The video game franchises of Fallout and Resident Evil are among my all-time favorites, but they are far from the only series I absolutely love. I would say that what I enjoy most about story-driven video games is that they offer a departure from everyday conventional life. My adventures have ranged from uniting a dozen different alien races to combat a common threat (the Mass Effect trilogy), battling dragons, giants, and other fantasy medieval beasts while trying to prevent the end of the world (Skyrim), and finding that manipulating the fabric of time comes with a steep price (Life is Strange).
Yet there are very few video games that offer an escape from reality to the extent that the Dead Rising series does.
My first experience with this series was with the first Dead Rising for the WII system. While that version is “watered down” and doesn’t have the same amount of content as its Xbox 360 counterpart, it is still a very enjoyable game. The basic scenario is that photojournalist Frank West gets a tip that strange events taking place in a small Colorado town called Willamette. He has a friend transport him inside the town by helicopter to avoid the military barricades on the ground. When some army copters show up to chase him and his pilot out, Frank jumps onto the roof of Willamette’s shopping mall rather than lose the chance for a possible award-winning story.
Upon making it down to one of the main entrances for the mall, Frank discovers a group of survivors building a barricade to keep a horde of zombies from getting in. This plan quickly fails when one batty old woman spots her beloved poodle outside and opens the doors in an attempt to rescue her pet. How she managed this with the other survivors failing to stop her is anyone’s guess. Frank is one of the few people to escape the zombie swarm and make it to the mall’s security office before the door is welded shut by a surviving guard.
The remainder of the game entails Frank using an air duct to get back out into the mall to rescue stray survivors, battle zombies and the occasional psychopath (more on that later), and uncover the truth of what started the epidemic, or strange events, plaguing Willamette. And that’s where the real fun begins.
The primary thing that sets Dead Rising apart from other zombie apocalypse games is that the game’s emphasis is on making the overall experience more comedic than horrific. Aside from the clothing to change into and food needed to replenish health, any object that can be picked up by Frank can be used as a weapon, however unconventional. This includes — but is not limited to – guns, wooden benches, sledgehammers, trash cans, cash registers, mannequins, hangers, and a stack of CDs.
Another element that adds to the overall fun factor is that Frank can swap his own clothes for one of the many outfits available throughout the mall. The player even has the option to have him wear a woman’s dress or a banana hammock while running around killing zombies.
The third staple of the game and of the series in general, is that the player must also face off against certain people labeled psychopaths. For the most part, this means either people who are using the outbreak as an excuse to engage in criminal activity or ordinary civilians who don’t cope well with the end of the world as they know it. Most of them also add to the humor element present in the game. My personal favorite is the supermarket manager encountered early on.
While Frank escapes Willamette in the best possible ending out of multiple conclusions, the military fails to keep the epidemic from spilling out into the world. And that’s where the setup for the second game comes in. Dead Rising 2 takes place in the fictitious Fortune City, an area consisting largely of casinos and shopping centers. Fortune City also capitalizes on the epidemic by making zombie killing a spectator sport in a gladiator-type arena. A new outbreak occurs when someone deliberately sets loose the zombies to be used in the fights from confinement.
The most interesting thing about Dead Rising 2 is that there are two separate versions of it, each existing as its own game. This one introduces a down-on-his-luck motocross rider named Chuck Greene as the hero. The other, a spinoff subtitled Off the Record, sees the return of Frank as the lead protagonist. There are so many differences between the two that each tells a story unique to Chuck or Frank. One thing that remains the same is that each protagonist strives to expose the mastermind behind the outbreak and bring him or her to justice.
Dead Rising 2 retains all the elements that made its predecessor so humorous, but also embellishes on them. There are three times as many objects to use as a weapon than those present in the first game. And two objects can now be combined to create a more carnage-inducing, often wacky means of killing zombies, with the exception of the beer hat.
In my opinion, the psychopaths encountered in the second game are even more comical than those in the original. My personal favorite is Carl Schiff, the postal worker who is determined to deliver the mail even in light of the outbreak. His dialogue is dependent on if one is playing as Chuck or Frank, but both encounters are equally entertaining.
Dead Rising 3 brings the overall story full circle by tying up loose ends from the first and second games. The protagonist this time is a young mechanic named Nick Ramos who finds himself at the center of yet another outbreak. Nick discovers that he may hold the key to eradicating the zombie epidemic once and for all.
Like Frank and Chuck before him, Nick can change into any outfit present in the game. While Dead Rising 3 ups the fun factor by eliminating the need to create combo weapons at workbenches and introducing combo vehicles, it lacks humor in one area. I know I’m not alone based on reviews I’ve read find Dead Rising 3 psychopaths more off-putting than entertaining. There are fewer of them in this game, and most are made to represent one of the seven deadly sins. Suffice to say, the one for gluttony is particularly nasty.
The other downside, as with the first two games, is that the player is racing the clock. To get the best possible ending, the mystery behind the outbreak must be solved within a set amount of time. As much as I love the series, the games don’t allow for much wandering to your heart’s content without getting a “game over.” And with the ending of the third game having such finality about it, this seemed to be it for the franchise.
I recently heard news of a fourth game due out in December 2016, and I couldn’t be more excited. From what I’ve read, Dead Rising 4 will breathe new life into the series, no pun intended. Frank is set to return as the main character, and the franchise is literally going back to its roots. The action will take place in a rebuilt shopping mall in Willamette, introduce a new breed of zombies unrelated to the ones featured in the original trilogy, and will for once ditch the timer. The notion of having all the time in the world to explore the environment while solving the mystery at the core of the story has me anxious to begin playing this game.
As long as it retains or surpasses the hilariousness that the franchise is most famous for, all the better.