Dead Rising

Aside from the newfangled super-zombies in 28 Days Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remake, zombies are traditionally dim-witted and slow, by far the easiest monsters to kill, even considering their ability to withstand punishment and keep coming back for more. Their biggest threat is sheer density: Witness the bloody climax to Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, in which the swarming ghouls can only be driven back by the business end of a lawnmower. The joy of Dead Rising, an irresistible survival/horror game in the Resident Evil vein, lies mainly in the improvised slaughter of zombie packs, and a lawnmower just happens to be one of the countless handy implements available. Owing no small debt to George Romero—though notably devoid of political commentary—the game converts a suburban shopping mall into a zombie apocalypse, and gives you the freedom to stop them by any means necessary.

Or at least that's the idea. Though billed as a "sandbox" experience along the lines of Grand Theft Auto and Mercenaries, with primary and side missions woven into a free-flowing design, Dead Rising turns out to be considerably more rigid. As a beefy photojournalist plopped down in a Colorado mall to catch the big scoop, you really don't have that much time to mess around, since you only have 72 hours before your helicopter rendezvous, during which time you have citizens to save, a mystery to solve, and psychopathic big bosses to thwart. The good news is, every mission is a grisly pleasure of creative bloodletting; the bad news is, you'll die while trying to save your game progress, because there are only a few places to do so, and plenty of zombies in the way.

Beyond the game: Though you're sort of a tool (Frank West, badass paparazzo), and Romero's consumerist utopia passes without comment, the central mystery is a rare example of a story compelling enough to play through.

Worth playing for: Braining zombies never gets old, because the game just keeps coming up with more ways to do it, from a well-struck soccer ball to a leafy potted plant.

Frustration sets in when: The save function is a complete disaster, and it's especially bad when you're forced to save without the health and materials to survive from that point on.

Final judgment: Once the tweaks are worked out in the sequels—why no multiplayer action?—the franchise will be a classic in the making.