Reviewed on PS4. Copy supplied by publisher.
You’re stood still, sweat dripping from your brow. Your hand bears the bruises of gripping your trusty baseball bat too hard, and your only remaining bullet is the one you’re saving for the inevitable should the worst happen. Ahead of you in the local game store they wait, hundreds of them. Filling up the room, greatly outnumbering the others, they dominate the whole store, gradually turning all others into their own breed. It’s a never ending attack that threatens to devour the whole store.
I am, of course, talking about zombie games. No matter which way you look these days, games always seem to have some form of undead in them, be it a slow, shambling moaners, or a sprinting screecher, its a good bet that somewhere you’ll have to return the dead to their graves, and as a dedicated gamer, I for one am getting more than a little weary of the trend. Metal Gear with zombies!? Really Konami? REALLY!?
Still, there’s a reason zombies are so popular in games, and that’s not least due to Capcom and its flagship Resident Evil series. Zombies had been in games long before then, of course, but just as it did with the survival horror genre, Resident Evil also made Zombies mainstream, and one of the go-to enemies for gaming. Since we first saw that infamous cut scene when you found your first zombie in the mansion, we’ve seen more zombies in games than the population of a large nation, and then some.
Early on we loved it, zombies arrived in all sorts of games, notably making their way into the likes of Call of Duty where they’re now a staple fan favourite, and Valve’s Left 4 Dead is one of the best, all-out action zombie titles around. Let’s not forget the infinite amount of zombie survival games that litter the likes of Steam and Early Access.
All of these games bear many similarities, but there was one zombie title that arrived along with the Xbox 360 that did things differently, and for it, it became one of the most polarising games of the time. That game was Capcom’s Dead Rising, and it now finds itself, along with its sequel and sequel side story, in remastered form on the current generation, no longer limited to Microsoft’s system.
I’m going to focus on the first Dead Rising here, as in this remaster, it’s the one that benefits the most, and as most fans would agree, it’s also the best in the series. The first adventure with photojournalist, Frank West is one of the most memorable zombie games of all time, and although its first release has some serious problems, it didn’t stop it’s hardcore fan base from lapping up every minute.
The core premise of the game is one of frantic time management and deciding on your priorities whilst battling a massive horde of zombies. Frank arrives in the sleepy town of Willamette, Colorado where a zombie outbreak is occurring. Reaching the only notable place in the forgettable town by helicopter, the shopping mall, he’s thrust into a three day long mission of survival against an endless stream of zombies. Yep, zombies in a shopping mall. Sound familiar? It should, and that’s why the original Xbox 360 release even had a sticker on the box that read “This game was not developed, approved, or licensed by the owners or creators of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.” Can you say legal action?
Frank quickly encounters some survivors, and the zombies eventually break in. So starts Frank’s harrowing shopping trip. The helicopter is set to return in three days, until then, Frank has to stay alive, uncover the truth behind the outbreak, and can help save survivors.
Dead Rising is at its core, an open world scrapper, and you can freely explore the entire mall as you wish (once you’ve opened up areas either using items or progressing through the story). Frank can pick up and use a huge amount of items as weapons, from sledge hammers and chainsaws, to toy lightsabers and giant teddy bears. The setting of a shopping mall facilitates this, with each store in the mall dealing in various items, and you can find tons of weapons to experiment with. Of course, there are more conventional weapons too, like knives and various guns, but the latter are far less common, meaning for much of the game you’ll be engaging your foes with melee weapons.
As you progress through the game you’ll be given various goals, either part of the main story, or side missions to save survivors. All of these missions are tied to a strict time limit, and Frank has to reach each goal before the timer expires on that particular mission. This means in one play through you’ll not likely be able to achieve every goal and have to prioritise. If the time runs out on a ‘scoop’, it’s gone. If the goal in question is a main story mission, the whole story is lost, and you can either reload, or continue until the third day. You’re not stopped from playing, but you’ll not uncover the truth, and the real ending(s) will be unavailable.
It’s a very interesting and unique gameplay mechanic, and one that initially came under heavy fire. The very tight time limits on some goals, including main story missions put many players off, who found the game too difficult and not enjoyable due to the strict time and inability to just play at their own pace. However, this alone wasn’t the true issue.
The original release featured a single save slot system. When you saved the game your save was overwritten, and as this was a single slot, you could save yourself into a difficult, or impossible situation. Save with not enough time to reach a goal and you’d have no choice but to start the whole game over again. You could carry over Frank’s experience and skills you earned, but you’d have to start from day one. This enraged a lot of players, and many returned the game or just avoided it.
I liked the game enough when it first dropped that I put up with this and enjoyed the challenge, but I did find it to be a poor design decision nonetheless. The good news here is the PS4 remaster fixes this, and it’s possibly the best feature of the new version. Now there are multiple save slots for a game, and you can save away without fear of getting stuck. Hoorah! It’s a major improvement, and this alone is more than enough of a reason for more people to try it, especially those who shunned the initial release.
Sadly, most of the game’s other shortcomings are still present. Otis’ infamous pone calls still get on your nerves as he calls constantly, even when you’re in a boss fight, and the survivor AI is still amongst the most ridiculously bad AI you’ll see.
This can seriously hurt the experience, as saving survivors, which is basically an escort mission, (and we all love those) is often just an exercise in frustration as your charges run head first into hordes of zombies, get stuck on objects, and generally throw themselves into Death’s embrace.
The game’s gun play is also still very poor, with a really clumsy control system for aiming. Trying to fire weapons without aiming just leads to a waste of ammo, and aiming requires a very unnatural combination of shoulder and face button use whilst Frank remains rooted to the ground. It just doesn’t work very well, and should have been addressed in the remaster. Luckily, gun play is minimal, so it’s not all bad, but I’d have welcomed a bit of TLC here.
This control method doesn’t damage the other main mechanic of Frank’s camera too much though, and this is easier to use. Frank can take pictures, and the contents of each will earn experience (as will general combat, missions and saving survivors). As you earn exp Frank levels up with more health, inventory space, attack strength, new skills and more.
Aside from the control and AI issues, the game remains a very enjoyable zombie romp. The strict time limits and general flow of the game will probably still put off some, and little has changed here, but those who welcomed the mechanic will still find it enjoyable, only this time with a working save system, better visuals, and a fluid 60fps. More importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and at times is just blissfully silly, especially some of the psychopath bosses like crazed clowns, obsessive store owners, and cult leaders.