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By Stephanie Zacharek
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By Voice Film Critics
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
As you look at the box, even before you play this mother of all zombie games, you can almost imagine the excitement at the pitch meeting. 'Hey, guys. What if we made zombies meets Grand Theft Auto? Not only that, what if we put hundreds of zombies on the screen at once?'
Capcom, the makers of the still amazing, zombie-ridden Resident Evil, didn't settle for mere a hack and slash killing game for "Dead Rising" for the Xbox 360. They were thinking big, really big. There's a wide-ranging story in which Frank West, a freelance photographer, gets a tip about zombie in a small town mall. The wise-cracking Frank, who's shot some war pictures in his time, is a big character and fairly ego-ridden (certainly unlike the proud, but psychologically-changed war photographers I've met).
Frank has his hired a copter pilot to drop him on the rooftop of the Willamette Parkview Mall in a nowhere town of 53,000 people. Outside, slow moving zombies by the thousands want to get in. Why are they lured to the mall? You don't know. Why are there zombies in this particular small town? You don't know that, either. Inside, those trapped in the mall are freaking out. There's a mystery to solve and you have three days in which to do it (there's a timer in the game that keeps ticking down to add tension).
You won't kill any zombie in the first twenty minutes. During that time, however, the drama builds as you make your way from the roof into the mall itself. When Frank does encounter the humans within, you'll see amazing detail in their facial reactions as they speak. The game play graphics themselves are less thrilling, but pretty intense nonetheless.
In order to unravel the mystery, you must complete various missions which come at you fast and furious by cell phone. As you run through the outdoors, trying to keep zombies away with a sickle or devour them with a lawn mower to try in a quest to save one guy, your phone rings with more missions. It's a little distracting, but it gets your adrenaline going nonetheless.
This is an action game, not a horror-based game. Even though there's blood and guts when a zombie dies, there's no real fear here. What you feel is a race against time and a need to solve the mystery to make a big name for yourself in the dog-eat-dog world of photojournalism. As you snap photos along the way and get points for doing so, you'll search the inner workings of the mall. But the mall itself is a strange place for a zombie game. I understand the need to disrupt a placid suburban lifestyle with the undead and I understand the need to have a huge place in which to set the game. This one has five bookstores and over 20 clothing stores. It's a lot to explore. But the mall is a little bland to me, as all malls are.
One problem encountered within the first hour dealt with saving the game. If you haven't saved at various save points in the game, and you get bitten by a pack of zombies, you'll die. And your progress within the game will die with it. That means you'll have to start all over again. Capcom should have added an automatic saving feature to Dead Rising. Having the gamer save along the way temporarily impedes the flow of high adventure that the game is so full of.
In Dead Rising, you have a ton of weapons from which to choose, and even a bowling ball will knock down zombies like they were ten pins. When you eat food to increase your health, each food item helps you differently. Potato chips are a quick fix. OJ's better. When you do encounter a massively powerful enemy, killing him or her will reveal an often-fascinating story. There are about 80 characters in the story with whom to interact, about as many as you'll find in a good mystery novel like Devil In A Blue Dress.
I'm still trying to deal with the massive, open-ended, go-anywhere essence of "Dead Rising." In scope, it's like one of author Neal Stephenson's books in his Baroque Cycle. It can take a while to get used to the nature of, well, everything. But once you get the gist of Dead Rising, you'll be well rewarded with rich gameplay and, sometimes, a first-rate story, too.
How many times have game players dealt with the evil house that wants to kill you? Dozens of times, at least. You've had to deal with it since The Seventh Guest in 1993, and even The Fool's Errand from back in 1987. So why review MONSTER HOUSE, a movie-into-game that follows in the semi-banal tradition of anthropomorphized scary houses?
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