It's been less than a month since we got our hands on a timed playable demo of Dead Rising, and not a day has gone by without us wondering when we might have an opportunity to play a more complete version of the game. We were more than a little excited, then, when Capcom sent us a near-finished copy of the game recently and gave us permission to report on our first 24 hours spent inside the sizable Willamette Parkview Mall. We won't be going into any detail about Dead Rising's storyline for fear of spoiling it for you, but after spending an entire in-game day in the shoes of zombie-killing photojournalist Frank West, we've certainly got no shortage of new things to talk about.
The first thing we need to share with you is that Dead Rising has recently undergone something of a redesign. It was previously stated that when playing the game's 72-hour mode--in which you essentially have to survive for three days while waiting for a helicopter--you'd be able to spend your time doing whatever you like, even if that meant locking yourself in a closet for the entire time. This is no longer the case because the missions that drive the story forward are now mandatory, and although it's possible to keep playing even if you fail some of them, completing them successfully is often the only way to gain access to new areas of the mall. You'll still have plenty of freedom to explore and to pick and choose which scoop missions you undertake, but now you'll be required to check in with and assist key characters from time to time.
After opting to play with the tutorial windows--which pop up the first time you encounter a new situation--turned on, one of the first things we noticed was that when taking photographs, they get sorted into more genres than we previously knew about. The majority of the photos that we've taken in previous versions of Dead Rising have fallen either into the horror or drama categories simply because they featured zombies and survivors, respectively. We now know that photos can also be classified as erotica or outtakes, and although we've yet to get a picture of anything that even vaguely resembles erotica, we've found that zombies pushing shopping carts (which haven't appeared in any of our previous versions of the game) or wearing novelty masks invariably make for good outtake shots.
Shopping carts are one of many items that we've found for the first time in our 95 percent-complete build of Dead Rising, and like the parasols that Frank can use like a snowplow to clear a path through zombie crowds, they're very effective when you need to get from A to B but do very little for your zombie kill count. Lawnmowers, on the other hand, make a real mess of the undead when you run through them, but it doesn't take long for the blades to break, and so like many of the more powerful weapons in the game, they're only useful for a short time. Other improvised weapons that we've been experimenting with lately include nail guns (reasonably effective), bowling balls (lots of fun), golf clubs and balls (difficult to aim), chainsaws (say no more), excavator drills (almost as much fun as the chainsaws), swords (good for slicing zombies in two), and an unusual insect in a jar that can be thrown as a one-time use zombie smart bomb. We also found a skateboard to ride around on, which enabled us to move around the mall much more quickly and, for the most part, more safely. We were initially a little disappointed to find that we couldn't perform any tricks on our new ride, but that was before we found a book on the subject inside a store.
Every book that you find in Dead Rising has a different effect on Frank's abilities for as long as he's carrying it. The most common books appear to be those that give Frank extra health or power, but some of them have far more interesting properties. When carrying a book about skateboarding, for example, we were able to perform tricks on the aforementioned board. And when attempting to rescue two Japanese tourists who were hiding inside a store, the only way that we could communicate with them was to find a book that gave Frank a rudimentary understanding of the Japanese language. Early on in the game, carrying books around can be difficult simply because you're not able to hold more than four or five items, but as you progress through the game and Frank's skills (and those of some enemies) improve, we suspect they'll be invaluable.
Twenty-four hours into Dead Rising, the vast majority of the enemies that we've faced have been undead--they're slow and clumsy by day and only slightly less slow and clumsy by night. We've had some memorable run-ins with nonzombies, though, and they've invariably got the better of us at least once before we've either figured out how to defeat them or loaded a save game and avoided the encounters completely. To go into too much detail about these psychopaths would be to risk spoiling your own dealings with them, but among those that you might already have seen in official screenshots from Capcom are a chainsaw-juggling clown, a survivor who doesn't want to share any of the supplies from the hunting store that he's holed up in, and three escaped prisoners who are riding around in a Humvee and shooting at anything that moves. Most of the prisoners' targets are zombies, of course, but we learned the hard way that they're more than happy to shoot at survivors when we crossed their path with the aforementioned Japanese tourists in tow.
If you choose to spend a lot of your time in the mall completing scoop missions, then having survivors following you around is something you'll become very accustomed to. Scoop missions are generally offered to you over your walkie-talkie by a character who has an uncanny knack for being able to locate survivors and pinpoint their positions for you. The walkie-talkie system can be annoying, because Frank isn't able to use any weapons when he's holding it. We're hoping that later in the game you might gain access to some kind of hands-free technology, though the messages would still interrupt the gameplay to some extent because--at least in our current build of the game--none of them are voiced, so you have to read text that appears along the bottom of the screen. When you locate survivors, convincing them to follow you generally requires you to do little more than speak with them, and once they're in tow, you can tell them either to stick with you or to move to a specific location. They're well behaved for the most part, but they'll become embroiled in fights with zombies occasionally, so you'll need to keep an eye on them. It's also worth noting that if survivors aren't standing close enough to you when you move through a door or any other area that requires a brief loading screen, they'll get left behind.
What's clear to us at this point is that, regardless that the story missions are now mandatory, Dead Rising is a game that promises to have plenty of replay value. Our experiences with the game thus far have never been the same twice, and regardless of whether you're in the middle of a mission or not, you still have the freedom to just play around and have fun with zombies if you prefer. We've thoroughly enjoyed our time with Dead Rising, and we look forward to bringing you a full review closer to the game's release.