your entire 72 hours at the mall racking up your zombie kill count without bothering to do any of the missions. The game features several different endings depending on what you've achieved in the game. This, coupled with the fact that you won't be able to experience all of the missions in any one play through, gives Dead Rising plenty of replay value.
As you would expect, Dead Rising looks gorgeous on the 360. The vast number of zombies on screen at once all look realistic, as does the ruined surrounds of the Willamette Mall. Sound is particularly well done -- the various noises made by the game's many weapons are entirely convincing.
Dead Rising is the zombie game many fans of the genre have been waiting for. It's epic in scope, over the top in its gory execution, and delivers plenty of open-ended fun. We can't wait for the sequel -- as long as they fix the clunky save system.