Currently scheduled for release in North America in August (September for Europe), Dead Rising is a third-person action game that we've been excited about ever since we first got our hands on it behind closed doors at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. At this year's E3, attendees were treated to a 15-minute playable demo of the upcoming zombie-killathon, and earlier this week we had an opportunity to spend some time with a version of that same work-in-progress demo, which let us play for almost an hour between resets. The extra time with the demo not only resulted in a significantly higher undead body count, but also afforded us an opportunity to both explore previously uncharted areas of the sprawling Willamette Parkview Mall and get a much better feel for the game's storyline than on any occasion previously.
The demo gets underway inside an airborne helicopter, which photojournalist Frank West is using to bypass army checkpoints and such en route to the town of Willamette, Colorado after being tipped off that something big is going down there. What he finds, long before arriving at the aforementioned mall, is that the whole town is overrun with zombies, and as the helicopter pilot flies over the town, Frank wastes no time putting his telephoto lens to good use. This sequence plays out a lot like a rail shooter, except that you're armed with a camera instead of a firearm, and your targets are--for the most part--already dead. When you hold up your camera to take a photo, you'll switch to a first-person perspective, much like that used for sniper rifles in many games, and then you have the option to zoom in and out using two of the controller's face buttons before taking your shot. A "processing" gauge forces you to take a couple of seconds in between each shot, and if you get too trigger happy, you'll run down the camera's battery and have to endure longer processing times. Replacement batteries can be found in some of the mall's stores once you get there, and given that effective use of your camera is one of the easiest ways for Frank to earn "prestige points" and level up, you'd be well-advised to grab a new one whenever the opportunity presents itself.
When you take a photo, the number of prestige points that you earn is determined by a number of different factors. Every zombie or Willamette survivor in the frame will be worth a few points, for example, but those points will increase exponentially if you manage to get a good action shot or one that seems poignant in some way. Your best photos will automatically be sorted into one of a handful of different genres, such as horror, brutality, or drama. To illustrate how the photo-scoring system works using an example from the Willamette flyover, you'll score only a few points for catching the guy who's standing on top of his car with zombies surrounding him, but you'll earn a large drama bonus if you snap him desperately waving his arms at you. Furthermore, you'll get some significant brutality bonuses if you get a shot of the guy defending himself with a baseball bat or, moments later, having his brains eaten after being pulled to the ground. Other potentially high-scoring photo opportunities en route to the mall include a deserted children's play area, a woman battling with zombies on a factory roof, and an explosion at a gas station.
Every time you earn enough prestige points to level up, Frank will gain a new ability--seemingly at random. The most common skill upgrades that we received when leveling up in the demo were an additional life bar, an additional item/weapon slot, or learning a new combat skill, such as a jumping kick. Other upgrades in the game will improve your attack power, running speed, and throwing distance. Although taking good photos is certainly one of the easiest ways to earn prestige points, you can also get them by completing optional side quests--referred to as scoops in game--such as escorting survivors to safety. The important thing to remember is that there could be a great photo opportunity waiting around every corner, which is no doubt why Frank's camera is permanently mapped to the Xbox 360 controller's left trigger button. Just completed a scoop where you reunite a husband and wife who got separated when the zombies showed up at the mall? Take a photo of them hugging, and you can get a big point bonus.
You'll hear about scoop opportunities either from survivors that you encounter or via a walkie-talkie that you get from the mall's janitor early on in the game. You might receive a message telling you that a couple of survivors have barricaded themselves into a particular store, for example, and then it's up to you to decide whether or not you want to go and check it out. Scoop events happen regardless of what you're up to, and many of them can only be completed within a limited time frame. As you progress through the game, you'll inevitably end up with numerous scoop opportunities available to you simultaneously at times, and you'll be able to use the "scoop cue" screen to get a rough idea of how many in-game hours you have left to investigate each one. The mode of play available in the Dead Rising demo will last for a total of 72 in-game hours in the finished version, but other, unlockable gameplay modes will let you hang out in the Willamette Parkview Mall indefinitely.
Why would you want to spend more time than is absolutely necessary in a zombie-infested shopping mall? Well, the indisputable fact that killing zombies is a fun pastime aside, the mall is a veritable playground filled with all manner of toys (OK, weapons) for you to experiment with, that's why. It's not just weapons that you'll find as you explore the mall's numerous stores and entertainment areas, either--we've already found dozens of different outfits and accessories for Frank to wear (some of which are featured in today's screenshot gallery); we've found books that Frank can read to improve his skills and attributes; and we've even enjoyed a space-shuttle ride suspended from the ceiling of one of the mall's larger spaces.
Using whatever comes to hand as a weapon is what Dead Rising is really about, though, and we're pleased to report that the huge arsenal contained within the mall is every bit as varied as it looks. Practically every weapon that we've picked up in Dead Rising thus far has behaved differently, and because all of them can be useful in different situations and expire after a number of uses, it's highly unlikely that you'll simply be able to settle on a favorite and play through the entire game using nothing else. We've had fun with far too many improvised weapons already to list them here, but illustrating some of the different ways that they're used seems like a good-enough excuse for us to talk about at least some of them.
One of the first weapons that we found at the mall was a soccer ball, which isn't lethal to zombies, but when kicked hard enough, can knock several to the ground before bouncing off somewhere and waiting to be retrieved. Buckets can be pulled down over zombies' heads, CD cases can be thrown at zombies like shuriken, coat hangers can be forced into (through, technically) zombies' mouths, mannequins and large, novelty plastic cacti can be used to hit multiple zombies with a single blow, and your choice of guitar at the music store will determine the noise it makes when you club a zombie over the head with it. Although we haven't encountered too many in the demo thus far, many of the weapons in Dead Rising can be used to perform two different types of attacks according to how long you press the attack button for. You can swing your baseball bat normally or charge it up for a home-run-style hit that takes out multiple zombies, for example, and when wielding garden shears, you can opt to go for the upper body or simply to cut off a leg.
To get your hands on some of the game's more powerful weapons, you'll need to get into areas of the mall that are inaccessible at the outset. Based on our experiences with the demo, the only way to gain access to these areas will be to complete the main story missions--or cases--which will eventually lead you to the truth behind the zombie outbreak. After fighting alongside one of the game's key characters during a case, for example, he invited us to follow him to a security gate and then opened it for us.
Another reason why you might choose to spend a lot of time in the Willamette Parkview Mall, at least if you're gaming habits are anything like ours, is to earn achievement points. We're not certain if the achievements listed for the demo are final, but if they are, then Capcom appears to have nailed exactly what the achievements system is supposed to be in Dead Rising. There are 50 achievements in all, and each is worth 20 points. Some of them will inevitably be unlocked throughout the course of a normal game, some will reward skilled play, and others will require you to play the game in a way that you probably wouldn't normally. Killing 1,000 zombies with your bare hands to unlock the Karate Champ achievement, for example, probably isn't something that you'd do unless you were going after those 20 achievement points for your gamer profile.
In case you haven't guessed already, we've thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Dead Rising demo, and we're now more excited than ever to get our hands on a finished copy. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.