Friends, let me admit something up top. I am the most tedious of Dead Rising apologists. I love its in-game timer. I adore its linear mission structure that is completely at odds with the expansive semi-open world shopping mall in which it takes place. Hell, I even like its severely stripped down Wii port. I firmly believe that Dead Rising is an all-time great, but also understand why folks have (reasonably) cooled on the game’s particular quirks.
However, fourteen years after the game originally launched on Xbox 360, I’m starting to think that Dead Rising is aging like a fine wine. A recent replay (on the Steam Deck, no less, where I’m thrilled to report it runs perfectly out of the box) revealed a game that feels as fresh today as it did all the way back in 2006. For the first time in my life, I think I might be right about something.
I guess Dead Rising is the antithesis of the modern day open world action game? Where contemporary titles focus on player choice, Dead Rising sort of does the opposite. Progressing the main case requires you to be within a certain location at a specific time, otherwise it’s game over. You can only save in certain places. Skills and upgrades are tied to player levels. The only decisions you can make come in the form of optional boss encounters and deciding which survivors to save from this zombie infested shopping centre. But guess what, fucko! Not only is it impossible to complete all these side-quests in a single game, but to even know about them in the first place you have to listen to a rambling security guard on a walkie-talkie who would rather you were torn to shreds by the undead than be interrupted for a single second. Don’t be rude, Frank. It’s most uncouth.
And yet, surrounding this is one of most complete and dynamic spaces ever featured in a video game. The Willemete Parkview Mall is stuffed full of weapons and items to use against the zombies, your abilities bolstered by a fistful of inventive systems that encourage emergent play. Basically, Dead Rising is a sandbox wrapped in barbed wire, a creative toolkit that threatens to slam the lid shut onto your fingers if you have too much fun. It’s startlingly antagonistic in a way that feels absurdly unique in 2022. It makes me wish there were more games like Dead Rising, titles that present you with a buffet of possibilities but only the tiniest of plates. I can’t see it happening, sadly. A bit too abrasive these days, perhaps.
Thankfully, the original game is widely available and can now be played portably on Valve’s wonderful handheld. I will, however, concede that the survivor AI is piss. For the record, they fixed it in the Wii version. No, I’m not joking. I hate that I know that.