One of the biggest releases of this month, Dead Rising 2, will be out tomorrow. Somehow without even planning it, I managed to play the first game in the series, Dead Rising, right before the sequel comes out. In doing so I realized I absolutely loath this game, but not because it isn’t enjoyable. I found things to like, but every step of the way, Dead Rising went out of its way to halt my enjoyment and stifle any sort of fun I could find as I played. It only seems fitting that it should be the first game spotlighted it my new feature, Bad Games That Should Have Been Great.
For those of you not in the know, Dead Rising is a game originally made for the Xbox 360 (and hilariously ported to the Wii last year for no good reason) that stars Frank West, a photojournalist hell-bent on getting some scoop at a mall in Willamette, Colorado. From the very opening the game was working against me because it pronounced Willamette as ‘Will-eh-mitt,’ whereas I come from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, pronounced ‘Will-am-et.’ Dead Rising made up their Willamette and pronounced it incorrectly just to spite me, or so my theory goes.
Anyway, once Frank gets to the mall, it becomes blatantly apparent that zombies are everywhere. The plot has Frank tell his helicopter pilot friend to pick him up in three days while he gets his scoop. This is the barest premise where Frank has three days to roam a mall killing zombies using any and everything he can pick up and use as a weapon including but not limited to pipes, benches, battle axes, handguns, frying pans, chainsaws, potted plants, TVs, shower heads, and skateboards, just to name a few. The game keeps track of how many zombies you’ve offed and even allows you to level up to increase stats and teach Frank new abilities such as finisher moves and dodges. In theory this is the greatest concept a game could offer a gamer: “You are in a mall flooded with zombies and you can kill them using anything not nailed down.” So where does Dead Rising go wrong?
First, those three days I mentioned? That is a strict running clock at all times, not so easily checked by looking at Frank’s analog wristwatch. That grand ticking clock permeates every single facet of the game, making every mission time-sensitive as you progress through the three days. Some of these time-sensitive missions don’t even really make sense. I was at one of the final missions of the game that asked me to run back to meet up with a character after I’d just been told to run somewhere else for seemingly no reason. I enter the room this character is sitting in and proceed to run to her, but time runs out and I have to reload my last checkpoint despite being in clear view of her, literally a second away from activating a cutscene. How this is fair I do not know, but was I frustrated? Absolutely.
The next thing Capcom decided the game needed was escort missions. Of the two things gamers hate most, timers and escort missions tend to rank near the top due to a timer putting a limit on your fun and escort missions taking full control out of your hands. In Dead Rising, the escort missions ask you to find survivors scattered around the mall during various time-activated checkpoints, making Otis, one of the maintenance guys, call you on the world’s most annoying walkie-talkie ever. When he calls you, an icon in the lower left-hand corner of the screen will flash, prompting you to click right on the directional pad to answer. The walkie-talkie will ring its annoying ring until you can pick it up. When you answer Otis’ calls, you have to walk around while he talks to you, meaning you are completely vulnerable when talking to him. If the call is interrupted either by you exiting a room or getting attacked by zombies, he will call back and tell you it’s rude to cut him off like you did, then proceed to repeat what he had already said as if he didn’t just get halfway through telling you.
On a side bar here about Otis calling you, this is one place that aggravates more than it excites. Otis never calls when it’s a good time to answer him, usually when you’re in the middle of a big mission fighting a boss or when the area is swarming with zombies. I’ve even got calls from Otis while I’m already escorting someone, specifically when I’m carrying someone and can’t answer the walkie-talkie because if I set the person down we’ll both be swarmed by zombies. I frequently clicked right on the directional pad but it registered as me hanging up on him for some reason, making him call back angry as usual. Even worse, the text for everything Otis says is extremely small at the bottom of the screen, meaning I usually can’t make it out save for the area he’s referencing which is highlighted green. How someone in QA didn’t realize the ridiculous amount of eyestrain one would have to go through just to read crucial pieces of game information is beyond me.
So, once Otis tells you about someone in need of help somewhere in the mall, off you go to find them. In just about every occasion you’ll find them huddled in a random store whimpering like a moron. You’ll be prompted to talk to them in an extremely slow conversation with unreadable text. Even when you can make out the text, the conversations all adhere to this one staple: “I’m scared!” “I can help you.” “You should just leave me here!” “Seriously, I can help you.” “Okay! Let’s go!” Elongate those conversations to idiotic lengths and you might start to feel my annoyance.
After convincing these brain dead individuals to come with you, there is the chance you can give them a weapon to help with getting them back to the safe room. Giving them nothing makes them act like idiots, but giving them anything makes them act like morons, so take your pick. I frequently gave survivors a katana, allowing them to rush through crowds of zombies without trouble. The trouble, however, was that instead of following me they’d go out of their way to hack down zombies, allowing themselves to get swarmed anyway. Some survivors require you to carry them, an option I much preferred since it’s super easy to just run and avoid zombies when that’s all you have to think about. Other times you’ll have to have them hobble along leaning on your shoulder for support, which also isn’t too bad. Most of the time (because most of the survivors tend to be women for some reason) you’ll have to lead the survivor around by hand because they’re so stupid they’ll just stand around crying if you don’t tell them to grab your hand and walk.
Another side bar here about handholding controls: To grab someone’s hand you have to be standing next to them and press B. Instead of just grabbing their hand, the game decides to completely disorient you and shifts the camera around to the worst possible angle, then takes the relatively alright controls and throws them away. If you try turning while holding someone’s hand, you’ll turn like their stupidity is infecting you, too. Even worse, if you try holding their hand around sharp corners they’ll inevitably get stuck on the wall and let go of your hand, choosing to remain standing where your hands separated while crying.
The escort missions push you to the point of hair-tearing frustration when you’re trying to lead a group of anything more than one survivor through the mall. Typically, you’ve given weapons to a few survivors and are carrying/dragging one more survivor with you. The weapon-wielding survivors will instead decide to try and kill every zombie they can. Actually, even if they aren’t holding a weapon they’ll still try to fight every zombie. One girl I was escorting refused to take a weapon, but as I came to a door, she ran a good twenty yards away in the OPPOSITE direction from me to go shove a zombie, forcing her to get swarmed, attacked, and nearly killed.
Keep in mind that there is that ever-running timer on everything you do, so when you have a bunch of survivors in tow, Otis calls and tells you about another survivor, and the current main story mission is glowing red (meaning you have to move your butt NOW), having survivors running around pushing zombies and getting stuck on walls and such WILL make you start screaming at the TV. After a few of these escort missions you’ll start to wonder what the heck happened. You’ll be asking yourself, “How did I get suckered into this? I thought I was going to get to kill zombies, not baby-sit preschoolers.” Sadly, for the majority of the game, that’s what you’ll be doing.
However, there are times, very few times mind you, that you’ll be able to just free roam around the mall killing zombies however you like. You’ll immediately go grab an item you want to kill zombies will, let’s say hedge clippers, and run into a mob of the undead to start choppin’ zombies. After killing maybe fifteen or twenty enemies your item will break. Suddenly the promise of using everything in the mall to fight zombies isn’t as entertaining as you’d expect now that weapons also have a limit, meaning you’re on a time limit and a usage limit, once more limiting your enjoyment. This forces you to decide on one or two items you find really useful and then just hoard them and ignore any other items. I found myself using hunting knifes the most because they’re super fast and usually offer a one-hit-kill to enemies. Because I can only cut through maybe a dozen or more zombies before my weapon breaks, I need to make sure I have four or five hunting knifes at all times. As much as I wanted to use the chainsaw, I discovered it to be nearly worthless since I couldn’t hold more than one at a time, it broke after killing maybe thirty zombies, and if I got hit I’d drop it and have to rev it back up. Even cars, the beefiest weapons in the game, have a limit to how many zombies they can run over before breaking down. It’s as if every time I’ve found something to enjoy, Capcom steps out and goes, “Ah-ah-ah, you have chores to do and homework to finish.”
Here come some spoilers for you since I’ll be giving away some critical point elements. Your one and only spoiler warning is here. Spoiler spoiler spoiler.
While zombies are your primary enemies, at a certain point a new enemy will be introduced: The Raincoat Cultists. These guys are actual humans dressed in yellow raincoats and ugly green masks (there are hundreds of these guys, which makes me ask, where did these guys come from and why aren’t zombies eating them, too?). They have knives (that you can’t pick up after killing them for some reason), will sometimes explode with dynamite if you’re unlucky enough, and shoot gas in your face if you’re extremely unlucky, which will prompt you to faint as they drag you away to their secret hideout, strip you down to nothing, and take all your items, forcing you to fight out of an impossible situation. If you get gassed by them, you might as well just restart the game since you’re not escaping. Adding these cult members into the fray ramps the difficulty up even more since they have more health and more attacks than your typical zombies. And guess what? Your items break faster on them.
Later still, after you beat the first three days of the game (surprise, the helicopter doesn’t make it to save you), the US government has apparently decided that they need to send in Special Ops soldiers to take you out with machine guns. These become the primary enemy during the second half of the game and they aren’t that enjoyable of an enemy. The game’s play style changes drastically when they’re introduced since once you kill one solider and steal his machine gun, you’ll use it to kill another solider and steal his gun, too, meaning from that point on all you’ll really carry are machine guns and food items. The soldiers aren’t particularly difficult to kill since they won’t shoot until they’re relatively close to you, so if you funnel them into a store you can just unload until they’re dead and take their gun, too.
The very end of the game then decides to strip you of all your weapons yet again and throw you against the final boss, some random army dude, in a hand-to-hand combat section that really pissed me off since I hadn’t figured out how to actually do hand-to-hand combat in the game because I had spent too much time with knives and swords and guns and crap since, I don’t know, THAT WAS WHAT THE GAME WANTED ME TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Even the heavy-handed moralizing cuts deep here. The entire plot can basically be summed up as “The United States is full of fat consumers, greedy corporations, and a corrupt government.” I’m so sick of being told I should be ashamed to live in the United States. I don’t want my zombie game to tell me that I’m just like a zombie because I’m an American and therefore do nothing but eat and eat and eat. I want my zombie game to shut the heck up and let me kill zombies.
To finish off the greatest insult the game could pull, after beating the full game, you unlock something called Infinity Mode, which sounds like the game we wanted to play in the first place. It puts Frank down in the mall and says, “Go wild.” There are no time-sensitive elements of play and no escort missions to deal with. In fact, if you find anyone else in the game, you’re supposed to just kill them. Good. BUT WAIT! That sounds a bit too much like fun, right? Don’t worry; Capcom realized that sounded too fun, so now your health continually counts down. You’ll lose a chunk of health every 100 seconds and food items do not respawn, meaning you have to go searching at all times for more food. The insanity of this is that there are achievements for surviving five and seven days. Lasting the full seven days in Infinity Mode has been labeled as the single most difficult Xbox Live Achievement because those seven in-game days equate to roughly 14 real hours, not including cutscenes. 14 hours. There are no save points either, so you have to do this cleanly in one straight 14-hour session. How many Achievement Points does this give you? 20. Dead Rising, what were you thinking?
Capcom must have been out of their minds when they let this game slip onto shelves. You will find a lot of fans of this game, and there’s nothing wrong with being a fan of Dead rising, but this is not a good game by any stretch of the imagination due mostly to the fact that it could have and should have been better. Dead Rising 2 is adding the ability to combine weapons, which may be good, but as soon as I learned the game is on a strict 72-hour time limit again, I threw my hands up in disgust. We’ll just have to wait and see if the sequel learned from the former’s mistakes.
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