‘Dead Rising’ Xbox 360 Review

July 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 3 out of 5

I’m not sure I’ve ever shouted so much at a game as I have at Dead Rising. In some ways it’s quite exceptional and, in others, rage-quit inducing. It’s a game with as many flaws as it has strengths and is difficult to recommend for that very reason. If, however, you can look your way past the instances of awkward and perverse design, you’ll enjoy a game which is not only engaging, but also interesting and unique in a lot of respects.

You play as Frank West, a photojournalist, caught smack-bang in the middle of a town infested with zombies. Finding himself barricaded in at the local shopping mall – along with dozens of other fellow human beings – Frank’s first instinct is to catch everything on film. Reporters, eh?

Having arrived at the mall via helicopter, Frank has seventy-two hours to get all the photos he needs, save as many trapped survivors as he can and uncover the conspiracy behind the outbreak – all before the helicopter returns to see him, and anybody else left standing, out to safety.

Dead Rising, as I see it, has two major problems. One, the AI is crap; and two, the experience-based levelling-up system causes more problems than it does benefits. These two rather large issues – plus the plethora of small, ankle-bitingly irritating smaller faults in the game – really hurt Dead Rising in a bad way. If, however, you can stop yourself from snatching the DVD from the tray and snapping it in half, if you somehow manage to look past these defects, you can look forward to a really great game. But that’s a big “if”, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for not persevering long enough for it to get fun – and, generally, I would say it’s the mark of a bad game for that ever to be the case.

Dead Rising, though, does have moments of brilliance. Capcom have done a really great job in bottling what makes a good zombie-horror flick and putting it into a video game. Dead Rising has a charm and reverence for the genre, as well as for certain video game conventions, and it shines through. Further, almost every character in the game is memorable. Even the story – something that’s never that important in zombie-horror – works well in building intrigue and tension throughout. Where Dead Rising succeeds most is where it grants the player almost absolute freedom. Part of the reason the story works so well is because it’s not forced upon the player; it’s served up in easily digestible, bite-sized chunks.

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As a sandbox game, it recreates the same emergent gameplay that worked so well in the Grand Theft Auto series. While you do have set objectives – any of which you can choose to pursue or abandon at will, without really being punished for it – it’s the way the game encourages you to adapt to your environment and think on your feet. Part of the fun is in things going wrong or not according to plan, and then trying to figure a way out of it. Sure, if you want to go about in a robotic manner and do each mission in order, you can, but the game has been purposefully designed so you can’t do everything all at once. Sometimes you need to make a sacrifice between saving the girl held hostage and carrying on with the next story mission, and making these choices is where part of the fun enters in. As a completionist, it’ll drive you nuts – but then I’d argue that you’re probably not playing the game the way it was intended.

What it comes down to is the type of games player you are and how much tolerance you have for Dead Rising’s various infuriating foibles. I, personally, can forgive some of the problems in Dead Rising because the central design is so ambitious and unique, both technically and conceptually, and because much of what Capcom has achieved here, I’ve never really seen before – not presented like this, anyway. But, just as there are as many interesting design choices that work in the game, there are also several that don’t. It’s a mixed bag of good ideas, bad ones and downright strange ones, and so it gets a middling three out of five from me.

I only wish I could have given it more.

(723 words.)

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