To my surprise, I’ve completed the first Dead Rising today, now that it’s on PC. To my surprise, because I felt (and still do) that this game isn’t really “for me” and because I attempted playing Dead Rising 2 before and didn’t enjoy the experience much. I still feel like I cannot write this as a “proper review”, especially since I cheated in a few places to speed things up and didn’t redo the same things proper, so my perception is a bit off. But I do have a few words to say about the game and what I’ve seen of the series so far.
The thing that is probably hardest to describe is what genre Dead Rising fits. By all intents and purposes, it’s one of the first “survival” games, of the modern kind, released – big open map, need to juggle the finite resources like food (healing) and weapons (which break), random elements (zombie groups generation), timers (time limits for events) and a strong sandbox element to everything. But at the same time, it’s a story/mission-driven game in a fully hand-crafted environment and all events happen at pre-determined time slots, even if how things turn out is shaped mostly by player actions, with lots and lots of little systems in play.
And works surprisingly well and feels, to this day, innovative and clever. A lot of this game is rough and outdated, sure. Some of the animations and concepts are stiff, leveling up feels a bit more grindy then it probably should’ve been and most importantly survivor AI, of people you need to transport to safety, is a creation of ultimate evil which wants you to suffer. I’ve never seen AI so incredibly poor that I had to almost kill (and lose) one of the survivors in one part, just so the rest could climb to safety, since otherwise they just kept running infinitely towards each other, stuck. They run INTO zombies, instead of away from them, they get in the way, they… ugh, the AI should die in a fire. But!.. So many little systems just… work.
So much stuff is interactive, physics interact in exaggerated, but expected ways, the time cycles are not just for show and actually change how things look and how you plan your routs around. And I think the biggest misidentification of what Dead Rising is about, is zombie killing. You can kill crowds of zombies in creative ways. And you’re rewarded for that. But ultimately, the game feels like it’s not about that, rather, it’s just a fun and important side-effect of a game about surviving a zombie outbreak, which happens to have a lot of interactive systems in place. Yet, the game is much more about planning, about routing, about setting priorities whenever you have a ton of missions pending your attention.
And that’s where, I feel, the rest of the series went off the track. Dead Rising 2 (and Off the Record) seem to focus ever so slightly much more on the action part. To be fair, they improve on all the systems that make those action parts better in general and I haven’t actually given them a second chance, since the PC ports, even after GFWL removal, are terribly broken to this day. But Dead Rising 3, I couldn’t stomach at all. Where Dead Rising is a survival game, Dead Rising 3 feels like the most stereotypical mishmash of all open world sandbox ideas mixed into the Dead Rising framework. Here’s your big open map, here are your map markers of stuff, here are your vehicles to run around crowds of zombies – go waste time and don’t forget to collect all stuff!
And that’s what we have. Somehow a game from more than 10 years ago, which has sequels, feels fresh and unique, if highly flawed. And despite really being “not my thing”, makes me wish more games tried to make “survival” more like that, rather than just let random procedural stuff happening.