Dead Rising Review ★★★★

I have the dubious distinction of having been present at the filming of 1968's Night of the Living Dead. I was only a toddler at the time, but I retain hazy memories of standing by the side of the road watching a hubbub of activity, including my first helicopter. I have no recollection of any zombies, but my sister used to tell tales of seeing fake heads in the windows of the infamous farmhouse. Doubtful, as disembodied heads don't appear in any scenes I'm familiar with.

Zombies have had a macabre appeal to me ever since, evoking the kind of fright-as-entertainment pleasure that draws me to games like Doom 3 and, most recently, to Dead Rising. Enough appeal, in fact, that Dead Rising was my reason for purchasing an Xbox 360.

I was not to be disappointed. While the appeal of Dead Rising is not in its frights, (although there are a few) the game's special sauce is to be found in its abundant zombie kitsch. First off, there are a lot of zombies. An awful lot of zombies. Dead Rising's use of the Xbox 360's power as a zombie summoner is at times awe-inspiring. The number of zombies onscreen is amazing, almost Fort Joe Smith amazing. And that's just the setup -- the counterpoint to all the zombies is the arsenal of weapons at your fingertips as you hack, slash, and sometimes just plow your way through the Willamette Mall. Chainsaws, parasols, lawn mowers - even shower heads - can be used against the zombie hordes.

You'll need to get past all these zombies as you rush to save survivors and solve the mystery behind the zombie outbreak. A mysterious latin lover and his sister, along with a collection of psychopathic survivors, stand between you and the solutions to case files that comprise Dead Rising's missions. Optional side quests allow you to do a bit of role-playing, being the hero (or the villain) when confronted with survivors who could use a helping hand.

These side missions (called scoops) are plentiful, and you'll be hard-pressed to fulfill them all while still completing the mandatory (and timed) cases. Coupled with the stringent time limits is Dead Rising's insanely-restrictive save system. While you can save as many times as you like, each save over-writes the previous save. If you haven't left yourself enough time to complete a mandatory mission, you'll have to restart from the beginning if you want to solve the mystery. You do have the option to save your stats before starting over, allowing you to begin the game at a higher level. In fact, I recommend playing the beginning of the game several times, leveling up without the frustrating expectation of completing the game on a single pass. Once you're at a comfortable level of zombie-domination, you can attempt a complete run-through.

I think this is the way Dead Rising is intended to be played, as replayability is excellent. You can attempt previously-untried tactics, weapons, and scoops to keep the experience fresh, all while enjoying an RPG-like improvement in your abilities. Before too long, you'll be blazing a trail through the zombie masses with ease, and this never grows tiresome. You may even think of yourself by the title of the book which started the modern zombie phenom: Richard Matheson's I Am Legend.

- Last Update 11/26/06