I’ve played on a Microsoft console a grand total of five times in my life, three of those were on FIFA. It’s nothing personal towards Microsoft (though Windows in recent years is enough for anyone to bear a grudge), just that the exclusives were nothing I was interested in. Well… with two exceptions that almost tempted me over. One was Left 4 Dead (which I played on PC anyway), and the original Dead Rising. Just not enough to fork out for another console. A decade later, I’m able to play Dead Rising on a PlayStation console with the Dead Rising Triple Pack. Patience pays off kids!
What hooked me about Dead Rising to begin with? Several things. Zombies was one of course, the fair comparisons to Dawn of the Dead (which was and is among my favorite films), and that it was Capcom, going back to the shuffling undead that Resident Evil had shrugged off not long before. In the end my first taste of Dead Rising ended up being Dead Rising 2, and that had less of what interested me.
Dead Rising Triple Pack review: Back from the dead
Dead Rising sees photojournalist Frank West on the hunt for a big scoop on a hot tip in the sleepy town of Wilmette. He soon finds it when, after snapping a few pics of people attacking and eating each other, his helicopter is pursued by military choppers and he’s forced onto the roof of a shopping mall. So begins Frank West’s 72 hour adventure to discover the cause of this outbreak and become the greatest photojournalist of all time. If Frank isn’t on the roof of the mall after that, then he’s going to be stuck here with the neediest janitor in all of recorded history.
This remaster does a valiant job of cleaning up a ten year old game with very old-school sensibilities, and rightly focuses on delivering a smooth, responsive experience with a graphical buff up over tweaking the controls and general mechanics. I don’t see Dead Rising having the same setup as it’s more modern brethren as a good thing for the way it plays. It’s still kind of impressive that there’s so much action happening on screen, with the sheer number of zombies a sight to behold even now. Dead Rising may play and look like it came out a decade ago, but that still doesn’t hamper its strengths here and now.
Frank discovers some survivors shortly after entering the mall, and they are quickly decimated before your eyes (at least this time) by hordes of the undead. After getting acclimated to picking up benches and hurling them into groups of zombies, Frank ends up in the control room of the mall, a safe haven for the remaining survivors. This acts as Frank’s safe room going forward, a place to sleep (save), converse with survivors, and access the mall from an air shaft. It’s here you’ll be bringing any other folk you find stranded in the mall. That’s if you want to. You don’t have to help even one of them if you don’t feel like it, because maybe you’d prefer to prioritise your brief time in Wilmette to (sometimes literally) mowing down the undead. We don’t have all the time in the world after all.
Dead Rising’s ever-ticking timer is either a royal pain in the posterior, or an intricate work of genius depending on who you ask. You soon discover that you do not have enough time to do everything in one playthrough. Sacrifices have to be made, places must be left unexplored, and boss characters will remain unseen. Personally-speaking, any disappointment had from not being able to roam freely around the mall at leisure is soon vanquished by a delicious Groundhog Day-style loop that sees you restarting the 72 hour cycle again and again. With the newly installed knowledge of where people and places are, you start to accomplish more and more, before you know it, you have the mall mapped out in your head, with acute awareness of every little shortcut, special weapon, favored survivors and where the ‘Psycho’ bosses are situated.
The time limit is a beautiful thing because it keeps you focused on the task at hand whilst feeding you bites of information that will become increasingly relevant over time. Even on its release, there was something both delightfully archaic and frightfully inventive about Dead Rising’s systems that stand the test of time.
The defining factors of Dead Rising’s excellence come from treating the zombie apocalypse influences with respect whilst still being an utterly absurd madman of a videogame. Bosses that are just people driven nuts by the situation is reflective of that, as is the photography that makes up a surprising amount of the enjoyment you’ll garner from the game. Then there’s the sedate, unassuming menace of the shuffling hordes that are easily manipulated, dispatched and mocked, but able to lull you into a false sense of superiority that will likely see you surrounded and ripped apart if you abuse their weakness.
In the years since Dead Rising, the mythos of the zombie has been heartily consumed into the mainstream, and as a result, spun into so many different directions that it’s becoming quite rare to see anyone nail the fundamentals of zombification that George Romero took on and first thrust into popular culture. Dead Rising has that Romero spirit in many ways, and the marriage of absurdity to death and destruction is the most prominent.
Am I regarding Dead Rising as perfection then? Certainly not. It’s a standout in the zombie sub-genre of gaming for sure, but there are aspects of it that really haven’t aged all that well. While it is impressive to see so many undead on screen at once, and the apocalypse in the making of Wilmette is welcomingly colorful, the visuals do show their age in the character models.
Elsewhere, the manual save system that requires you to either head back to HQ to have a kip, or use one of the public restrooms in the mall, can be incredibly frustrating if you happen to forget to save for a bit and subsequently get noshed on by some walking rot parade. It’s sensible in the context of the game, but that doesn’t stop you from getting annoyed the third or fourth time you end up in this situation. It definitely feels at odds with modern gaming, so prepare for that adjustment. Who knows? You might well embrace it.
The Psycho fights are a bit of a pain, some more than others. That’s the fault of the controls, which are more than serviceable for everything else, but flounder for anything that requires speed and dexterity. That makes for an ‘interesting’ time as the 72 clock looms closer to completion and things escalate. Again, this will bother some more than others, but it will definitely annoy the majority in some fashion.
So Dead Rising is worth the wait? Absolutely. I don’t feel there’s much point in a repurchase for those who’ve devoured the game multiple times before, as the differences are trivial. But if it’s been a long while and you’re craving zombies done right, with Capcom still in their pomp, then it’s time to raise a glass to Dead Rising’s 10th anniversary and drink it in.
But what about Dead Rising 2 and its spiritual successor Off the Record I hear you cry? Well they are fairly bog-standard ports of the Vegas-set successor, and practically the same game twice with Dead Rising 2’s protagonist Chuck Greene replaced with Frank West for Off the Record while many cutscenes and events are exactly the same. Flaws and all, and Dead Rising 2 sure does have some flaws.
Both feature a crafting system that allows you to create some comically-horrid weapons, and this is one of the better aspects. Alongside that in the fun stakes is the daffy TV show ‘Terror is Reality’ that lets Chuck/Frank participate in some zombie-packed, and utterly grisly, game show challenges. The jewel of these particular crowns comes in the shape of co-op. Even a lesser game is significantly boosted by co-op zombie-smashing.
The issue with these titles is that Capcom fell away from the silly, camp gore-o-rama of the original, and delivered confused gibbering messes that are utterly unsure whether they want to be serious, silly or ‘hip’. The result of this is a pair of games that lack the focus and direction of Dead Rising, and aren’t nearly as involving. Not total disasters by any stretch, but quite disappointing all the same. If you had to pick a standout, then it’s clearly in Off the Record, because Frank’s self-indulgent tale of ego is more in keeping with the series’ attitude than going on never ending hunts to find a Zombrex cure for your daughter. Dead Rising 2 problem is how often it tries to stay po-faced and emotionally-investing whilst Chuck is wearing a Mega Man outfit and swinging a potted plant.
The triple pack is probably just about worth the purchase, but you could probably save yourself a few quid and just buy Dead Rising and Off the Record, because when you want decent Dead Rising games, you gotta go West.