- Title: Dead Rising
- Publisher/Developer: Capcom
- System: 360
As photojournalist Frank West, you're dropped into the Willamette mall to cover the story of the century. An entire town has gone red-eyed and shambling, and you're there to cover it with your camera in one hand and any weapon you can find in the other. The helicopter pilot will be back in 72 hours, and you have exactly that long (by your in-game watch) to do what you will and still get picked up. Within that three-day span you'll encounter mysterious agents, frightened citizens, armed psychopaths, an annoying photographer, a hungry clown, and a whole lot of freaking zombies.
That sounds like a great set-up for a game, and the first few hours tantalize with future payoffs. Where did the zombies come from? Who are the mysterious agents operating in the mall? What's with the crazy Spanish guy? Why would anyone buy a blue set of slacks with a tweed jacket? It quickly becomes apparent, though, that you're really playing two games at the same time in the same space. One game is all about the 'cases'. Certain events happen at preset times. As you work through the game's storyline, you'll have to show up at a place by a specific in-game time in order to see the cut scene and interact with whatever is going on. The clock works tirelessly against you, requiring you to race around the mall to make your appointments. If you miss even one event in the game's storyline, it's all over. You may as well use the time remaining in the game to randomly slaughter zombies, because you won't be seeing the end of the story.
My real frustration is how much the harsh time-table interferes with the other half of the game. The free-roaming GTA-style gameplay Dead Rising's marketing has been playing up only offers so much given that you have to be in certain places at certain times. In between missions you can attempt to save civilians, kill zombies, go hunting for psychopaths, try on clothes, kill zombies, take pictures, mix new beverages, learn new skills, play on a skateboard, and kill zombies. Unfortunately, there's never really quite enough time to let you fully explore your environment, so all the 'neat stuff' you can do becomes merely something you notice as you're running from place to place on the way to a storyline mission. There are a few sizable breaks between cases, but in the meantime civvies will have died and opportunities will be lost.
Top this mess off with bad voice acting, a story that tries to make witty jabs at American culture and fails, and often-challenging combat controls. Like the creatures in Dawn of the Dead, this game shambles forward in time to the cheerful muzak.. All promise and no payoff, Dead Rising will make for a good rental if you worship at the altar of bad zombie flicks. If you're looking for a short term stand-in for GTA or Resident Evil, you'd be advised to look elsewhere.
- Title: Ninety-Nine Nights
- Publisher/Developers: Microsoft Game Studios, Q Entertainment, Phantagram
- System: 360
Set in a somewhat forgettable fantasy realm, N3 tells the intertwining tales of seven heroic figures and their fight against the forces of darkness. Beginning with the attractive Inphyy, you slash and hack your way through hundreds and thousands of goblinoid baddies to make the world safe for us human-types. The identical subhuman antagonists come at you in waves of sameness, starting with a few dozen all in a bunch but ramping quickly up to hundreds at a time. As you defeat your foes, you'll gain levels and acquire items to improve your stats. There's no real strategy to be found here, just an RPG-lite beat-em-up with a grand feel.
The scope of the conflict is the most successfully executed part of N3. The 360's graphics do a great job of showing off huge battle maps, hordes and hordes of enemies, extremely shiny attack effects, and well-done character animations. With a few exceptions, the console handles the load without complaint, allowing you the satisfaction of seeing hundreds of opponents fall before you. There's no abstraction here; you'll get to see every single goblin you put down over the course of the game.
To take out the baddies, you'll be doing combos, stringing attacks together in long chains. N3 is incredibly combo-focused, and 'success' is measured by your ability to dive into a mob of baddies and destroy the whole bunch without ever giving your sword arm a rest. Each character levels up to new abilities as you move through their tale, but you start the game with several simple and efficient moves. XXX, YY is a typical combo, allowing you to cull the goblin horde like a farmer working his field. Unfortunately, you'll never need much more than that efficient first move. Despite the initially very satisfying experience of tossing hordes of baddies aside with a mere wave of your arm, you'll quickly realize that the entire game is going to consist primarily of XXX, YY repeated ad nauseam. Worse, the game actively works against your efforts to combo. Enemies often stupidly stand out of the range of the fight, and your NPC soldier buddies are the worst kind of ineffectual. Most frustrating of all, cut scenes interrupt your combos; running out of enemies I can handle, but falling just short of a 1000 enemy combo because a pretty-looking guy has to spout inane dialogue is just frustrating.
You do get to occasionally loose an 'orb attack', a cool-looking screen clearer earned by collecting shinies from your defeated enemies. Each hero has two different orb attacks, and they're all ludicrously entertaining. Even the satisfaction of the orb attack is muted somewhat, though, by the slowdown it prompts in the hardware. If the screen is wall-to-wall enemies, loosing an orb attack can result in chugging movements and choppy graphics. It's particularly jarring because the rest of the game looks so good, and never fails to distract when it occurs.