Dead Rising Triple Pack PS4 Review
As difficult as it is to believe nowadays, there was a time when zombies in videogames were still a unique concept that developers would utilize in new and interesting ways. At the time, no company was better associated with the walking undead like Capcom, who paved the way for the Survival Horror genre and its most famous monster with Resident Evil. After seemingly retiring zombies for good with Resident Evil 4, Capcom decided to give Microsoft the exclusive debut of their next zombie franchise, Dead Rising. As an early Xbox 360 game, Dead Rising gained a quick cult following for its top-notch visuals and a virtual playpen in the form of a shopping mall filled with all sorts of everyday items that made for hilariously unorthodox zombie-slaying weapons.
Several sequels and spin-offs later, the Dead Rising franchise still maintains a respectable place in the ever-expanding world of zombie games, especially compared to the repetitive amount of craft-based survival games. The Dead Rising Triple Pack contains the first three games in the series and giving them a modern HD makeover: for PC owners, this means that only the first Dead Rising gets a new remaster, and Dead Rising 3 is left out entirely as it was already released for a modern generation. Indeed, it is the PS4 install base that will appreciate this collection the most, as it grants access to three previously unavailable games as well as the chance to experience the original Dead Rising on a Sony console.
Starting with the first game, Dead Rising’s story focuses on Frank West, a freelance photographer who smuggles himself into the Willamette shopping mall, where an anonymous source leaked rumors of a violent incident and government censorship. What Frank finds is a shopping district filled to the brim with flesh-hungry zombies and a handful of survivors trying to avoid a gruesome fate (not to mention a few unhinged psychopaths who have instead embraced the chaos to fulfill their own twisted desires). Determined to get to the bottom of this undead conspiracy, Frank has to assist a handful of individuals to get his story before the three day deadline for his escape helicopter expires.
At first, Dead Rising looked like a go-anywhere, do anything sandbox game, another genre that was abundant during the PS2 era thanks to the success of Grand Theft Auto III. What separated Dead Rising from those other games (and was an immediate turn-off for several gamers) was its strict time limit, where many key events and side quests occurred at specific points during the three-day time limit, and could be missed entirely if players didn’t reach a certain place or completed a specific task in time.
The trick to Dead Rising is that it’s a game that encourages failure and multiple playthroughs, fully embracing the concept of starting from scratch while retaining character levels. By earning Player Points (PP), players can level up Frank in order to permanently boost his stats, such as dealing more damage, running faster, carrying more items in his inventory, and a plethora of new zombie-bashing skills that can make a previously hour-long trek take mere minutes the second time around. Memorizing the location of weapons and healing items, knowing the best route to take from Point A to Point B, and using the newly gained levels to tackle more difficult challenges first to save time…simply put, Dead Rising adopted the Dark Souls formula of trial and error long before the Souls series came into cult contact.
One of the handier methods to earning lots of PP comes in the form of Frank’s camera, which allows players to go into first person and take as many shots as they want of the lumbering undead. Following various criteria, such as the framing of shots, the timing of enemy actions and the specific themes that can occur (a shot with lots of zombies in it earns a Horror bonus, a shot with frightened survivors trying to flee the undead gives a Drama bonus, shots of female cleavage earns Erotica points, be they living or undead, and so on) will net a huge PP bonus, which means more levels for more convenient mall hijinks.
Another big innovation from the series is the countless number of interactive objects players can mess with. Each department store in the mall has its own catalog of wonderful toys to utilize in zombie defense, such as baseball bats and skateboards from a sporting goods store, assault rifles and shotguns from a hunting store, etc. This includes unorthodox weapons such as stuffed toys, guitars, department store mannequins and virtually everything not bolted down. Then there is the number of food items which can restore health, the assortment of clothing that can be worn, hidden keys to operate vehicles and open up shortcuts to the safe house…it’s a big playground inside the shopping mall, and no shortage of zombies to happily slaughter. Do be sure to take a break from all the undead dismemberment to help out fellow survivors, as escorting them back to the safe house will result in the biggest possible PP rewards. Just be prepared to deal with Dead Rising’s outdated and occasionally frustrating jank in the form of the brain dead AI companions, who frequently require Frank to tell them where to go and also need constant saving. The most frustrating moment comes when loading between rooms, as the game lacks an indicator to let players know whether survivors are close enough to follow.
Thankfully, Dead Rising 2 includes a survivor indicator for that very purpose as well as a host of other improvements. Taking place in a casino in Nevada, the sequel stars Chuck Greene, a former motorcycle racer turned reality star in the zombie-slaying TV show Terror is Reality. While taking part in the controversial show in order to earn money for his infected daughter, a sudden explosion releases all the zombies and turns the casino shopping mall into another zombie playground.
Despite being a more stone-faced and serious counterpart to the goofy one-liner spouting Frank, Chuck’s expertise in crafting weapons brings about one of the most celebrated mechanics to the Dead Rising series: by combining two compatible items together, Chuck can create a zombie-killing monstrosity that would make George Romero proud, from boxing gloves taped with knives to exploding propane tanks to a machinegun-toting teddy bear. These combinations can be discovered on their own through trial and error, but earning the actual blueprints will yield a higher PP count (which, once again, plays a pivotal role in running DR2’s campaign multiple times until you’re strong and smart enough to reach the end of the story).
The third and final game included in the Triple Pack is Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. This game is more of a spinoff rather than a sequel, as it features a what-if storyline where Frank West is the main character of DR2 instead of Chuck Greene. After pissing away his fame from uncovering the truth behind Willamette’s zombie outbreak, an overweight and washed-up Frank takes part in Terror is Reality to win back his popularity, only to end up smack dab in the same zombie outbreak that plagued Chuck originally.
Much of Off the Record feels like a cheap copy-and-paste with Frank, to the point that story cutscenes will typically play out exactly the same way. There is a new area to explore in the casino via a theme park, as well as some additional mechanics such as the return of Frank’s camera (which, once again, can net lots of bonus PP with the right kind of shots) and a sorely-needed custom waypoint that can help players reach a specific destination, or run back to the safe house with survivors in tow.
Off the Record also introduces another highly-requested feature, the self-explanatory Sandbox Mode. Stripping the game’s time limit, survivor escorting and story mode, players can now explore every avenue of the casino at their own pace, gaining levels the traditional way while also unlocking optional challenges which involve completing a specific task within the time limit (this feature also found its way onto Dead Rising 3). For anyone wanting to unwind and slaughter zombies without any fuss, this mode will suffice, but without the pressure of the time limit or the zany storyline to encourage continuous play, Sandbox Mode may end up as a boring afterthought after an hour or so.
For most of its console-based career, the Dead Rising franchise has been a quirky experiment that mixes traditional zombie hijinks with meticulous, often frustrating gameplay mechanics. Much like the Souls games, Dead Rising lives and dies by its jank, as everything serves a purpose, and a challenge. Not every player will appreciate this, and may instead look toward the more modern DR games as they continue to streamline the mechanics for a more casual experience. But much like Capcom’s poorly conceived decision to replace Frank’s iconic voice actor, removing all of the elements that defined Dead Rising for so many people runs the risk of turning the series into a shambling, festering husk of its former self. While this Triple Pack lacks the equally popular Case Zero and Case West mini episodes, this collection is still the ultimate bargain for longtime fans and those looking for an entertaining and quirky Survival Horror experience that is every bit as fresh and alive as it was ten years ago.