Spending 72 hours with tens of thousands of zombies in a huge shopping mall is an experience you'll not soon forget.
The Parkview Mall is a really remarkable location for a game. It's a vast complex with hundreds of unique shops, each of which has items on hand that you can grab and make use of, though some items will naturally be a lot more useful than others. For good measure there's also a large park in the mall's center and a lengthy network of subterranean maintenance tunnels. The mall is richly detailed and it looks fantastic, which is good because you're going to be seeing an awful lot of it. Talking about backtracking in relation to a game like Dead Rising is kind of pointless. If you're under the impression that, at some point, the game will leave the mall and start taking place on the streets of Willamette or some such thing, you can put that thought out of your head right now. You're trapped in the mall and that's that, and for better or worse, you're going to be covering the same territory over and over and over again. In addition to all the aforementioned stuff the mall has, there's one more very important thing the mall contains: zombies. Tons of zombies. Literally thousands and thousands of them. It's truly remarkable just how many zombies the game throws at you, and their overwhelming numbers can sometimes lead to a sense of almost suffocating peril. These are not the new-fangled smart zombies you may have seen in more recent zombie films like 28 Days Later, though. These are just good old-fashioned shambling, lurching, incredibly stupid zombies. The only thing that makes them threatening is their sheer numbers, and you'll want to scour the shops for the most useful items to help you fend them off. Anything you grab, though, whether it's a lead pipe or an electric guitar or a katana, is going to break eventually, and when this happens, you'll immediately find yourself holding the next item in your inventory. The problem with this is that it can make it easy to accidentally use something you're not intending to use, like a food item you're carrying for when your health starts running low. The zombies aren't just a danger to you. There are other survivors stranded in the mall, and if you manage to rescue some of them, you'll earn prestige points, which help Frank along the way to levelling up. (Prestige points are also earned for killing zombies and for taking pictures with Frank's trusty camera.) As Frank levels up, he'll earn more health, the ability to carry more items, to move faster and to throw things farther, and, most interestingly, he'll learn new and more effective zombie-killing techniques. The combat in Dead Rising is simple yet satisfying, particularly after Frank's arsenal of moves has developed a bit. A lot of these moves are ridiculously over-the-top, such as the disembowel technique which enables Frank to punch his hand right through a zombie's stomach and rip out its rotten insides, and they're all a lot of fun. In addition to fighting zombies, you'll also find yourself face-to-face with the occasional psychopath. These loonies run the gamut from chainsaw-wielding clowns to snipers to knife-tossing butchers. Some of these fights are more fun than others, but on the whole they provide a nice alternative from the constant zombie-killing. Unfortunately, the challenge of escorting the other survivors back to the safety of the mall's security room is sometimes augmented by the fact that they have incredibly lousy AI. These people are so dumb, they make your average horror movie bimbo look like a genius by comparison. They'll often run up against walls or other obstacles. In narrow passages, they can sometimes completely block your path. And getting them to follow you into certain areas can be needlessly difficult and frustrating. On the other hand, some things which one suspects were meant to make some of these escorting tasks more difficult seem to have had the opposite effect. Specifically, some survivors need to be carried to safety by Frank. This prevents you from fighting the zombies or using any items in your inventory, but in fact we found it much easier to push our way through zombie mobs when carrying someone, and the zombies rarely seem to attack Frank if he's got someone on his back or is supporting someone with his shoulder, so long as he keeps moving. As a side note, any time someone in the mall dies, you're notified in huge letters across the screen. It's a great touch that can make you stop and ask yourself what you could have done differently.
In addition to its unique concept and the uniquely huge number of zombies the game throws at you, Dead Rising also has a rather unusual save system. You're limited to one save per storage device, which means that it's entirely possible to save yourself into a situation from which survival is very, very difficult, or from which making it to the next step of Frank's investigation on time is impossible. (If you do restart from the beginning, though, you carry over whatever level you've achieved, which should make it easier to get back to where you were before.) Whether you feel that this system makes the overall experience more compelling or just leads to unnecessary frustration may be a matter of personal taste, but in any case it requires you to make your choices in the game more carefully. Along with the notifications you get any time someone in the mall dies, the fact that you can't rely on always having earlier saves to go back to if you screw up contributes to a sense that your actions and choices in the mall matter, not just for you but for other survivors as well
Visually, the game is incredibly sharp, detailed and gorgeous. There are occasional graphical issues , such as textures sometimes noticeably popping in on zombies when you get close to them, but the overall presentation is so outstanding that minor things like this hardly detract from it. The biggest problem with the game's visuals, in fact, is that anyone who plays the game on a standard television is going to find the text very difficult to make out. It may not be impossible to read, but nevertheless this seems like a huge oversight on Capcom's part. Either that or a deliberate ploy to force more people into buying HDTVs just so they can read the text in the game. The sound in Dead Rising doesn't quite live up to the other aspects of the presentation. The mall muzak is perfect but there's just not enough of it, and you'll hear the same hard rock song many times over as you make your way through the park. On the other hand, the voice acting during cutscenes is generally quite good. However, while escorting survivors or hanging out in the mall's security room, you'll hear the same few voice clips so frequently--including one particularly annoying sobbing sound--that you may feel like turning into a murderous psychopath yourself. Dead Rising isn't a particularly long game, but you may find yourself starting over a few times just to level up and be better equipped to take on the zombie hordes, and even after you complete the game, there's plenty of incentive to play through it again. You can always try to improve your performance and get more survivors out of the mall, and the achievements are numerous and varied enough to give you plenty to do in your quest for gamerpoints, if you're into that sort of thing. Dead Rising may not be for everyone. Some may find covering the same territory over and over again tedious, or feel that the game's save structure leads to unnecessary frustration. However, those for whom a uniquely structured game like this holds appeal will find that spending 72 hours with tens of thousands of zombies at a mall in a small Colorado town is an experience they'll not soon forget.