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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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