by Solomon Philbrick
[Note: I did not intend to write two game reviews in a row, but the other column I had started was so lame that my sense of shame kicked in for once.]
Sometimes I wonder if I’m totally hellbent on destroying my academic career. While I am still in the middle of a steamy and time-consuming affair with Gears of War, I struck up something on the side with a sleazy and trashy little number by the name of Dead Rising. I figured I should air my dirty laundry right here in public because on one hand I can think of nothing else to write about and on the other Dead Rising seems like a perfect Faster Than The World game. Allow me to explain. When I first started reading FTTW, I noticed an interesting fixation with zombies among both the editors and contributors, and seeing as how I like zombies as much as the next well adjusted and healthy guy, the whole walking undead thing was one of the many grand oddities that kept me coming back to the site. Now I can finally give back to this wonderful community by adding my own zombie contribution.
Dead Rising places the player in the shoes of Frank West, a photojournalist who has received information of some strange happenings in the small town of Willamette, CO. He hires a helicopter pilot to fly him into the town and sees the townspeople engaged in some rather strange activities. Being the intrepid journo that Frank is, he has the pilot drop him off at the local mall, which soon becomes infested with zombies. Frank’s goal in the course of the game is to figure out just what the hell is going on while also saving as many stranded non-zombies as possible. Oh, and he also has to kill a lot of zombies in whatever way he can. The methods of zombie killing in the game range from guns to baseball bats, chainsaws, canned food, televisions, umbrellas, benches, compact discs…well, I think you probably get the picture. The mall is full of zombies and you have to use whatever is available in the mall to take them out. The game plays out in a sort of “real-time” game universe, and Frank has seventy-two hours to do whatever it is he is going to do and get his ass back to the helicopter landing pad.
It’s not all zombies, though. In the overall story of the game, the zombies sort of fade into the background and become nuisances that Frank must beat back in order to clear paths to his objectives, and the objectives themselves are often even weirder than the hordes of undead mall people. I am less than a third of the way through the game and I have already had to fight a gang of escaped convicts in a jeep with a heavy machine gun attached to the rear end, a psychotic clown wielding two chainsaws, an overzealous grocer armed with a shotgun and a fully tricked-out shopping cart, and a religious cult. Add to that the swarthy man and his equally swarthy sister (who chased me down in the mall on a motorcycle,) the characters that reveal that the mall was built on top of a…oh, why bother, you already know.
Of course, rescuing people and fulfilling objectives is all well and good, but sometimes it really is all about the zombie killing. Plenty of gamers who have beaten the game and opened up all the power ups (and probably some who have not) are treating Dead Rising as a sort of zombie version of Grand Theft Auto, killing as many zombies in one sitting as possible. One guy at Gamespot was trying for thirty-thousand the day I bought the game. To put that in perspective, my total kills so far are around six-hundred. This is where the replay value of the game no doubt comes in, because while Dead Rising is not as solid as Gears of War, it offers a sandbox mode that is always appealing. This is why I’m still playing The Warriors after I shelved God of War long ago, even though the latter is technically way better than the former.
If Dead Rising sounds like a blatant ripoff of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, that’s probably because it is. In fact, the ripoff is so blatant that Capcom saw it necessary to add a disclaimer on the cover of the game, reading, “This game was not developed, approved or licensed by the owners or creators of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.” You might call it theft, but I call it an endorsement.