In a recent episode of the VG247 ‘Best Games Ever’ Podcast – which is excellent, by the way – Dead Rising became a topic of hot conversation. It feels appropriate that it did – as that episode of the podcast was released just a matter of days before this week’s anniversary of the series, which kicked off back on August 8th 2006.
16 isn’t exactly a tentpole anniversary to mark, but Dead Rising is worth celebrating no matter the year. With classic Capcom horror getting a resurgence thanks to a revitalized Resident Evil push, what better way to capitalize on the newfound thirst for frights than more Dead Rising! To talk about what makes the series so great, and why it deserves to rise from the grave, Alex and Connor talk about what makes the series so great, and what they’d like to see revisited in the future.
Alex: Well, I don’t quite know where to start. I was the guy who bought up Dead Rising on the podcast – for the episode ‘best game you were ridiculously excited for as a teen’. For me it was a perfect fit for that category; I was 17 at the time, and Dead Rising was the first game of that console generation where I just looked at it and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The number of zombies! The number of interactive items! How open-ended it appeared! It came out the better part of a year into the 360’s life, but it was the first game of that generation that truly wowed me with that nebulous sense of next-genness.
But the thing about Dead Rising is it was just sort of… more than that? It got me through the door with the hundreds of zombies thing, but that gimmick actually served a really clever purpose within the game itself.
Really, it’s a game about positioning, about timing, and about learning the clockwork mechanics of a world so you can abuse them and plan ahead in future play-throughs. As I type this, I realize actually it once again has some weird little similarities with the recent Hitman games, where the game is at its most satisfying when you’re practically pre-empting events in order to make sure you’re in the right place to rescue a survivor, or tackle a psycho.
I think the first game is by far and away the best, but I’m also one of those people who will go to bat for Dead Rising 2, and even 3. It’s best we pretend that 4 didn’t happen, though. But even 2 and 3 got and understood much of the magic of the original, in different ways.
That makes me particularly sad that Capcom has parked the series, yet finds the time to put out Resident Evil games bi-yearly or even more frequently. Dead Rising still has something to offer.
Connor: I don’t think I’ve felt quite so jealous of a week’s podcast guest than when I heard Dead Rising came up on the latest episode. Dead Rising was one of my first 360 games back when I was a pre-teen – something snuck to me without my parents’ knowledge by a cousin also guilty of smuggling Mortal Kombat and Gears of War disks my way. Looking back, it probably wasn’t a great idea to funnel that stuff to a 12-year-old. But wow. What a game Dead Rising was for my impressionable baby brain.
One of the aspects that stood out to me then, and continues to stick out as a real boon to the early entries in the series, is the emphasis on time management. As Alex pointed out, there’s a real appeal to learning the progression of events and planning a route efficiently, but in my mind it’s the early hours when you don’t know the ideal pathway through Willamette, that Dead Rising thrives in. Rushing back to the safehouse with survivors in tow as a main mission creeps closer, only for Gone Guru to start playing and a jeep filled with inmates to start racing towards you. An all-time “oh sh*t” moment.
I found myself gradually drifting away with Dead Rising as new games in the series came out, Dead Rising 2 was hella fun but seemed to lose some of the dread that made its predecessor so morish, trading it out for a more dynamic, action thriller vibe. By the time Dead Rising 3 rolled around it was clear that the series branched off into a direction that didn’t align with what I really wanted – its antagonists less sympathetic, its themes less subtle. When I strapped in and fought Adam the clown in the first game I was petrified – nothing really did that for me in Dead Rising 2, let alone 3.
Like Resident Evil, the series went off into the sunset with action in mind while shedding its doomish, haunting vibes. When I compare Frank West kneeling dejected on a tank at the end of Dead Rising, to him taking selfies with zombies in Dead Rising 4, I feel deeply, deeply, sad. I would love to see Capcom take the same lesson learnt from Resident Evil 2 Remake and RE7 and revisit the series with its original themes and tone. Out with the new, in with the old.
Alex: You know, I didn’t mind the fact that Dead Rising 2 dialed back on the dread. The thing I found interesting about that game is it examines what happens in a shitty world after they get used to the nightmare scenario of the dead rising – it becomes a triviality. And DR2 smacks you in the face with that full-force right at the onset, what with Chuck being part in a twisted zombie-slaying reality TV show, complete with great hype music. And that show is also the in-universe conceit for a multiplayer mode! It’s very clever.
I also like how DR2 recontextualizes the time limit through Chuck having to provide Katey with the vital medicine to stop her from turning – and Chuck’s devotion to her there contrasts nicely with the other themes of the game – the people standing up demanding zombies be treated with dignity, the sick exploitation of them… it’s neat.
I do think the third game begins to meander off the correct path. That’s where the time limit is softened to the point where it may as well not exist at all, and where an increased focus on vehicles and stuff feels a bit of a mismatch.
I do think the first game is the template. If they’re going to make another – and they should – it should be about trying to survive zombies in a relatively enclosed environment. This is why a Mall works, and why Vegas hotels, with Malls inside, were a really clever natural progression.
Connor: Yeah I think ultimately, it’s the timer and enclosed gory playground you find yourself in are key. Give us a new Dead Rising, with that focus on timing and surviving in a closed off space, and I’d be happy enough. But, as a small note, leave Frank West alone. Give us someone new!
Alex: I don’t actually mind if they bring Frank back. The problem with 4 was just that it made it into something he wasn’t. I think it was most encapsulated in – in his earlier appearances, Frank is sorta this goofy-looking dude. There are vibes of Dan Aykroyd in some of his finest comedy roles, you know? Frank is this straight everyman in a completely bonkers world. He’s not particularly handsome, or clever – but he’s just got his head screwed on right. And he’s brave… or is he brave, or is he just utterly, recklessly obsessed with getting his story? Whichever it is, it works.
This was also understood in Dead Rising 2 – they rightly sidelined Frank, and when they did the non-canon story about him, he was washed up, because becoming famous had sort of ruined what made him… him. Dead Rising 4 Frank is fairly unrecognizable as the character to me – from how he acts down to how he acts, where somehow he’s just become fairly generically handsome.
Capcom loves doing remakes in RE Engine, and honestly, if they’re unsure about this series, I’d love to just see the first game remade in RE Engine. Similar scope, similar style.. Perhaps that’s the answer, something more constrained?
Connor: I 100% agree. The original game has a place in a lot of people’s hearts, and with the RE Engine in their tool belt I could see a full on remake doing well. The original, for all its perks and bits I love, is feeling a touch old now. Go back to the roots with a shiny new engine and some touch ups here and there and bring Dead Rising back to the world, remind people what made it so special, and see what happens!