"This game was not developed, approved, or licensed by the owners or creators of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead," reads the cover for Capcom's Dead Rising, a game that then proceeds to shamelessly rip off every aspect of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Just as his '78 horror classic followed a bunch of survivors stuck in a mall after a zombie holocaust, Dead Rising casts you as Frank West, a photojournalist... who's stuck in a mall with a bunch of survivors after a zombie holocaust. The difference being, of course, the glory of interactive media: Instead of just watching people run away from and/or gruesomely kill zombies, now you get to do it.
Thankfully, Dead Rising's producer, Keiji Inafune, makes sure you can do it right. Almost everything in the mall is a weapon: park benches, clothes hangers, TVs, mannequins, showerheads, trash cans, potted plants, picnic umbrellas, baseball bats, bowling balls, ad infinitum. (The best weapons, however, all seem to be movie-inspired: Go Animal House on some zombies with a guitar, get all Kill Bill with a samurai sword, or fire up a lawnmower, à la Dead Alive.) If you get sick of just killing zombies (unlikely), remember that Frank is a photographer—meaning you can also spend your time taking pictures of uncoordinated zombies as they fall down stairs and into fountains, or enthusiastically gnaw away at some poor bastard's half-eaten arm.
With most of the action cleverly accompanied by a soundtrack of mall-approved, customer- friendly Muzak, much of Dead Rising is great fun, as light-hearted as it is gory—which is saying quite a bit, considering how much blood and viscera is sprayed and splattered across your screen. In fact, the game does so much right that it's kind of bewildering why it's so lousy in other respects. There's a ton of mandatory, time-sensitive missions; there are seemingly endless occasions where—instead of doing fun stuff like feeding zombies to each other or lighting a bunch of them on fire—you're stuck protecting dumb, helpless survivors; most infuriatingly, save points are excruciatingly far apart (this becomes especially annoying when nighttime hits the mall—at which point zombies get far stronger and more aggressive). With all of its compulsory challenges and sparse save points, Mega Man creator Inafune seems intent on forcing an old-school play mechanic on Dead Rising—the one game that shouldn't have it. If any game calls for Grand Theft Auto–inspired open environments and do-anything objectives, it's this one.
Still, when you're whipping saw blades at zombies' heads or trying to sprint your way through a food court crammed with hundreds of the shuffling, ravenous undead, these are minor complaints. Because ultimately, here's the most important thing: You get to kill zombies. A lot of zombies. And, unoriginal as it is, there's so much right with that simple premise that Dead Rising can't help but be a blast.