Capcom's Overlooked Zombie Masterpiece Deserves the Remake Treatment
Chop till you drop.
There are few zombie games as well known as Resident Evil. Capcom’s flagship franchise has basically become synonymous with the genre. The string of Resident Evil remakes have done a fantastic job of reimagining horror classics, and with RE4 on the cusp of releasing Capcom should look to a cult classic for its next remake.
In 2006, Dead Rising brought a brilliant twist to the genre, dropping players into a massive shopping mall sandbox, with memorable mechanics including one of the best time-management systems out there.
Dead Rising takes place in the fictional town of Willamette, Colorado, which had suddenly been put under military lockdown. You assume the role of award-winning journalist Frank West, who’s alerted by a source that something big is going down in Willamette. After landing on the helipad of the local mall, Frank finds himself smack dab in the middle of a massive zombie outbreak, and he has to scrape together weapons and supplies from the mall to survive, and find his scoop about what’s happening.
While Dead Rising does so much right, the mall setting is truly what makes the game shine. Capcom designed an absolutely riveting sandbox to play around in and really leaned into a wacky tongue-in-cheek tone. There’s something hilariously joyful about dressing Frank up in weird outfits and mowing down zombies with shopping carts, bowling balls, boomerangs, toy swords, and more.
Dead Rising really managed to embrace the power fantasy of surviving a zombie apocalypse, using anything and everything at your disposal. What really makes the mall work is that it feels like a real location, somewhere that’s been lived in and used. Capcom put painstaking detail into the location, filling it with products, ads, and details that really make it feel like any midwestern American mall you might visit.
The story also embraces a kind of kitschy B-movie tone that really makes things fun, especially as its cocksure journalist hero dives deeper into the mystery. On top of all the zombies, Dead Rising also features some truly standout boss battles with “psychopaths” that used the apocalypse to tap into their darkest fantasies. A chainsaw juggling clown and a supermarket worker that drives an shopping cart filled with knives are just a couple of the memorable characters you face down.
Dead Rising was clearly an experimental game, and even though that experimental tone is what made the game shine, it’s easy to point out its flaws as well. The controls often feel unrefined and a bit too tanky for the action, and the time management system can get frustrating if all you want to do is explore the sandbox. This is exactly why a full-blown remake, done with Capcom’s gorgeous RE Engine, could truly make the game shine like never before.
Giving Resident Evil 2 tight over-the-shoulder controls breathed new life into the remake, along with elegantly designed locations. That same approach could work wonders with Dead Rising, with the phenomenal setting taking on more personality and detail than ever before. (The original game also had a fair bit of backtracking that could be streamlined with a reworked layout.)
Future games in the franchise would also provide innovations that could be brought into the remake, like the absurd crafting system that lets you create combo weapons, like an explosive sledgehammer with grenades taped on. While the time management system does feel integral to the game’s design philosophy, it’s disappointing that Capcom never added a sandbox mode that eliminates the time limit. Again, this is something that could be addressed with a remake.
Dead Rising is a game that, in retrospect, feels absurdly ahead of its time. In 2006, Dead Rising’s open world was more interactive than anything else out there. At the same time, it’s truly impressive how the game lets you play however you want; you can follow the story and adhere to the time management, or you can simply do whatever you want and save survivors.
While the original Dead Rising received an equally stellar sequel, Dead Rising 3 started to veer off of what made the first two games great, and Dead Rising 4 practically put the series in the ground by making some baffling design choices. That’s why the best way to bring the franchise back is to reimagine what made Dead Rising work so well in the first place.
Capcom has proven it has a penchant for meaningfully remaking classics. After 17 years, it’d be fascinating to see Dead Rising come full circle.