The moment you step into the corridor that leads into the vast and open plaza that is the setting for Dead Rising, you are in Willamette Parkview Mall. From the lazy Sunday afternoon muzak that plays across the loud speakers, the way the light pours in through the large pane glass windows onto the expensive but daggy patterned floor tiles, to even the more simple of things like the way the virtual mall is designed, it all perfectly depicts a place we’ve all been to at some point in our lives. It isn’t a place designed around a game premise, it is a place that just happens to be a perfect place for a game premise. You see Dead Rising’s developers created, or perhaps recreated, the perfect real life environment. Put the zombies aside for a moment, and if you can briefly put aside shoving a shower head in a zombies head and run blood straight from their brain, and the mall feels like a living a breathing public space.
From the outset the game’s artists have created even the smallest details in painstaking detail. From the kitsch logo designs of the chain stores scattered around the outside of a cluttered food court that at capacity wouldn’t be inviting enough to spend any time in over and above how long it takes to scoff down your meal, to the lairy turquoise and electric blue carpet and mock film advertisements that adorn the walls in the Colby’s Movieland cinema, Willamette Parkview Mall is like any other you’d find scattered around the suburbs of most western countries. It’s so real you can almost hear the parents yelling after their annoying children and the loud teenagers engaging in their post-pubescent mall-based mating rituals. But as someone that worked part time in a supermarket while I was at University, it was Seon’s Food and Stuff located in the still under construction North Plaza, that really grabbed me and tickled my nostalgic fancy. From the kind of cool but still a bit ‘by committee’ decor and discombobulating layout of the store, to the ridiculously energy inefficient spread of the dairy produce areas, it had all the hallmarks of your modern day one-stop shop supermarket that made it feel almost real. Need MEATS or SEAFOOD? Well look no further, Seon’s got you covered. If you can’t find what your after, our friendly manager Steven Chapman will be able to assist you, to make sure you go away a happy customer. When he’s not trying to kill your with an armed trolley, that is. I did say almost real.
Seldom does a game come along where I feel like I ‘know’ its world inside and out, where I’m not constantly looking over a mini map, or even worse entering a menu to find out where I need to go. Even Dead Rising’s sequels never quite gave me that same level of familiarity, and although I came to love both Fortune City and Los Perdidos, they never quite matched how well I came to know that bustling shopping mall in Colorado. When Otis said there was a man in North Plaza, I knew exactly where he meant. When he told me there was a bloke that needed rescuing in Al Fresca Plaza I didn’t even need to stop at the information desk and ask for directions.
It’s a rare thing when a game accurately represents the world around you and accurately captures those minor details you often take no notice of in the real world. But it’s quite another when the game makes you feel like you’re somewhere you know like the back of your hand. Dead Rising does both, and if it wasn’t for the zombie apocalypse taking place in the halls and plazas of Willamette Parkview Mall, I’d swear it was located somewhere close to my childhood home in suburban Adelaide.
Have a favourite place in a video game? One that you spent so much time in it began to feel like home? Tell us in the comments.