There’s a quote from The Office’s Dwight Schrute that I think about a lot. “Nostalgia,” he says, “is truly one of the great human weaknesses”. After 28 hours spent with the remastered version of Dead Rising, I have to say it’s ringing pretty true; the PC port of one of my all-time favourite games skated over problems both old and new thanks in no small part to a sizeable pair of rose-tinted glasses.
For the uninitiated, the original Dead Rising is a third-person survival horror game, released for the Xbox 360 back in 2006. In an affectionate homage to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, you spend three days trapped in a shopping mall filled with zombies and stocked with all of the food and weapons you need to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the outbreak. The gratuitous violence and B movie plot run the risk of the game taking itself too seriously, but they’re blended with the requisite bleak sense of humour to ensure that the end result is nothing short of joyful.
Dead Rising was a huge hit, selling over a million copies and spawning a number of sequels to a generally positive reception, even amid (not at all unfounded) criticism as the series began to stray from the core mechanics of the original. Although the tricky game timer (designed in tandem with persistent levelling to encourage multiple playthroughs) and harsh save system alienated a number of players, to me the difficulty that they added served only to heighten the tension and create a genuinely compelling survival experience. It really was the perfect translation of horror movies to the interactive medium, not to mention a legitimate technological achievement for the time. The game celebrated its tenth anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion Capcom released a PC port that, based entirely on the great memories I had of the original, made me put aside the personal scepticism that usually accompanies the announcement of video game remasters.
For this to be a winner in my eyes, all they had to do was port it competently and, by and large, that’s what they did. Graphically, there’s very little to fault the team on: it’s hardly The Witcher 3 but they did a great job making the original textures more palatable to eyes accustomed to 2016 visual standards. The in-game text in the 360 version was notable for being nigh-unreadable on certain TVs, but this has thankfully been remedied here. Perhaps my only gripe with how this game looks is that they could have refreshed the HUD and the pause menu – they looked dated in 2006 and the problem is exacerbated by the improvements elsewhere – but this is a wholly minor fault.
Where the game does fall down slightly, though, is its technical fidelity. When everything works as it should, it’s a dream to play: the jump to 60fps means silky smooth animations and, when combined with the graphical overhaul, means this is absolutely what any series fan would want from a remaster. When everything works as it should. Unfortunately, this incarnation struggles with performance issues that the original did not. I was playing on a relatively high-spec setup (i5 6500, GTX 970, 16GB RAM) but nonetheless suffered from several crashes in the zombie-dense maintenance tunnels. Indeed, the number of zombies on screen clearly puts considerable pressure on the game engine as there were a number of very noticeable framerate drops when things got particularly crowded.
Finally, it’s probably worth pointing out that the AI is still just as terrible as it was the first time round, and in fact I’d probably go as far as saying it’s even more janky than it used to be. Escorting survivors back to the safe haven of the security room is an exercise in patience, with plenty of exasperated sighing as they get stuck on the scenery or just ignore your directions outright. Given that rescuing these forsaken souls is a pretty sizeable part of the game, this is a hard problem to ignore. It’s a fundamental feature that didn’t work properly in 2006 and sadly doesn’t work now either.
And yet, even with these not inconsiderable shortcomings, I still had just as much – if not more – fun playing this than I did the original. The second I fired it up the memories came flooding back and after a few hours spent roaming the mall the imperfections ceased to matter, rendered miniscule by the power of nostalgia. Forget the wacky sequels and the impending arrival of DR4: this is the only Dead Rising game you need to play.