January 03, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Zombies! Gary Eng Walk on the gory ”Dead Rising”

(Capcom, Mature, Xbox 360)
Zombies are on the loose in a shopping mall, and nothing, not even a warm Cinnabon, can wean them off the taste of human flesh. This familiar premise might drive George A. Romero to call his lawyer, but Dead Rising is far more than just a Dawn of the Dead knock-off. It takes the uneasiness of being cooped up in a mall with thousands of zombies and neurotic humans, then adds an engaging, open-ended, Grand Theft Auto-esque format that only videogames can offer. Like GTA, the game has a primary goal for you to accomplish: As Frank West, a scruffy, opportunistic photojournalist, you have 72 hours to figure out what turned most of the town into carnivorous cadavers and live to sell the story of the century.

Punctuated by far too many narrative cut-scenes and wan melodrama, the main plot gets to be a drag after a while. The optional mini-missions — which typically involve rescuing survivors and escorting them to a safe room — are far more fun. Or, you can become a shutterbug and snap pictures of the chaos around you (receive extra points for capturing particularly gory moments). Thanks to Dead Rising‘s open-ended format, you can just waste time trolling the mall, which features an insane amount of interactivity. Walk into any store, sample the merchandise, try on women’s clothing, pig out at ”Hamburger Fiefdom” — the entire place is open for business.

But on to the ultra-violence! Frank has an arsenal of zombie-annihilating tools at his disposal, ranging from the conventional (pistols and knives) to the audacious (chain saws and antique battle axes). There’s also a flurry of everyday items — fire extinguishers, chairs, golf clubs, and cash registers — that can function as weapons of crass destruction.

It’s a shame that you only have so much time for horsing around before being forced to refocus on the serpentine main mission. If you don’t reach certain points in the story by a predetermined time, it’s game over. Dead Rising also doesn’t record your progress nearly as frequently and seamlessly as it should, which is frustrating. And if you haven’t already figured it out, the Mature rating isn’t just for show — Dead Rising is off-the-charts gory, with enough blood and body parts to make Wes Craven queasy, so only adults should be playing it. In other words, kids will be enjoying this game behind their parents’ backs for a long time to come. BGary Eng Walk


Painkiller: Hell Wars
(People Can Fly; Mature; Xbox)
Talk about getting the short end of the stick: After dying in a car crash, Daniel Garner is tasked by God to plow through hell so he can join his wife in the afterlife. Don’t think about it too much; the plot is largely irrelevant. The satanic conceit serves less as a storytelling device and more an excuse to unleash a mishmash of stages — ninjas shoot blow darts in an opera house, children stalk you through a haunted orphanage — and wield cool weapons like the self-explanatory ”stakegun.”

Combining the 2004 PC game with choice stages from the expansion pack, Painkiller: Hell Wars resembles Doom-ish shooters of yore, which skimped on strategy and emphasized nonstop action. Still, several hours in, gameplay becomes a tedious chore due to poor A.I. Painkiller is actually more notable for the blaring heavy-metal soundtrack than the mindless buttom mashing. C+J.P. Mangalindan

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