Groundhog Day of the Dead.
Dead Rising’s release in 2006 prompted United States Magistrate Judge Richard G. Seeborg to call order in his unruly courtroom and declare that “the concept of humans battling zombies in a mall during a zombie outbreak is a wholly unprotectable concept”.
I’d like to think this was because the good Judge was warning us to prepare for the inevitable zombie apocalypse because, in our current state, we are wholly unprotectable. Rather his comments were in response to the legal case that George A. Romero, godfather of the zombie genre, had filed against Capcom for taking a little too much inspiration from his classic movies. Dead Rising shuffles on in the spirit of Dawn of the Dead in that when Hell is full, the dead will walk the Earth and pop down to the shops for a bite to eat.
The zombies aren’t really the enemy in Dead Rising. They’re literally hundreds of them slowly shuffling amongst the aisles as you dash between stores. Rarely hidden and always in plain sight, they are there. They’re up ahead at the stairs, down in the underground car park and outside in the gardens; they’re everywhere and they’re always there, waiting for you to make a mistake. The zombies are the constant.
Time is the enemy. It’ll take time to save that survivor and bring her back to the safe room. It takes time to stock up on supplies and while all of the malls offerings can be used to kill the undead- trolleys, 2x4s, baseball bats, electric guitars, sledgehammers, chainsaws and many other modern necessities- weapons degrade over time. And it’ll take time to stock up on supplies.
Dead Rising is from Japan, a lazy gaming shorthand for “it’s an acquired taste”. The worst experience you have with Dead Rising is the first time you play. The Frank West you initially take into Willamette Mall is slow and weak, only able to hold a few items and lacking the vital attacks required to survive the swarming hordes.
The levelling system is fuelled by PP points that are accrued by killing zombies, doing something fun or killing zombies in a fun way. As in Groundhog Day, Frank is doomed to repeat his three days (seven hours real time) in the mall. Any XP (experience points) gained are carried over to the next play through. It’s not grinding in the sense of performing repetitive tasks to level up, this happens quite naturally, but it is a grind to get so far through the main storyline knowing that you’ll have to repeat everything on the next play just to get a little further. It was only on my sixth or seventh time that I actually completed the main storyline let alone escort and save more than a dozen fellow survivors. Call it Stockholm syndrome if you want but by this point I was in love.
It’s harder to love Frank’s fellow survivors in the mall who are somehow more brain dead than the zombies. They’ll fearlessly charge zombies unarmed, get stuck on stairs and each other and generally cause themselves harm. But damn their empty heads, it’s such a Herculean effort saving them that it’s a genuine drag when they don’t make it. I’d rescued a man from the other side of the mall-we’ll call him Marvin- and to cut to the chase: I accidently shot Marvin in the face. I was trying to clear a path and he ran in front of the gun. I had to soldier on without him. I like games that dwell in the aftermath of failure rather than restarting and dubbing earlier attempts as “a practise round”.
Reminiscent of the typewriter ribbons from earlier Resident Evil games you can only save the game in bathrooms which, in faithfulness to shopping centres, are few and far between located just off the beaten track. And there’s only one save slot so what’s done is done. They would have reached a larger audience and calmed many critics had they offered an alternative, more traditional save system as well as the ‘intended’ bathroom breaks. Personally I love using the Japanese toilet system- time management can be fun, kids!
These pressures make every little decision like rescuing a survivor, saving the game or shopping for weapons a story moment. Will you make it back unscathed from the hunting store or will you have lost more than you gained? These little vignettes arise naturally in Dead Rising. It’s the difference between story and plot in video games. The plot Grand Theft Auto IV is a dark moody story of revenge but the story that everyone plays are chases and seeing who can get the highest wanted level. In Dead Rising all the gore and silly little stories fit seamlessly with the B-movie plot.
The world is a cartoonish and snide slice of Americana as seen from the East. Traumatised survivors turn psychopathic and deadly and come in all flavours of apple pie: Government conspirators, self-obsessed youth, brainwashed religious fanatics, disgruntled violent teens and bloody war veterans. They’re very difficult to kill without the right tools and all too often it was by exploited their crude AI and crap path-finding that I defeated them.
You might not love it right away, and because of its own stubbornness you probably won’t, but you absolutely must play Dead Rising. Even if it’s only to decapitate the undead with an electric guitar while wearing a horses head and purple dress. Dead Rising is the definitive zombie survival guide.