In a world of political correctness gone mad, zombies are the one enemy everyone agrees it's okay to pick on. Gangsters? They probably had underprivileged childhoods. Space aliens? They're only probing you because their customs are different. Murderous robots? They're simply reacting to years of abuse from their fleshbag oppressors. With zombies, though, all bets are off - once someone turns into a walking corpse planning on devouring your still-twitching brain, you can dismember them with a hedge-strimmer and Barbara Ellen won't bat an eyelid. That's why 'Zombie Invasion' beats 'Gulf Stream Reversal' in our office poll of 'Preferred Apocalyptic Event' every year.
It's also why Dead Rising is so much fun. With morality out of the window and a mall full of shambling corpses to lay with - none of your 28 Days Later sprinting zombies here, thanks very much - this isn't so much a desperate fight for survival as a big toybox of weapons and fun. Think of it like Shaun Of The Dead on a gigantic scale: the zombies are so rubbish that they trip over on stairs, so the only real problem is finding exciting new ways to kill them. Trapped in a sports shop? Batter them with a Louisville slugger, wang golf balls at them, or plough your way to safety on a skateboard. Stuck in a hardware store? You're spoilt for choice, with scythes, circular saw blades, chainsaws, lead pipes and rotivators scattered everywhere.
Surrounded in the antique shop? Things look bleak, and you're reduced to throwing vases at the zombies... until you notice the display case full of battleaxes behind the counter. Things get trickier in the underground car park - this is where you realise just how many walking corpses the 360 can generate without raising a sweat - but that's where you find cars and motorbikes. The beauty of this is, there's a massive disparity of effectiveness between weapons: smacking a zombie with a dumbbell will obliterate its head instantly, but throwing a giant ornamental lipstick at it does nothing but leave a pink smear across its chest. Condiment bottles and coathangers might seem useless, but jam them into zombies' mouths and they'll be unable to bite you. Every weapon breaks eventually, and limited inventory slots mean you're constantly forced to rely on whatever's on hand - throwing empty CD cases in the record shop or handfuls of diamonds in the jewellery store. The mall's laid out logically, so things get desperate in some areas. Get stuck in the cinema and you're reduced to throwing children's frisbees and cans of pop, but that only makes the satisfaction all the sweeter when you reach the North Plaza with Ripper's Blades and the Huntin' Shack gun emporium. Likewise, in some areas food's desperately scarce, but in others it's all you'll find - get stuck in the supermarket and you'll end up smacking zombies with cabbages because there's nothing else to use. As you get more confident, you'll be slotting traffic cones onto zombies' heads and taking photos of them just for a laugh - there's something about Dead Rising that encourages that sort of childishness.
FRANKY MY DEAR
You might have noticed we haven't even mentioned the plot yet. That's because it's sort of secondary to the action. At the start of the game, you - photojournalist Frank West - drop into a zombie-infested mall to work out what's going on, with an understanding that the chopper's going to be back in 72 (or six real-time) hours. Realistically, you don't need to do anything to finish the game - you can just hang out on the helicopter pad until time runs out - and you could easily spend your first 'run' just dressing up in silly costumes and finding all the weapons. Alternatively, you could take on the 'psychopaths' who are the real threats in the mall - a dozen men and women who've either been driven mad or seized the opportunity to go crazyape power-mad in the carnage, from killer clowns to escaped convicts. But there's more going on in the mall than that, and it's only by getting to the story-related missions at the right time that you'll figure out what's going on, via some impressive set-pieces and interesting twists. Without giving too much away, completing the first three days brings a whole set of new challenges and changes the play dynamic for the final, hidden section, testing all the skills you've learned in a masterful bit of game design. Then, once the story's finally out of the way, you might decide to play through the game again, this time rescuing the forty-odd survivors dotted about the mall.