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On Dead Rising

October 03, 2006 ・ Blog

Forget Dead Rising’s obvious zombie-bashing charms. What it really does well is role playing.

In many ways Dead Rising’s role playing is much truer than that found in an epic RPG like Oblivion. While Oblivion allows you to do what you want, Dead Rising puts you squarely into the shoes of its protagonist, “likable prick” (in Edge’s words, if memory serves) photojournalist Frank West, a man faced with 72 hours of survival in a zombie-infested mall.

As he would, you find yourself opportunistically - and salaciously - taking pictures of blood baths and human drama. You swear with Frank at each stupidly unexpected zombie swipe. You face his indecision when you learn that you could save a survivor if you could only bring yourself to leave the safe confines of the security room. And you feel his guilt when your failure to act leads to another survivor’s death.

It goes a remarkable way into capturing something of the horror of a man trapped in a situation like Frank’s. How? I reckon there are two main ways.

Dead Rising contains one of the most lovingly created and detailed pastiches of a real-world environment of any game I can think of. Willamette Parkview Mall feels like a real small-town mid-western place. It is drawn still more sharply with its cast of well voiced, well acted characters, each a wonderful blend of brash archetype and studied nuance.

The other way it makes the experience more real is through awkwardness. Dead Rising has been roundly criticised for its save system, which forces long periods between save points and only one save slot. While undeniably inconvenient, it certainly adds to the sense of the need for survival. You don’t explore every crevice because death comes awfully quickly. You plan excursions carefully, taking note of locations for food and weapons.

Dead Rising, for all its bloody immediacy, is an immensely subtle game. That said, it’s not uniformly fun to play - it can be harrowingly frustrating, can often feel aimless, and its mixture of realism, story-telling, slapstick black humour and videogame conventions - kill totals, scoring and missions - often blends uneasily.

But these foibles are noble - they’re rough edges in an attempt to push at the potential for videogames to incite a purer form of role playing.