In Defense of Dead Rising’s Time Limits by John Seminario


When the original Dead Rising was released in 2006, it was not without its faults. The controls were a nightmare, the boss fights were unbalanced, and the survivor AI was, at best, almost functional. Nevertheless, the game had personality. Frank West was a ridiculous character that you just couldn’t help but root for. The humor felt blissfully unaware. And I mean, come on, there were all those Mega Man references! Clunky game mechanics and kookiness aside, however, the in-game time limit was perhaps the most divisive feature among fans.

For the record, I do like the time limits. Bringing them up to other people, though, most of them have nothing but negative things to say. A friend once told me he dislikes the time limits because he cannot fully explore the world and do everything the developers put into the game. Most of the other complaints I’ve heard seem to stem from that initial idea – the idea of people wanting to see and do everything without the pressure of a deadline.

I’d argue, however, that the point of Dead Rising was never to get everything done on your first playthrough, nor was it about running around like a dipshit killing zombies with a battle axe (though you could absolutely still do that). The point was to finish the game multiple times. The game ranks you at the end of your playthrough. Your character’s level carries over across multiple runs. I think that’s because the developers always had run optimization in mind when making the game. They weren’t looking to make an open world zombie game; people just wanted them to.

The player is even rewarded on subsequent runs because they now know where everything is going to be. They know where the secrets are; where to find the best weapons. They know what to expect from the boss fights; what they should be taking with them. They’ve leveled up to the point where they can more readily handle the missions they’re going to be given.

It should also go without saying that nothing is stopping you from ignoring those calls from Otis completely. The game isn’t going to kick you back to the main menu the second you decide to explore the mall for fun and run out of time. I once hit a point in the game where I didn’t think I’d be able to beat a boss and make it back in time, so I let the timer expire and took to killing zombies to achieve a higher level before restarting.

Beating the game, though, requires you to play it the way the developers intended and, even then, you don’t have to save the survivors scattered throughout the mall. One might even argue that ignoring optional rescues and boss fights is somewhat in line with who Frank West is as a character. Frank’s there for the big scoop; he’s there to document these events. It seems fair to say that he [LITERALLY] just might not have time to escort someone he doesn’t know back to the safe house so they can ride his chopper out of there.

People also talk about missing out on content like it’s a bad thing. I once stopped playing The Witcher 3 just because of how intimidating the dozens and dozens of markers littering the map were. Nothing was forcing me to do them, but nothing was stopping me either. For better or worse, I felt compelled to get them done before progressing in the main story, which eventually caused me to loathe the thought of loading up the game at all. As fun as the world was to explore, the multiple side quests and points of interest ultimately felt like they were getting in the way of what I cared about: the story. In that respect, I like the fact that Dead Rising puts me in a situation where I likely won’t get everything done in one playthrough.

It’s important to note, too, that Dead Rising is not a particularly long game. One has to wonder what someone is picturing when you tell them they’ll likely be playing this game a few times. Are they picturing Metal Gear Solid 2, or Metal Gear Solid 5? Do they think Resident Evil 4, or Resident Evil 6? The former games are obviously games balanced for multiple playthroughs, while the latter games offer a much longer, grander experience that you likely won’t want to play again anytime soon. Neither is better (unless we’re talking about Resident Evil 6), they’re just different.

To close this out, I’ll say this: I recently started up Dead Rising 4, and I’m not enjoying it. I feel this way for a lot of reasons, but this isn’t a review, so I’ll just stick to the fact that the game has no time limit whatsoever. Even as early as my first few hours into the game, I already started doing something I never do in Dead Rising games: I aimlessly explored the world killing zombies. I quickly realized, though, that the world only felt so significant and interesting in the earlier games because I could only catch brief glimpses of it as I ran to my next objective. Killing zombies was only so fun in the past because I was only able to pause and enjoy it for so long. The original Dead Rising was by no means a perfect game. I don’t think the time limit was part of the problem, though, and it seems unfair to objectively state that the game would be better without it when, maybe, the game just wasn’t for you in the first place.


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