Remembering Dead Rising

When it comes to analyzing an ideal formula for success, several tips have been given to creatives. Be “original”. Say something daring or add a new twist to an already existing concept. Maybe just having fun with your project is enough to keep it going. Capcom sure followed that philosophy when making Dead Rising, a faux Dawn of the Dead homage that went from a staple franchise, made more obvious by Frank West’s frequent appearances in Capcom-related crossovers, to a personification of the common enemy the games encourage you to kill.

Dead Rising
Dead Rising, by Dan Mumford.

Unlike other franchises Capcom infamously neglected or tainted with a poor installment, such as Mega Man, Resident Evil, and Devil May Cry, Dead Rising has yet to recover from its own inner outbreak. However, it should be celebrated after roaming around for fifteen years.

From Problematic to Satisfying

Despite its evident success, the original Dead Rising had problems that would’ve gotten new IPs from rookie developers crucified. For one, the survivors that can be escorted to safety have a stereotypical lemming’s will to live and a rhinoceros’ sense of direction. They are the definition of high risk, high reward. They are abhorrent partners in your Willamette escapades, and rescuing them makes up most of the optional scoops. However, successfully bringing them back to the Security Room is the best way to level up quickly. Rescuing even one survivor is frenetic and horrifying. Even if you’re close to the warehouse upon recruiting them, it can be as tense as a track and field event. Rarely does one breathe a sigh of relief as big as when you finally get through those vents and tuck the rescued survivors into a corner for the rest of the game, accelerating the leveling up process as a reward. The game manages to draw players into one of its most infamous aspects through the prospect of immense satisfaction and near ubiquity.

The bane of a Dead Rising player's existence
The bane of a Dead Rising player’s existence.

The gunplay is stiff and doesn’t steer away enough from the developers’ obvious Resident Evil roots. Aiming is awkward and Frank is unable to move while using ranged weapons. Despite this, guns, from shotguns to the unlockable Real Mega Buster, are unsurprisingly some of the deadliest weapons in the game. The Buster instantly kills enemies and defeats bosses in a couple of shots, whereas regular guns are one of the few ways to make survivors a bit more reliable. The game is somehow able to convince a significant its potential player base that perhaps the mess is part of the entertainment. It compensates for its flaws by integrating effective ways to complete missions into said problems. It doesn’t excuse the survivors’ choppy pathfinding and lousy fighting skills, but they are definitely made more bearable when you know what you get out of it. Besides, failing’s not the end of the world since recruiting them gives Frank experience and watching them perish can be as joy-inducing as saving them.

Undead free-for-All

Dead Rising is conceptual recycling, and its box art’s self-awareness failed to prevent lawsuits from the owners of Dawn of the Dead. Nevertheless, it embraces its genre hybridity and succeeds in being horrifying and funny when necessary. The initial appeal comes from being able to use almost anything in sight as a weapon.

One of the many, many ways to kill zombies in this game
One of the many, many ways to kill zombies in this game.

The traditional tools such as baseball bats, chainsaws, and guns can be found alongside televisions, potted plants, and toy Mega Busters. Experimenting with everyday objects to slaughter the undead brings diverse results, and seeing how resilient or frail a targeted zombie ends up reeking of schadenfreude. They are able to endure getting kicked in the face by a soccer ball, but a mannequin torso destroys them (and bosses) as easily as rare, often unlockable, weapons.

The combat is complemented by a just as wide arsenal of moves Frank can perform. He can maim zombies in various ways, walk over them, and even move like them to trick them. As the player unlocks these skills by leveling up, a feeling of comfort emerges. Frank becomes increasingly easygoing around the undead, and is able to treat their presence irreverently as he fights for his life.

Dead Rising
A cover has never represented a game this well.

Befitting of its status as a game starring a photojournalist, Dead Rising has a photography system whose sole limits are the rechargeable batteries and the storage that can handle thirty pictures at a time. While only necessary for a few side quests and achievements, this feature contributes to the game’s comedic side. Anything goes when it comes to taking pictures, and one’s photo collection can easily turn into a scrapbook of amusingly twisted mall memories. Just like the weapons, the fact that you can take pictures of anything around you, pin any picture you want to prevent the camera from automatically erasing, and the different characteristics attributed to photos, such as drama, erotica, horror, adds a smaller, but entirely new world to explore.

The countless objects scattered across the mall, the photography, alongside other features and minute details such as being able to change Frank’s clothes, zombie corpses twitching upon getting hit, and realistic interactivity that make the mall an even more immersive place to discover. By tempting the player into engrossing themselves in comedic escapades, the game enriches what would otherwise be a cookie-cutter romp in Zombieland.

Uncanny When Necessary

While not a particularly scary game aside from a few scenes that might upset any child unfortunate enough to come across them, Dead Rising’s horror is one of contrasts. Its story is told seriously amidst the chaotic gameplay it encourages players to pursue. The intrigue comes from its status as a caricature of Americana from a Japanese perspective. The Willamette Parkview Mall is simultaneously one of the most diverse and claustrophobic settings in a sandbox game. The ubiquitous, colourful advertisements and products clash with the swarm of zombies and occasional human nutcases that frequently confront the player. Each plaza has a distinct flare regarding the layout, stores that can be found, and encounterable characters, but the mall feels run down. Jolly mall announcements and music are heard in the background. They’re entertaining, but also eerie due to the environment treating you like a regular customer visiting on a regular day.

Dead Rising scene
A kid’s playground that oddly doesn’t clash with the psychotic clown inhabiting it, a perfect example of what this game is capable of doing with nightmare fuel.

The remaining people are hysterical survivors and menaces that cope with their current predicament in violent ways. An actual cult of ambiguous origins infests the mall on the second day, adding more tension to a game that prides itself on filling the screen with as many enemies as possible. The appropriately named Psychopath bosses range from fairly sympathetic to repulsive, but they’re all uncanny in their own way. A highlight of the game,and perhaps the most fascinating part of it, they embody the caricatures Capcom was going for when depicting this fictional world as a representation of Americana from a Japanese perspective. Some of them, like the escape convicts and corrupt police offer Jo Slade, manipulate the outbreak for their own self-indulgence. Others, like Cliff Hudson, a war veteran that thinks everyone around him is part of the Viet Cong, and Cletus Samson, a trigger-happy gun owner, and the Halls, a family of snipers that use the Second Amendment to rationalize shooting live humans alongside zombies, do not just react very poorly to the outbreak. They are the product of their country’s infamous jingoism and social contract. They react to an unfamiliar situation in the most appropriate way they can think of.

These characters are almost like a rogue’s gallery that permanently leaves after their first encounter with the hero. They exemplify various forms of depravity in a short amount of time, and are the most memorable part of the game as a result.

This all comes off as stereotypical, and it is, but the realization that behind its kooky mechanics and trademark Capcom cheese, Dead Rising’s horror is scathingly realistic. It pulls players in with the entertainment factor that comes with annihilating reanimated corpses in the ultimate playground of consumer culture, and delivers a world that remains riveting. It’s no primetime drama or classic anti-colonial novel, nor is it even the most multilayered depiction of the systems that govern us in its own medium, but the fact that there is an actual Marxist analysis of the game makes it easy to conclude that its storytelling is not devoid of character. Or maybe this game’s fans has too much time on their hands.

A Currently Dead Series That Needs to Rise

It’s a shame that the Dead Rising franchise wound up self-destructing after the fourth installment, in an ironically cheap example of first installment-related fanservice. The original is an eccentric early example of what the seventh generation of consoles could do with their power. Its world is both entertaining and realistically sinister, and is accompanied by gameplay that encourages a plethora of creativity during the game’s short length. Perhaps the series will go through the same process as other formerly dormant Capcom properties and live up to its title. Preferably without desperate attempts to pander to people that would’ve never cared for the series in the first place under the guise of listening to the fans.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. It’s nice that you covered a game not well-known now, and the features and merits (and in some cases demerits) about it.

  2. Dead Rising was a good game but not great. It was also tough/monotonous if you were a completionist until you got the gun for killing thousands of zombies.

    DR2 was the same thing but with co-op and a fairly limited online.

    • Second one is not great, but it’s good, especially in terms of the volume of zombies thrown at you. The first time I had Ramos stand on a high point and look down it was really quite creepy to see dozens of the things milling around among the wrecked and burning cars and occasionally catching fire themselves.

  3. Dead rising 1 managed to marry the goofiness with actual horror in a way the sequels all failed at. It has a very evil dead feeling where, despite there being lots of goofs and laughs, there’s still a very real sense of horror and dread about it.

    Take for example the psychopaths. Some, like the crazy machete guy, seem completely reprehensible and brutal. Then when you defeat them the game hits you with some reality like him showing you a picture of his granddaughter and explaining how her death triggered his PTSD and he lost his mind.

    Then there’s the basic gameplay, you slaughter zombies by the thousands yet you can still end up getting absolutely swarmed if your weapon breaks or some other mishap befalls you. The game manages to let you be a zombie death machine while keeping constant tension alive. Something that was lost in dr2 where you’d have to fuck up massively to get taken down by zombies, and even then you could always just create a crazy weapon and get back to slaying.

    I really don’t think this game gets enough credit for its horror elements, I think people focus so much on the goofiness they miss just how genius it is.

  4. Narelle

    I remember being frustrated when it came out because of its crappy game play and poor controls. I didn’t finish it then. I recently tried again and it’s the same mess. It’s not fun having to redo everything because you die escorting these braindead ai.

  5. One of the first games I ever bought and played on Xbox 360. My achievement score remains at 95% to this day as I tried and failed the 7-day survivor three times, the final time just a couple of (in-game) hours from the finish line! And this was having to leave the console on overnight on pause as I was full-time student in college all week and worked every weekend – and during the dreaded days of having to fear the red ring of death as well! So I gave up, rage quit on the very last achievement. So frustrating. But such a good game, though!

  6. I truly despise the survivors being downright stupid and getting stuck on things.

  7. This game is so good it makes me cry. It’s so amazing. If there was only one game I was allowed to play for the rest of my life, it would be Dead Rising.

    I could talk about this game for hours. From the amazing graphics (at the time) to the amazing story. The perfect blend of horror, comedy and drama. The unreal attention to detail. Everything about it

  8. Probably my favorite game today and I hated it when it first came out.

  9. Winslow

    I think most of us can agree that the game would be 1000 times better if it didn’t have stupid time limits.

    • I dont have a problem with timers in-game when they are used for optional stuff and they actually do have a place in this game as the mall is overrun by zombies so eventually the npc´s that u can rescue are gonna get found and killed. However i have a huge problem with main story progression being tied to timers. This means that any play-through have a maximum amount of playtime until u lose or complete the game. Even if the timers are long they are still there stressing u out for fear of missing them if u screw around for to long and u just lose because u didn’t wanna progress the story yet.

  10. This game is so good and fun but it used to really piss me off a lot.

  11. Driskoll

    Read this article so I started playing it for the first time, and I’m a little confused on what to do. I missed the deadline for the second wave of cases, and I’ don’t a bunch of escort missions and now I’m just waling around aimlessly. No new escort or boss quests.

  12. I just got the Dead Rising Remaster or Remake on Xbox one about 10 days ago on sale. The first day I had it downloaded I tried for the Zombie Genocider award and spent nearly 6 hours earning the thing. Then I tried to kill the last 16 hours I had left in game by completing the “assist Brad” mission in the food court. Went through the whole first case file, forgot to save, and when it completed, it killed my save since the scoop was lost. I reloaded and it set my Zombie kill counter back to 25,000 zombies. I was so furious I almost pitched my controller across the room but buckled down and earned the achievement and mega man buster a second time around

  13. I see Dead Rising as the starting point where Capcom began their 10 year slide into shittiness after spending the previous 2 console generations on top of the damn world. One by one Capcom lost faith in their legacy IPs and made terrible decisions that lead to bad or lackluster games. This was during the time that Capcom management thought even Street Fighter couldn’t sell. Their lowest point had to be the on-disc DLC shenanigans they pulled with Street Fighter X Tekken; which killed the one chance we had of a new inter-franchise crossover series since SVC Chaos. Capcom poisoned the well so badly that Namco abandoned their followup game a year or so in and just made SF4 Akuma a guest character in Tekken 7.

  14. My Experience with Dead Rising:

    The year was 2006. October to be exact. I had just got my xbox 360 a few months earlier when Oblivion launched. At the end of October i was set to ship out to Army Basic Training. I spent those 3 weeks leading up to my deployment playing Dead Rising and loving every second of it. The day i left i let my best friend borrow my xbox360 and this game while i was gone. Good times. Fond memories.

  15. Dead Rising wil always have a place in my heart cause it was one of the favorite games for me to play with a dear friend who passed away. Yes, this isn’t the best game in the world, but it still resonate with found memories.

  16. This game was way crazier than I expected when I first picked it up!

  17. I think it’s got a good social commentary with the livestock story and the Santa cabeza plot but I could be biased I love the first game.

  18. Dead Rising 1 is a masterpiece, never replicated. It’s charm, details, difficulty and environment is totally unique.

  19. There’s no auto-save! I keep dying! And there’s a time limit! How can I beat this game when there isn’t even a difficulty option?! A game is supposed to get harder as you level up, NOT immediately! And having to kill all the zombies? Take all the pictures? And solve all the cases? I’m sorry, but I hate this game, and SO should you!

  20. It still blows my mind to this day that this game came out in 2006.

    That’s almost 15 years ago.

  21. Sabryna

    Dead Rising 1 is one of the many games, that while frustrating at certain parts, could feel so rewarding once you get near the end of the game.

  22. One of the first 360 games I owned. Its janky, its weird, and it has quite a few problems, but I absolutely adore this game. Such a unique experience that, outside of Dead Rising 2, hasn’t been duplicated since.

  23. Wynonna

    This game was actually inspired by a bit in a Romero film, where the survivors just have fun in a shopping mall.

  24. One thing that sucked about this game was it was made to play on a HDTV but a lot of people still had CRT TVs. So if you didn’t have an HD TV it was nearly impossible to read the text for missions.

    • I remember this so fondly. This game will always be remembered by the HD transition at the time. And my dumb baby self with a TV that I couldn’t read the HD text on… Good times.

  25. Katelin

    Dead Rising sounds like a commentary on consumerism.

  26. Thank you I love this franchise. This game is good it brings back great memories

  27. Liberty

    I still say dead rising 2 is the peak of the series. The online competitive mode was actually really fun, the crafting system was interesting, and chuck was a way better protagonist.

    My default outfit was a tuxedo and a servbot mask. It was great.

    • I absolutely love Dead Rising 2, and when I say Dead Rising 2, I mean Off the Record too. I hold both games in high regard and have a hard time picking a favorite. The environment of Fortune City was just so much more interesting and the mechanics were all mastered and refined.

  28. This game ate so many hours and days back when I bought it for Xbox 360. My tip is just first max up your level to 50 and get the Mega buster and then complete the storyline. This is still a incredible game.

  29. Such a underrated gem, I remember when my dad introduced this gem back when I was 8 and I’m so glad he did, since then I played a good amount of zombies games for the 8 years but none of them can’t compared to the uniqueness and amazing gameplay of dead rising, how everything and anything can be used as a weapon. Thanks capcom for making dead rising a part of my childhood.

  30. This game is so campy and hard in weird ways…still one of my top 5 games.

  31. Dead Rising 1 was such a marvel of a game. The writing, the characters, the music. It was such a nice package.

  32. I remember when I did everything on case waited for the helicopter on roof and then it said I missed the helicopter, I was fuming and never played again.

    • You forgot to meet Isabela at 10, when the special forces finish their initial cleanup.

  33. This game is severely underrated, and needs more love.

  34. Jeneooo

    It’s amazing how much detail was steadily dropped over the course of the series. DR3 wasn’t too bad but 4 just wasnt the same!

  35. I always remember wanting to like the time-mechanic in the game, but just really being unable to deal with it. The completionist in me wanted to do everything always and I would end up losing the game often. I enjoyed the originality of the gameplay, and even respected the time element, but ultimately it wasn’t for me.

  36. I played the first two installments of this franchise last summer and found a lot to love (and hate)! The stiff controls and general jank felt oddly nostalgic to me, since I grew up in the era these were releasing in. I remember seeing them on the shelves at Blockbuster (throwback). I was reminded a bit of the primitive controls that characterize most of the Dark Souls games that have become super popular. I wonder if that could be Capcom’s angle for a reboot…? Great analysis!

  37. I’ve never played this series although many of the mechanics you mentioned in here have certainly peaked my interest. I wonder why I’ve never caught wind of this series before now??

    Personally, I think that the controls would likely frustrate me but I don’t see it as something that should turn me away from trying out the game, ill have to see if I enjoy it!

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