I only beat Dead Rising: Case Zero on my third attempt. In Case Zero, Chuck Green and his zombie-bitten daughter, Katey, get stranded in a small town overrun by the undead. In 12 hours, the military will arrive to wipe them all out, and in that time, Chuck must get Katey a dose of Zombrex to stop her from turning zombie and build a motorcycle to escape the small town.
Zombies play a big role in Dead Rising, but they’re not your main antagonist, which is a good thing because by themselves zombies are boring. They’re slow, stupid, and easy to kill. They may be disgusting, but they’re not particularly scary unless they’re in a horde. The two most popular zombie games, Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead, use zombies as a starting point for horror.
In Resident Evil, these flesh eaters are the first creature we see, but things quickly escalate as we encounter mundane creatures like giant snakes and spiders as well as Lickers, Hunters, and the Tyrant monster. That is until Resident Evil 4 finally got rid of all pretenses and pitted you against the Las Plagas parasite. In Left 4 Dead, the zombies can run, which makes them scarier than normal, but they’re still the least dangerous creature in the game. These games have to keep upping the ante because zombies are the antagonists, the main force keeping you from your goal, but zombies make boring bad guys. More dangerous monsters have to be introduced to keep things exciting.
In Dead Rising, your main antagonist is time. The game throws missions and side missions at you with such a strict time limit that it’s obvious that you can’t do it all. You have to pick and choose what missions to do, and even then, you’re always racing against the clock. The zombies are simply an obstacle, and they make a great obstacle. There’s nothing quite as daunting as seeing a mall packed with zombies shoulder-to-shoulder, knowing you only have five minutes to get through them. If your goal was simply to kill them, that would get old fast, but it’s that fact that we don’t have to kill them and in most cases shouldn’t kill them that makes them scary.
With the strict time limit pushing us forward, we have to balance fighting and running. The more time that you spend killing zombies, the less time you have for missions. The possibility of the zombies eating up my time is scarier than them eating me, and that makes the horde frightening. If I don’t have enough time to kill a zombie, it suddenly becomes strong; it becomes an enemy I can’t kill. Then all I can do is run.
Of the five bike pieces that Chuck has to find in Case Zero, I had a lot of trouble finding the gas tank. My first time through the game I wasted so much time looking around that I failed to get Katey the Zombrex. My second time through the game I got her the drug but was ill equipped to fight off the psycho mechanic that appeared afterwards. I thought that I saw a gas tank on him, so I decided to start over and focus on preparing for that fight because I assumed that he’d drop the part I needed. My third time through the game I killed him, but he dropped nothing.
At this point, I was almost out of time, and I had no clue where to look. I thought about starting over a fourth time, but first I paused the game and analyzed the town map until I had a rather obvious epiphany: The gas tank was probably near the gas station, which was just outside. With precious few minutes left I ran outside, cutting through the zombie horde with a broadsword, and after just a few seconds of searching, I found it sitting in the open—so obvious and yet so well hidden. I grabbed the gas tank and made a beeline for the garage, backtracking through the path I had just made through the horde.
I didn’t kill any zombies as I ran back to the garage because I knew that I didn’t have time. I felt like I was cutting things so close that I didn’t even check my watch to see just how much time was actually left. Chuck installed the gas tank and escaped just as the military arrived, and I finally beat the game on my third attempt. The ending was so satisfying but not because I found all the parts in time while killing 1000 zombies. It was satisfying because I found all the parts in time despite killing 1000 zombies.