Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Video Game Review: "Dead Rising"

So, a few weeks ago, my roomie picked up Dead Rising for X-Box 360. I've been playing here and there when I get a chance, which, unfortunately, isn't very often. Anyway, I'm most of the way through the game, now, and I thought "why not do a review of a years old game, now?" So, that's what I'm doing.

Dead Rising isn't very complicated in terms of concept. It's basically Dawn of the Dead meets, say, Beyond Good and Evil. You're freelance photojournalist Frank West out looking for the scoop that's going to make your name. At the start of the game, you're flying into a small mid-west town via chopper, on some kind of tip or something you've got that something is going down. So far so good. As you're flying into town, you notice that the military appear to have cut off all the roads to the town. As you get closer, you quickly see why.


The chopper drops you off at a mall, and you spend the next 72 hours of game time (12 hours of game time = 1 hour of real time) fighting zombies and psychopaths, leading survivors to safety, photographing scoops, and trying to uncover the truth about the zombie outbreak.

From a strictly gameplay perspective, Dead Rising is more hit than miss. The mall setting is fully realized- it's easily as big as most major malls I've been to, including a large green space, and even an attached full sized grocery store. There are working escalators, generic mall music, and almost every store can be entered. And the stores have individual personalities, even if they've got similar wares. Add to that the fact that almost every object in the game world can be picked up, smashed, thrown, or somehow used to aid you in some way, and you've got a pretty awesome sand-box world. I still haven't got tired of exploring the mall's many corners.

Of course, none of that would matter if it weren't for the combat. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, zombies are generally a safe pick for gaming enemies. If you want to have a bad-guy that almost everybody can agree deserves to be taken out, the living dead are the way to go. They're one of the trinity of ultimate badguys. Zombies, robots, and nazis. These are pretty traditional zombies- they shamble around trying to grab you and take a bite out of you. They're well animated and designed. They stumble around aimlessly until they spot you. They groan and moan and generally act creepy. Many of them are still holding onto things like shopping carts. They occaisionally fall over, trip, or fall down stairs/escalators. The real appeal of the game is the ability to use everything in the environment as a weapon. Baseball bats, frying pans, swords, guns, a frozen fish, televisions, cash registers, golfballs, clothes hangers, a lawnmower, a car, propane tanks... if you can find it, you can probably smash a zombie with it.

I'm not gonna lie, it's very satisfying.

It's not all good, of course. The survivor AI is horrible most of the time. You'll be trying to lead survivors to safety and, instead of running *around* a group of shambling undead, the idiot survivors will plow into the middle of them and begin screaming for Frank to come back and help. Another problem for people who don't have HD televisions (me), is that the missions objectives are waaay to tiny to read. Most of the time, the mission becomes obvious when you show up, but it'd be nice to know what the heck you're in for before you show up to a machette wielding madman. And, lastly, the use of a radio for getting missions was particularly frustrating. Otis, the janitor, calls you to tell you when he spots survivors, but if you answer his call, you have to listen to his entire message, and you can't speed it up in any way. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that you literally can't do anything but walk while you're on the radio. You can't fight zombies or jump while on the radio. And the radio is loud when it's beeping. Which often puts you in a position of being annoyed by the radio or letting yourself get chomped by zombies. Oh, and if you get attacked while on the radio? Yeah, Otis calls back and starts the message over from the begining. Lovely.

Now, that's from a strictly gameplay perspective.

I have some concerns/issues to take with other aspects of game. Let's talk about -isms.

Let's see... the good news is that there are some things to be pleased with in the game. First of all, despite the fact that Frank is a white guy, it was refreshing to see that he was actually a pretty normal looking, if possibly slightly "ugly" guy. I'm so used to seeing ridiculously attractive characters in games that it was kind of awesome to see, in Frank, a guy who wasn't a paragon of beauty. he looks like he maybe had his nose broken before, and he dresses sort of frumpy, and he's kind of... well... a normal looking white dude. As always, I'd have rather had the option to choose from a few characters, rather than have the default be a white guy.

Frank's main ally in the game is Brad, a black federal agent in charge of locating and a scientist. Brad is an interesting character- he distrusts Frank at the begining of the game, but he provides good support and fights alongside you through a number of battles. I don't have any complaints about Brad, really. He was sort of a jerk at times, but it fit his stuffy DHS persona, and he avoided most of the really nasty racial stereotypes I've come to expect in games. *Spoiler* He was fully realized enough that when Carlito locks him in the room full of zombies, my roomie and I both sort of went "Oh... shit... no!" And kept hoping beyond hope "Well, maybe he's okay... I mean, we've survived more zombies than that... maybe he's okay..."

Yeah. Not so much.

I'm going to have to pay more attention as I walk around, but there are two areas that I'm feeling disappointed about. First of all, unless I'm mistaken, all of the survivors are white folks. Every single last one that I've noticed has been a white person. I could be wrong, and I'm going to go back through to make sure, but I'm pretty sure. Which just feels... weird. In a town of 53,000+, every single person is white? Except for the DHS agent, a janitor, and the Hispanic siblings from the fictional town of Santa Cabeza?

The area that I'm much clearer on is the weird gender issues in the game. It's very... weird. Now, the good news is that, as far as I could tell, the women in the game fight just as well as the men if you give them a weapon. There are a couple of women you have to pick up and carry to safety because they've been injured or are too scared to do anything, but for each of them, there's a corresponding male character in the same situation, so I felt like that was actually pretty even. And while it's hardly evidence to anything larger, the survivor I had the easiest time saving was one of the women who, once I gave her a gun, managed to keep clearing zombies off of me while I saved a guy, and the guy who should have been easiest to save because I found him wandering around with a shotbun blowing away dozens of zombies, ended up getting himself eaten.

But, while the game did a good job there, it does a less good job with the photography aspect with regards to women. You get bonus points for taking photographs that depict extreme situations- get a picture of a zombie being killed or killing someone and you get a bonus. Get a picture of a rescued couple embracing each other? Bonus. Get a picture of a zombie with a hanger stuck in it's head? Bonus. Get a picture of a female zombie's cleavage? Bonus.

Wait... what?

Yeah. That's right. Female zombies with cleavage get you an erotic photo bonus.

Further, many of the female survivors will yield the same bonus if you photograph them. And, I've been told that one of the survivors will actually give you a special photosession in which you're supposed to privately photograph her.

This is one of those cases where, to paraphrase how Naomi put in our WAM! session, it seems like they felt like they had to put wank-material into an otherwise good game. It doesn't make sense, and it's actually pretty distracting to me. It doesn't fit with the rest of the game.

Another thing that I noticed that I haven't decided how to take is the ability to dress Frank in... er... a dress. When you go into various stores in the mall, you can try on different outfits and basically play dressup with Frank. Change his clothes, and you're treated to a short sequence of him modeling whatever outfit it is. Put on a snappy suit, and he'll sort of turn and check himself out in the mirror and tug on the cuffs a bit. Put on some sharp shoes and he'll extend a foot and check them out. Put on a dress... and he dances provocatively and runs his hands over his body in a stereotypical "stripper dance." Which... I don't know. It rubbed me the wrong way. Not that you can put him in a dress, but that doing so is immediately hypersexualized. It's just... weird. Maybe there are dresses that don't do that, and I just haven't found them yet? I don't know.

Overall, I really enjoy Dead Rising. I've been having a ton of fun with it when I get a chance to play. It's the sort of sandbox game that I really enjoy. If it weren't for the weird sexualization issue and the completely idiotic survivor AI, I'd actually say it was near perfect. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it pretty damned well. Oh, sure, I'd still have some complaints- some items do way less damage than they ought to, but... yeah.

Anybody else got strong feelings on Dead Rising?


Anonymous said...

Very nice review "No Cookies For Me" but just to inform you on your comment on how all the survivors in the mall are white, it just so happens that 2 japanese/chinese people are hiding in a book store in the wonderland plaza and i think some other survivors may not be white. Just informing you of this information if you dont know about it already.

~C said...

There are two black survivors hiding out in a shoe store; I think their names are Ross and Tonya.

I just finished this game last weekend, and I honestly don't know what to think of it. The good things were amazing; the bad ones made me want to fling the disc outside like a really expensive Frisbee. Hopefully if there's a DR2, the developers take a look online at some of the complaints (Otis, the lousy ONE save, tiny text, etc). It ain't just me!

Anonymous said...

This review really pissed me off, I like the way you describe the game, and game it some criticism, but come on. Seriously? Just because the game jokes a little and because there ain't enough black people? Come on? You can't be serious?
This was really, really stupid.

Roy said...

What was stupid about it?

Look, it's not like I said that nobody should play the game or that it was horrible horrible horrible for dropping the ball in a couple of places- but I think it's important to examine how games deal with social issues like race, gender, and sex. I remarked that I thought it was weird that the only survivors were white folks- it turns out that I was wrong, and there are black and Japanese survivors, as well. Thumbs up. But, I'm not going to pretend that the weird hypersexualization of women in the game is cool when it's not. It's weird and out of place, and, you know, sexist.

Given that one of the major purposes of this site was to examine issues like prejudice, I'm not sure you should find it surprising or stupid that I'd engage in social criticism.

Anonymous said...


willpower101 said...

You views and criticism of the game are fine... for a super conservative. This game didn't even come close to pushing the limits of what's socially acceptable in the name of comedy or in the name of shock tactics. It was meant to be gritty and funny at the same time. And if you can't laugh at frank dancing around in a dress then you might be a homophobe :)

Roy said...

Heh. Yeah, that's me. Super conservative.

I'm not sure why my not finding the dress thing very funny would make me a homophobe, either. A straight guy putting on a dress doesn't turn him gay.