Angry Robot

Bargain Bin: Dead Rising

This is the game version of Dawn of the Dead, so much so that there’s a copyright disclaimer on the box cover. But while it deals in survival horror staples – non-cyborg-warrior protagonist, limited ammo, dark and scary – it transcends them with lots of innovations that are more or less nods to realism.

For example, your character is a photographer, so you carry a camera and are rewarded with experience points for taking good photographs. There are many criteria for what constitutes a good photo and they are well explained to you as you take pictures.

As a mall-based zombie infestation game, the goal is to survive until your pickup arrives, 72 hours after you touch down. The game isn’t real-time exactly (72 hours of that would get dull) but the clock is always ticking, and when the sun sets the zombies increase in number and savagery. You are given tasks via radio, some plot-advancing and some not, usually of the ‘find survivors and escort them to safety’ variety. The tasks show up on your screen with a bar indicating how much time you have to complete them.

Most importantly, the game encourages experimentation with weapons. You can find guns, but half of the fun is poking around looking for new, innovative ways to kill zombies. You can check the mall map, note a hardware store, and make your way there… sure enough, lead pipes, sledgehammers, and yes, a truckload of chainsaws! But you might see a propane tank, for example. Sure enough, you can shoot them and clear out a bunch of your staggery friends.

Like any good horror game, weapons don’t last forever, not even the leap pipes and golf clubs. After a number of thwacks they break apart. Coupled that with an extremely limited inventory system – it goes up, but early on you can carry only about 5 items including health powerups – and you start seeing another strength of this game: moreso than even some classic zombie films, it really gives you the sense of menace from the zombies’ only strength, that there are just too many of the damn things. When you’ve just barely survived one section of the mall and you come through the door to see the hall thick with hundreds of them and you’ve only got a bag of chips, a two-by-four and you’re carrying an old lady on your back, you’re going to think twice about teasing them because they’re slow and dumb.

But here’s the game’s problem. It’s just too fucking hard. It’s not only just hard, it’s hard in a variety of different hard ways. It’s hard because it’s just plain challenging. It’s hard because you can’t save anywhere near often enough. It’s hard because it’s just way too hard to shoot. And worst of all, it’s hard because it just doesn’t explain what you’re supposed to do properly. The upshot of all that hardness is that your willingness to finish this game is directly proportionate to your willingness to play the same sequences over and over again.

In this day and age, is there any reason why a game should allow only one save file? Remember those time limits I was mentioning – let’s say you’ve got only a little time left on a story-crucial mission and you save – because well, when’s the next time a save point is going to pop up – and then you discover it’s actually technically impossible to get to the spot you need to get to in the time you have left. Well, you’re going to be starting the game over again, aren’t you shithead? There’s no reloading of levels or checkpoints because there are no levels or checkpoints. So yeah, only one save slot, and also, you can only save in bathrooms or a handful of other spots on the map. At night with the thousands of zombies and the disposable weapons, simply getting to a save spot can deplete your inventory and use up your time so that you will be unable to even complete your next mission. Right but that’s your only save slot! Ironic that your effort to save the game was the very thing that rendered the save slot worthless. Start again bitch!

As if that’s not bad enough, once you are killed you get a screen that gives you two options: “load save game” and “save status and quit”. Save status, eh? So maybe you think that will save where you are in the game and let you come back later? Go ahead, try it. HA! Sucker! You saved your leveled-up character, but you start again from the beginning of the game! With no option to go back to the old game file because hey, only one save slot. Sweet eh?

Another type of hard: shooting things. To aim, you hold the right trigger and enter into an ‘aiming mode’. I guess this is like what used to happen in Resident Evil and suchlike. But it doesn’t auto aim. It makes you stand still. Your movement of your reticule works completely differently from how you move in the normal roaming around mode. Also, if anything hits you, you are thrown out of shooting mode altogether, and must reacquire your target. So imagine yourself facing off in this manner against a fast-moving hummer with a mounted heavy gun that shoots at you every two seconds, whilst zombies swarm about you all the while. Now imagine doing that over and over again.

It’s probably redundant to mention the confusing design. OK I’ll stick to one example. A cutscene finishes and the mission is not yet over – the clock is still ticking down. But I have no idea where to go. I check the map and it has a question mark over a certain area, so I’ll try that. But no matter which floor of the mall I try, I can’t get toward it at all. As it turns out, that question mark on the map was really more of a metaphor, an abstract symbol if you will, not an indication of where to go. End result: trying that part three times. Add in a bunch of “service exits” that show up on the map but are non-functional until you find some mysterious keycard, and the arbitrarily closed-off sections of the mall that show up on the map as places you can get through, and you have a sense of the wheelbarrow full of grief that this game represents.

Dead Rising, I could strangle you.

So this is one of those games I don’t feel I really feel the need to finish before I review it because playing games should be fun and not RAGE! RAGE!