Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Look at Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop



With Nintendo closing shop on Wii game development and focusing its attention on the upcoming Wii U system, I've decided to catch up on games that I missed earlier in Wii's run, particularly horror games. With other planned Wii horror games such as Last Flight and The Grinder stuck in development hell, it seems that the older Wii horror games are the only options I have until the Wii U arrives. During the recent holiday season, I got a copy of Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop, which was released by Capcom in 2009.

I initially avoided Capcom's remake of their first Dead Rising game for the Wii because it seemed like a lesser version of something that was already done better on the Xbox 360. Yet as an avid zombie fan, I found it too irresistible to avoid playing a game that's so similar to George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead (more about that later). It turned out that my initial impressions were wrong, and that Chop Till You Drop is a satisfying and addictive game in its own right. Read on for my complete review.

For those of you who know absolutely nothing about the original Dead Rising game, here's the basic plot: Freelance photojournalist Frank West goes to Willamette, Colorado to investigate why the town has been sealed off by the National Guard. His search leads him to the gigantic Willamette Parkview Mall, where he becomes trapped inside with a horde of flesh-eating zombies. While West waits for a helicopter that will pick him up from the mall within 72 hours after his arrival, West fights off zombies, rescue survivors, battle a variety of non-undead psychopaths, and search for the truth behind the zombie outbreak.

What surprised me the most about Chop Till You Drop was how Romero-esque this game is. It has many of the narrative beats that I've come to expect from a Romero zombie movie--in particular, a dwindling number of surviving main characters throughout the course of the story and the appearance of human adversaries who are as bad as or worse than the zombie menace. Throw in a shopping mall setting where survivors take shelter in an area that the zombies can't access and then go on treks into the mall to find supplies in the various stores--as well as a comic book visual style and an anti-consumerism subtext--and Dead Rising is near-perfect video game version of Dawn of the Dead. The similarities are so close that the MKR Group, which holds the copyright to Dawn of the Dead and its 2004 remake, filed a lawsuit against Capcom in 2008. The lawsuit was dismissed, although I'm somewhat baffled as to how that happened.



(Here's another interesting Dead Rising/Dawn of the Dead comparison: The gun shop in the game appears to occupy its own corner of the mall, in an area that's mostly under construction. In Dawn of the Dead, the weapon store scenes were shot at a location outside of the mall, but were edited into the film to look like it was a store in the mall. A similar comparison can be made to where the survivors take shelter in the mall.)

Capcom's decision to release a horror survival game that closely follows the narrative style of Romero's zombie movies is a sharp contrast to its Resident Evil games, which use the Umbrella Corporation and its ever-changing T-Virus conspiracy to keep their stories distinct from Romero's work. (Ironically, Romero was on board at one point to write and direct the first Resident Evil movie, and you can read his unproduced script here.) Even though Dead Rising is not like Resident Evil in terms of atmosphere and narrative, the game engine from the Wii edition of Resident Evil 4 was used to adapt Dead Rising for the Wii; as a result, there is much more gun-based zombie killing in Chop Till You Drop than in the original game.


As if last-minute Christmas shopping wasn't bad enough ....

For as much as I hate seeing Romero get cheated, it would've been a shame if Dead Rising never reached the store shelves. Capcom hyped Dead Rising as the horror survival game where players could use anything they can find in the mall--an open world sandbox environment--to bludgeon, stab, burn, shred and/or decapitate as many zombies as they can. That feature is still present in the Wii version, albeit with some limitations in terms of weapon variety. This isn't to say that there isn't a central narrative thread in the game, but the utilization of an open environment where everyday objects can be utilized as weapons gets closer to the frantic, chaotic mood present in many monster movies. Such a setup encourages you to get creative in how to survive and save others, an element that's missing from many first-person horror shooters due to the overabundance of firearms. That said, I would encourage you to look up a walkthrough of Chop Till You Drop before playing it so you can familiarize yourself with all of the items, attacks, and special features you can use to make the most of you gaming experience.

Creative zombie killing isn't the only thing that this Capcom game has to offer. If the various survivor-rescuing missions get a bit boring, you inner anarchist will be entertained by the mall environment itself. You can take whatever you want from the stores (clothes, books, weapons, power tools, cosmetics, money, food, etc.) and if a store is locked, you can smash one of its windows to gain access. You can even ride the roller coaster in one of the mall areas. Indeed, vandalizing the mall was almost as fun as killing the zombies; in that sense, the game could've been re-titled Grand Theft Zombie Mall.

Curiously, even though the game's expansive mall setting was not modeled after any particular shopping mall, it reminded me so much of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. In fact, I'm kind of miffed that Capcom didn't design the Willamette Parkview Mall directly in the image of Mall of America. Such a design would've offered a wider range of zombie killing environments, including a complete amusement park, a water park (zombies on a water slide!), a miniature golf course, an aquarium (zombie fish!), and four floors worth of stores and restaurants to pillage.


If you ever had the overwhelming desire to kill hordes of zombies while wearing
a goblin mask and a summer dress, Dead Rising is the game for you!

Whatever technical limitations are present in the Wii version of this Xbox 360, it didn't keep the game from being fun or telling an interesting zombie story. (Click here to see a complete overview of differences between the Xbox 360 and Wii versions of Dead Rising.) Because the Wii's processing capabilities only allow for up to 100 zombies to appear on the screen at once (as opposed to the Xbox 360, which allowed for up to 800 zombies), zombies have a tendency to suddenly appear in front of you as you proceed through the mall. This feature never bothered me because it played much like the randomly appearing zombies that populated Hunter: The Reckoning, another horror game that the Mrs. and I used to play on the GameCube. I also thought that the controls were easy to use, and I much prefer the multi-file save feature available in the Wii version than the game save feature in the Xbox 360 version.

Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop ranks alongside Dead Space: Extraction, House of the Dead: Overkill and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories as one of the best horror games for the Wii. Furthermore, if it isn't mandatory that all die-hard George Romero fans must play this game at least once, it should be.



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