Dead Rising: Gaming Without Nostalgia

…kick off your shoes, grab some kind of vessel full to the brim of your favourite beverage, order takeout food, and fire up *INSERT READER’S FAVOURITE GAME OF PAST GENERATIONS HERE*…

A nostalgic gaming session is all about reliving the emotions from the first time that you fired up a retro-classic from your own personal library of seminal games. The blank screen melts away to reveal the game’s title, you hit start, the familiar opening scenes play out, and your hands instinctively slip into some comfortable, deeply programmed, position removing the barrier between your consciousness and the onscreen action. You know where to go, how to deal with obstacles, and the best way to tackle each situation…


… which is all good assuming that you played the game the first time around and have that emotional connection… No doubt you’ve been on both sides of this awkward scenario: person one tries to introduce you to a classic from their past, person two has never played it. I spent a frustrating hour trying get my wife to understand how amazing ‘Resident Evil 2’ is, and she spent the hour fighting with the tank controls far more than any zombies. An old housemate connected up his N64 to indulge in some ‘Goldeneye’ multiplayer action, and I sat there wondering what part of this angular mess of awkward controls I was supposed to be impressed by. It can be even trickier trying to appreciate a title when you don’t have anyone to guide you, something you know that you ‘should’ appreciate, but just can’t seem to manage; I think the problems I had with ‘Resident Evil 4’ earlier this year were at least partially the result of this.

Released in 2006, ‘Dead Rising’ was one of those games I reluctantly let pass me by; I didn’t own the right system to play it, but an open world zombie themed title from Capcom was tempting to the point of pricing up an XBox 360, especially considering how fond I am of Capcom’s similarly themed forays to visit those charming, but bitey inhabitants of Raccoon City. Having rocked up fashionably late to this Steam party, ‘Dead Rising’ has been receiving comfortably positive reviews, presumably from those who made its acquaintance earlier when it was younger and edgier, so I decided, craft-beer in hand, to step over, say hi, and see what all the fuss was about.

I opted to go with ‘Kickass Teddybear’ from the multitude of clothing options

So it’s a good few hours later and (despite not being sure if the party metaphor worked in that last paragraph) I’m having fun; but there have certainly been moments where that lack of nostalgia for the title has brought into sharp relief some of the features that feel dated, quaint, or just frustrating. My initial impressions weren’t of something monumental, but as I’ve grown comfortable with the the controls, pace, and ambiance of Willamette Parkview Mall, I’ve begun to have moments of ‘phantom nostalgia’, or maybe more accurately an appreciation of how ‘Dead Rising’ must have felt had I played it a decade ago. I don’t think it would be overly harsh to begin my breakdown of what I did & didn’t like about this mall-smashing adventure by saying that from the outset it comes across as ‘arcade-ey’; from the big on-screen message popups, the font they use, simple HUD, XP popups, even something about the visual style of the cutscenes (and that loosely threaded together plot) that screams ‘Time Crisis’. It’s not a criticism, just an observation … But I’m getting ahead of myself.

… not something you see every day…

Putting ‘Dead Rising’ into context helps explain some of these ‘insert coin’ mannerisms; whilst 2006 might not (for many of us) feel quite long enough ago to be sepia toned, the landscape of gaming was still very different. The rampaging hoards of ‘Left4Dead’ were still two years away as was the expansive open-world of ‘Fallout 3’. RPG elements were generally less prevalent in ‘action’ heavy games and (in an example how maybe they were ‘the good old days’) quicksaving every 2 seconds wasn’t yet a ‘thing’ – instead ‘Dead Rising’ relies on the player making their way to sparsely distributed save points (usually bathrooms) to save progress giving rise to a sense of risk and urgency with every excursion out into that infested shoppers paradise. At the time one of the major selling points of the game was the shear number of zombies on screen at any single moment; by comparison even the most terrifying contemporary Resident Evil mob seemed like an intimate gathering whereas ‘Dead Rising’ gave players a festival’s worth of zombies to plough through. Playing it now, it is still pleasantly zombie infested and in certain areas the numbers are impressive… although, without giving too much away, I’m not sure why they all ended up in the basement… likewise it can be a bit startling when they appear out of thin air as you run toward empty space.

Along with undead crowds still largely holding up under today’s magnifying glass, it’s worth mentioning that as a concept it is particularly sound, being ripped straight from George A. Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’. I get the impression that developers had just been waiting for technology to reach the point at which a mall of walkers could be created that would do the concept justice. ‘Dead Rising’ indulges in the darkly comedic (or satirical) side of this with muzak being piped in the building, zombies pushing trolleys, and of course the array of mundane items which you can use to dispatch the mindless shoppers. From my own perspective, I quickly embraced the light tone, arcade action, and accepted the graphical limitations of the time (albeit with the usual re-release polish).

The gameplay itself is more of a mixed bag; first up, melee combat in games has come a long way in the past ten years. Racking up zombie kills is for the most part functional, but rarely fluid; it’s easy to miss an attack, hits don’t chain together particularly smoothly, and moving between targets can be tricky often leaving the player vulnerable to attack from a missed zombie in the follow through of a swing. The game claws back some points however in the substantial weapon variety (Gumball machines to chainsaws) and weapon degradation that supports gameplay variety by forcing rapid changes from the plethora available rather than just being an annoyance. Give Frank West a gun however, and things start to slide; hitting the aim button brings the camera in over Frank’s shoulder, but rarely pointing in the direction you imagine. The aim button turns Frank to face the direction that the 3rd person camera was facing; it’s tricky to articulate,  but the short version is that I walk Frank toward his target, hit the aim button, and more often than not end up facing 45 degrees from where I wanted to be. Even when I do point the barrel in the correct direction the crosshair is sluggish to move which slows the pace and discourages firearm combat.

Urgh… this Boss fight …

Right below “zombie hoards” on the boxart list of reasons to buy are “time limited missions*”. The game runs on a virtual 72 hour cycle with events and objectives occurring at set times and if you miss ’em… they’re gone. It’s not entirely original (I’m looking at you ‘Sniper Elite’) but it was rare for the time and I’m onboard, in principle, with the way it pushes the plot along at a realistic pace compared to the standard “it’s super urgent that you get to the next story mission, but actually you spend an ingame week picking flowers for a villager” meandering pace of the big open world adventures released in recent years. Unfortunately principle and practice rarely agree; the ideological version of me knows that I should play through the game a few times, ignoring the plot, in order to level up; the actual me has told the ideological side of me “screw that”, and has merrily marched on, trying to complete the story first play through, racing the clock, trying to grab xp-rich side missions between plot, and feeling frustrated at not being able to fully explore. It’s a neat idea, but given the arcade instant-action tone of the whole game, it seems overly constrictive.

Then there are elements that even phantom nostalgia can’t save me from; boss fights and escort missions. I’ve already mentioned how flawed the gun combat is, but striding confidently into melee range when taking on one of the bosses is suicide. They don’t back off after Frank lands a hit and the generous consecutive hit-delay meaning that stringing together a series of blows isn’t an option. I’ve been forced to chip away at all of them with firearms making it a test of patience & persistence. Likewise the escort missions are equally as tedious; I’ve failed an embarrassing number, largely because those scared and hapless souls don’t move quickly enough when I courteously punch a hole in the mob. It’s difficult to forgive what are serious flaws in aspects so central to the game.

A faint sense of disappointment has emerged as I’ve been playing; not about the game itself, I’ve managed to set the flaws aside and enjoy the experience, but disappointment that I didn’t experience it when it was fresh. The landscape since has been so much more varied in terms of comparable games. Even within the confines of the free-roaming-zombie-smashing genre titles such as ‘Dead Island’, ‘Dying Light‘, and ‘State of Decay’ do things better… maybe I should have left ‘Dead Rising’ to those who had played it first time around…

*may not actually be on the boxart…

13 thoughts on “Dead Rising: Gaming Without Nostalgia

  1. The escort parts of this game were always a big flaw in it, but something they fixed in Dead Rising 2 with improved AI. I had hoped they would implement such improvements in the re-release, but it appears that didn’t happen.

    I will defend the bosses, however. They work a lot like Dark Souls bosses, where you have to play mostly defensively and recognize when you have a precious opening to strike. Preparation is also of heavy importance. The better AI in the second game also makes the bosses a little easier, since you can equip the followers with weapons and lead them into a boss encounter where they will back you up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We tried to co-op no. 2 last year, but couldn’t get into it… Maybe I’ll give it another shot. Still not convinced by the bosses, I think maybe I was expecting more. Capcom have had some really iconic bosses in the past (the original DMC springs to mind) and here I just felt that they were ‘out of keeping’ with the rest of the game.

      I’m kinda curious about no. 4 though now that I actually have some experience of the series! ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I immediately thought about an article I had wrote after reading this. I hate thqt you missed this when it first came out because it does a good place in my heart. I do understand how you feel though. I was afraid I would get that feeling with BioShock but BioShock aeema to have lasted beaides its bad controls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are always going to be games that pass by… But it is disappointing when I know how much I would have enjoyed it as something new.
      … Good to hear that I wasn’t the only one who struggled with the controls in Bioshock! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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