Frank's charmed me all over again.
It's probably been a good 9 years since I last played the original Dead Rising. It was a staple game I'd return to again and again throughout late 2006 and 2007, but I'd forgotten much of it. The memories left were hazy - I just remember I hated it... and then loved it.
As I boot up its new PC port, much is familiar. Strangely, this is as close I've come to re-experiencing a game just as I did the first time around. 'This sucks,' I think an hour in, as bosses are near impossible and protagonist Frank West a slow, lumbering fool. Was I wrong about the game?
Then I level up. I die. I learn the layout of the mall and the location of shortcuts. I learn boss patterns. I start the story again, keeping my character progress. Frank is stronger, faster, and the silly idiosyncrasies of the story begin to charm once more. Maybe I restart a few more times, but by now everything has clicked.
Its ability to take me from 'this is bullshit' to 'this is the best' inside a couple of hours is a testament to Dead Rising's design.
Just as it originally did things begin to fall into place, and suddenly Dead Rising is one of my favourite games again. I'm reminded that it's certainly one of the best of its console generation. Its ability to take me from 'this is bullshit' to 'this is the best' inside a couple of hours is a testament to Dead Rising's design. It's not all about the artificial nature of levelling up Frank either - it's about learning the mall, the mechanics, the game.
In this regard, Dead Rising has actually aged pretty well. Later games in the series chose to strip away aspects like the strict timer, the roguelike 'It's okay to fail and start again' attitude and a really rather weak character at the onset. Dead Rising 4 worryingly looks to be taking that even further. I understand why - mainstream appeal and all that, but Dead Rising's re-release serves as proof that broadly speaking these ideas are not entirely out of date.
Dead Rising was one of those early Xbox 360 games that almost straddled the console generation. It suffered multiple problems as a result. There were the infamous issues with unreadable tiny fonts on non-HD TVs, and the game suffered terrible load times and screen tearing. This is a chance for the game to shine at last in its optimum form. On PS4 and Xbox One this rerelease runs smoothly and loads more quickly. On PC, I experience the game at maximum settings with 8x MSAA and an unlocked frame rate well in excess of 100fps. It's glorious.
The graphics options aren't exactly extensive, but it hardly matters in truth - this is a great port that ran well on every machine I tested it on, and this remains a bloody great game. Immediate loading and less stomach-churning screen tear make it much less of a chore to let Frank die and start the story over to experience it in a different way, which is really the entire point of the game.
Support for other features of the PC platform is equally solid. There's support for monitor resolutions beyond 16:9 during gameplay, and the game seamlessly switches to console button prompts the moment you touch a controller. As with Capcom's recent and excellent PC port of Dragon's Dogma you can even switch between keyboard/mouse and controller mid-game, something I did a few times to pull off a difficult shot with a gun.
Playing Dead Rising again does prove that Capcom Vancouver did take some steps that were absolutely right with the sequels. Those who act like the first Dead Rising is the only good one honestly aren't thinking things through.
At the time of release the concept of anything in the mall being a weapon was incredibly novel, but now I find myself frustrated with the potency of them. Baseball bats are all but useless for instance, and I pine for a workbench and a pack of nails to make them more deadly ala Dead Rising 2. Planting your feet to fire weapons (especially smaller ones) is nightmarishly outdated and makes taking a firearms approach to most bosses near impossible.
Dead Rising is still great. This port is also great. It's the definitive version of a classic; I'm terribly happy this is no longer trapped on the Xbox 360.
Movement in general feels less dynamic than you'll be used to from more modern games, and here is where the game's history is exposed - it feels like something that, if not for technical restraints, could've appeared on PS2. It's that early-gen 360 feel.
These aspects haven't aged well, but the game is also designed around these constraints. Dead Rising makes the absolute most of what it has. In many ways I'm still surprised by how forward-thinking its design is, and for every moment where I've wanted to scream because a useless AI survivor refuses to push past a group of zombies when I'm on a tight time limit there's a moment where everything falls into place just right and I feel like a zombie apocalypse god.
Of course, I'm well aware that some of the things I love about the game are things that'll drive others mad. This is why the timer is being nixed for Dead Rising 4 and why it was nerfed in 2 and 3 - it can be frustrating, and a 'perfect run' of Dead Rising where you save everyone and do everything possible for the best outcome requires a great deal of knowledge of the game's clockwork systems to achieve. I've never done it, but I plan to try on this port.
It's a game you'll love or hate, but if its unforgiving, slightly mad nature sounds like it appeals to you, there is finally now a way to experience it that doesn't involve hooking up an old console and living through crashes, screen tearing, a deeply unstable frame rate and ridiculous load times.
It's still not for everyone, but Dead Rising is still great. This port is also great. It's the definitive version of a classic; I'm terribly happy this is no longer trapped on the Xbox 360.
Dead Rising is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Also newly available are Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. Capcom provided download codes to test the ports.