LAS VEGAS--If there's one pairing in video games that's seen a good amount of mileage, it's that of Capcom and zombies. The venerable developer has been amusing us with the undead's shenanigans since Arthur set off to find his main squeeze in Ghosts 'n Goblins. The ensuing decades have seen Capcom find new and exciting ways to include the undead rapscallions in all sorts of games. The company's latest use of zombies is Dead Rising, an Xbox 360 title under the watchful and zombie-loving eye of Keiji Inafune. Though the game made a promising debut at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, we'll admit to being over seeing the same demo in the months that followed. Thankfully, Capcom had new zombie hotness to show off at its recent press event in Las Vegas, which revealed a polished new look and nifty new gameplay features.
For those who haven't been following Dead Rising, the game puts you in the role of Frank, an unlucky photojournalist who is trapped in a mall that's got a zombie infestation. Much like the old saying about cats and curiosity, Frank's search for a scoop has led him to be stuck in the mall and in a world of trouble. Though help, in the form of a helicopter on its way to airlift him out, is due in 72 hours, our boy isn't the type to just quietly wait around. As a result, you'll have the opportunity to do a few things to pass the time. You can continue to investigate the lead that brought you to the mall in the first place, or you can choose to bond with the assorted non-player characters who have managed to survive the unseasonably high influx of zombies by helping them with their assorted problems. Or, of course, you can just run around murdering zombies. What you do with the time is your choice.
During a presentation on the game from Inafune, however, it's become clear that Dead Rising's gameplay has turned into a mix of free-form sandbox mechanics and more-traditional game elements. So, for example, while you can do whatever you want while you're in the game, there will be repercussions for your actions. Every choice you make will have some effect on your experience in the game, ranging from NPCs turning on you for your lack of compassion to attracting the unwelcome attention of zombies. The experience will come to reflect how you play. More importantly, the game will feature a unique leveling system that lets Frank evolve as you play. The gameplay may sound rather mishmash, but, from what we've played, it all seems to work together.
Before we hit you with our impressions, here's a quick rundown on the different components that make up the Dead Rising experience, which can be broken up into time, survivors, cases, scoops, and leveling. Time is a factor in the game, since the action is set during the 72-hour period of time you have to kill before help arrives. Events happen in real time as you play, so your choices will let you experience certain events and miss others, which will come to affect your experiences in the game. A challenging twist to this element is the day and night cycles, which will cause a change in your zombie pals. It seems that the undead are sluggish and not so motivated in the daylight hours, however, this changes dramatically at night, when zombies are a good deal more focused and faster.
Survivors are the ragtag band of humans who've managed to avoid zombification in the mall and, in some cases, could use a hand. All told, the mall will have nearly 100 people in plain sight or hiding in the roughly 120 shops in the mall. How you interact with them is your choice. If you see them in dire straits, you can choose to help them or you can ignore them. In some cases, you may want to help out, as groups of surly and not-entirely sane individuals--such as recently escaped prisoners, paranoid shop owners, and police officers--will make your life extremely difficult. While you can avoid these folks some of the time, you'll find that there are benefits to engaging and defeating the zombies, since victory can yield new weapons or open up new areas for you to explore.
Cases are partially tied to your interaction with survivors and your exploration of the mall. So whether you trigger a specific event by interacting with someone or come across something going on, you'll have the option to treat it as a side-quest-style challenge, which you can either deal with or ignore. Of course, bad things could happen by choosing either option, so it seems like your choice could be a calculated risk.
Scoops are basically events going on in the mall that need your attention. Dealing with these events will help you in your larger quest, which is to discover how a perfectly nice mall gets overrun by zombies. Information on these events will come in over your trusty radio and will eventually require you to multitask to deal with them.
Finally, the leveling aspect of the game revolves around you earning prestige points, which are awarded for a number of different acts, such as getting scoops, rescuing survivors, and fighting zombies. As game heroes go, Frank is driven by his desire for fame and esteem as much as anything else, so a good deal of what you'll find yourself doing will fall into one of these two descriptors. As you earn points, Frank will level up, which will increase his attack power, hit points, speed and agility, weapon stock, and available skills, such as fighting moves.
So you may now be wondering how it all works in practice. Our previous looks at the game have shown Dead Rising to be a fun, although somewhat unfocused, romp through a mall, wrecking havoc on zombies as you go. The introduction of the above elements--along with an expansion of weapons and vehicles that you can use, as well as the new food system--have certainly opened up the game in many ways. Weapons, which amount to just about anything that isn't nailed down, are an impressive array of items that range from the traditional (shotguns and knives) to the improvisational (cash registers, potted plants, enormous umbrellas, and propane tanks). A good amount of fun in the game is finding new and fiendish ways to use weapons. Food is an interesting mechanic that lets you eat whatever munchies you can find to restore your health. The only caveat is that you need to make sure your foodstuffs are reasonably fresh; otherwise, they'll end up doing more harm than good.
Based on what we have played, this rather eclectic mix of elements makes for a fun experience. The improvisational nature of what can be used as a weapon extends to just about anything that you can pick up that'll do damage to the undead. Sure, shotguns are fine and satisfying, but you haven't lived until you've used a pair of hedge clippers, taken from a hardware store, to snip a zombie's limbs off. The same holds true for when you're using a commandeered jeep to mow down hordes of zombies. The controls in the game take some getting used to, but once you've gotten the hang of things, you'll find that Dead Rising's system works well.
As for managing the side quests, the system used to keep track of different cases is a little clunky, but once you commit to a certain quest, a helpful arrow will show you where you need to go. While this may sound like hand-holding, we didn't mind it so much, since our hands were full trying to figure out how to get past the zombie mobs in our path. If we had to constantly refer to a map of the enormous mall, we could see ourselves getting frustrated. But killing is such a full time job in Dead Rising that we were happy for the small bit of help.
As far as the visuals go, Dead Rising has made some impressive leaps over what we last saw. The graphics have been polished up considerably and have a sheen to them that's pretty slick, though there are stretches where the environments were so shiny they looked like they had been sprayed with glycerin. The frame rate has been tightened up, and there are new graphical effects (similar to the crazy Fight Night-style motion blur) that have been added, as well. The game looks much sharper now, though it was being run on HD plasma screens, which likely helped.
Our updated look at Dead Rising has certainly left us anxious to see more of the game. The unique structure seems like it could be a cool way to progress through a game--or it could be so vague that we end up going insane trying to keep busy. In any case, it's certainly a game that we want to keep playing on the Xbox 360 Look for more on Dead Rising in the coming weeks. The game is currently slated to ship later this year on the Xbox 360.