Video Game Review: Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop

February 27, 2009

Dead Rising was one of the early darlings of the Xbox 360 software lineup. The cross between State of Emergency and Dawn of the Dead provided some harrowingly sick thrills, while filling a void in the release calendar. Now it comes to Nintendo's Wii, and clobbering zombies in a video game takes on a whole new meaning. Investigating a scoop in the sticks of Colorado, photojournalist Frank West doesn't really know what he's getting himself into. Well, that is until he spies zombies shuffling through the streets. The government forces his chopper to land on the roof of a shopping mall, leaving Frank with 72 short hours to get his story, and three long days to try and survive.

Frank's not the only human in the shopping center. There's a faction of secret agents searching for the key to the mystery, and plenty of helpless mall employees that Frank can rescue and take to a safe haven. Not to mention a group of nefarious villains bent on stopping Frank and his allies at all costs. What's most surprising about Dead Rising's story is that it's full of comedy. If you're expecting a glum adventure, you'll certainly be surprised.

The real strike against the story is that it's basically the same exact concept behind George Romero's 1979 horror classic, Dawn of the Dead. Capcom has already proven that it's capable of creating its own zombie-driven prose, so it's confusing as to why it decided to so shamelessly borrow for this game. The Wii version includes no new plot twists or story arcs.

Ninety percent of the objectives involve either rescuing someone in distress or picking up an item in one spot and taking it to another. It's easier said than done when there are scores of zombies in between.

With all the carnage going on around you, it's easy to forget that the real reason Frank is in the mall is to get his story. In the 360 version you took photographs that were graded using an elaborate rating system. It's inexplicably been completely removed. Considering Frank is a photojournalist, it makes no sense whatsoever. It was one of the more interesting features of the original, so it's a shame that it's gone.

Believe it or not, the game includes some RPG elements. Everything you do--from dropping zombies to completing missions--rewards you with points. These points then randomly upgrade Frank's abilities. You won't be grinding him up to a level 20 paladin, but his health meter will increase, he'll learn new combat moves, and he'll obtain new slots for weapons and items.


Dead Rising's design is far more robust than you'd expect. The environments are a little repetitive and the dearth of escort missions can get old, but the amount of choice you have in how you play the game more than makes up for it. You lose a little something with the photo element missing, but with multiple save slots available it's easier to go back and make different choices.

As you might imagine, the gameplay has been changed drastically. Basic melee attacks are still performed using the A button, but when you have an enemy downed you can use gestures to pull off crazy finishers with some of the objects. It's fun and it makes sense, but having to press two buttons at once to open doors or pick things up does not.


Just like the first, Chop Till You Drop gives you a million ways to kill zombies. There just aren't anywhere near as many of them to kill. You'd think that this would make the game too easy, but the shambling ghouls are much more aggressive to supplement their small population. Literally everything is a weapon, but here in the Wii version the options are a little more limited. Even so, you'll be shocked at the things you'll use to put the undead back in their graves. 

The pointing functionality is predictably used to fire guns. This is another area where the Wii version is an improvement. Capcom has accentuated this by making ammo much more plentiful. Unlike the first game, you can actually lean on the firearms if you want. It's impossible to aim accurately and move at the same time, so if it bothers you in the Resident Evil series you'll be put off here. 

Using objects is well-balanced. While highly effective blunt trauma instruments will break and disappear rather quickly, the less powerful items tend to last a lot longer. It's not particularly realistic for a bowling ball to disintegrate, but it keeps you from leaning on one ultra-powerful weapon to waltz through the game.

Dead Rising's biggest gameplay flaw is the AI of the computer-controlled characters. The zombies are fine, but a lot of the survivors you're asked to rescue will run straight into piles of the undead or just stop walking altogether. Major battles with the kooky bosses are the big highlight, but a greater variety in how you take them down would be appreciated.

The gameplay in Dead Rising isn't particularly tight or innovative, but it's not broken, either. The controls have been improved for the Wii, but the body count has been gimped and the humans you're saving are just as brainless as the zombies. It can be fun one minute and a chore the next. 

When the game was first released for the 360 its graphics were near the top of the heap. Obviously it's not fair to hold the Wii to the same standards, but even when compared to stronger games on the system, it falls noticeably short. For starters, the game underscans the display, leaving black bars around the edge. Even with this concession, the game has a dreary look with blurry textures. It also falls way too many polygons short of believability. The cinemas, once impressive technology demos, have been pre-recorded and look like low-res mpegs blown up to full screen. All this only makes the zombies that appear directly in front of you, the significantly toned-down gore, and the god awful script and voice acting far less tolerable. 

Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop exposes the original as a game that has problems standing the test of time. A lot of technological concessions have been made on its way to the Wii, but the improved aiming controls help soften the blow. A more flexible save system is also a step in the right direction. Yet, the repetitive mission objectives and moronic AI ensure that the enjoyment you glean from it will be directly proportional to how much you enjoy using new weapons to kill zombies. And with light RPG elements, and plenty of choice, no two people will survive these 72 hours the same way.

Source: Nintendo