Monday, August 21, 2006

Game: Dead Rising

So you like zombie games, kid?

Actually, I don't typically like zombie games. The genre isn't exactly bursting at the seams, though - we've got Resident Evil, the big old franchise that coined the term "survival horror" and features zombies as an afterthought. There was a zombie marketing tie-in first-person shooter that released with Land of the Dead. And the old SNES game Zombies Ate My Neighbors. But as far as a game that accurately mimics the feel of a zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead. Negative. That was, until Dead Rising.

Dead Rising is as much a love letter to Romero's zombie movies as it is an incredible stand-alone game. You play Frank West, a photojournalist on a hot scoop: something's going down in the Colorado town of Willamette. Frank gets dropped on the roof of the mall, and has 72 hours to uncover what's going on - and survive the hordes of zombies that have taken over!

Gameplay is open-ended. There are two types of missions: Cases (which advance the plot) and Scoops (which don't, but will level you up quickly and basically act as "extra credit.") You can do as much or a little of either as you want - but if you stop doing the Cases, you lose your chance to solve the mystery for that playthrough. But fear not - when you restart the game, you keep your experience and skills from the last game (basically, your XP and character level.) You can pick up pretty much any item, whether it's the rack of toys at the toy store, the wine bottle in the restaurant, all kinds of guns and knives, or trash cans and cardboard boxes. You can play dress-up with all kinds of outfits, hair dyes, and so forth. And you can kick a lot of zombie ass, or not kill a single one (although I imagine that might be a very difficult proposition.)

As with any good zombie story, the really dangerous parts aren't the zombies themselves but the other humans. The "bosses" are various types of psychopaths - escaped convicts, Vietnam vets who snapped, killer clowns with chainsaws, and "normal" people whose reaction to the apocalyse has become so extreme that they're a danger to others and themselves.

The save system takes a little getting used to; you can only save in certain locations (on couches and in bathrooms.) Because of the time limit and the vast numbers of zombies, this means you have to very carefully plan your saves, just as you carefully plan how long to ration out your ammo and food so you can replenish your supplies of those as well. At first, I found it annoying, but now I can't imagine the game without it - it adds greatly to the "survival" flavor. Just wandering around and screwing off is very likely to get you killed, not unlike a real apocalyptic scenario. Careful planning and strategic use of resources is the #1 key to survival.

Zombie fans, start your chainsaws. Dead Rising is our game.

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