Allow me to set the scene.
The other day, I received an email newsletter from the video game outfit GameStop. There was the usual info about upcoming releases and deals- including one wherein you get extra credit for every so many games you trade in. "Hmm," thought I, "Surely I can cull my herd of unused games and get something new. Yes, this sounds like just the thing!"
The wheels in my head spun for a bit.
Later that day I walked into my local GameStop with an armful of dusty games and an Xbox. I walked out with brand-spankin' new Xbox 360 and a copy of Dead Rising.
I held out as long as I could, I swear. I read trusted reviews proclaiming its close-to-heavenness. I drooled over info and screenshots. I stared at the game wantonly through the protective glass barrier at Target, sending Dead Rising thoughts of love and promises of "Soon! Soon we will be together...my couch and my snacks will join us, my pet, and you will help me complete my transformation into a full-blown Urban Hermit!" But I'm only human, dammit, and the game is like a big wet dream of everything you could ever want in a zombie video game. How long did I really think I could resist?
In Dead Rising, you play freelance photojournalist Frank West, a brash fella who's on his way to Willamette, Colorado to check out the...somethings that are going on there. Frank instructs the pilot of his chartered helicopter to land in the center of town, at the mall. Frank soon discovers that a good portion of the town's 53,594 citizens are now flesh-eating zombies- and the helicopter won't be back to pick him up for 72 hours.
And so begins some of the most fun I've ever had playing a videogame. The storyline is open enough that you can...err, choose your own adventure. If you want to figure out the story behind the zombie outbreak- a story steeped in government coverups and condemnations of consumer culture, then go for it. If you want to play humanitarian and spend 72 hours rescuing as many stranded survivors throughout the mall as you can, then good luck to you. You could always spend three days hunting zombies 'til your heart's content- it's all up to you.
Anything and everything in the mall is at your disposal to use as a weapon against the hordes of the undead. There are guns and knives and your more conventional weapons, of course, but running them over with a lawn mower is much more fun. Flinging CDs at their heads will only drive the zombies back, but swinging a large sheet of plywood will cut them in half. There's one weapon in particular (some sort of construction device called an 'excavator') that had me doubled over with maniacal cackling upon its discovery and use. The excavator is like a giant drill, one you've got to carry with two hands. Turn it on and stab a zombie...the zombie gets caught on it and will spin around and around, taking down any zombies in your path. Eventually limbs and blood and goo will be flying everywhere as the excavator spins and the zombie breaks apart. It's gory, disgusting, and absolutely hysterical. My current zombie body count- the game keeps track- stands at 5,219. I'll let that number sink in for a moment, as it gives you some idea of the scope of this game.
Ten minutes playing Dead Rising should be enough to quiet the people who lament that "zombies aren't scary because they're so damn slow". I've heard that argument countless times when talking about zombie movies (yes, I do things like talk about zombie movies. That's...wicked cool, right? Right?), and I've always countered that the sheer number of zombies ensures that the zombies will always win. I gotta tell ya, I feel vindicated by Dead Rising. Sure, I'm using a videogame to back up my argument, but hey, I'll take support wherever I can get it.
The zombies wandering around Willamette Parkview Mall are pure George A. Romero-style zombies; they shuffle. Some of them shuffle faster than others, but they all shuffle. Should be easy to survive, right? They're slow! They're slow...but take at look at those screenshots above (yeah, those are screenshots- I love this game!!) and tell me whether or not it matters if the zombies are slow. You can be having a grand old time, smashing zombies with toolboxes and bowling balls and cash registers, watching the body count rise...and it simply doesn't make a dent. They just...keep...coming. And the fuckers are grabby. Get yourself cornered and you've had it.
Dead Rising reinforces a surprising number of my personal beliefs, such as:
-zombies are scary
-the government is mostly evil and engages in cover-ups all the time
-the current consumer culture and flavor-of-the-minute news media are helping to rocket American society to certain doom
-I have negligible willpower when it comes to horror-based videogames
-having negligible willpower when it comes to horror-based videogames isn't necessarily a bad thing
-it may be weeks before I leave the house again
Next-generation zombie videogames...is there anything they can't do?