Friday, 17 June 2011

Classic Friday's Covered Wars, You Know

Since I've been on a Dead Rising: Case Zero kick lately, I thought I'd repost my thoughts on the first game in the series:

A lone paparazzi travels to a small town via helicopter, and plans to leave 3 days later in the same fashion. In the meantime, there is a zombie outbreak to contend with. Man, don’t you hate when that happens? Inconsiderate zombies.

Frank West decides to get the “scoop” of a lifetime, in-between pummeling, slashing, shooting, burning, clobbering, flattening, kicking, punching, tackling and sometimes admiring zombies. Because photographers are known for their robust strength and mastery with a wide variety of weapons. He and a small band of survivors attempt to uncover how this all started. They operate under the assumption that their shopping mall will have all of the answers relating to a bio-hazardous outbreak resulting in cartoon monsters. I don’t know all of the details, but bees are involved(those cunning bastards). This is a reference to the Emerald Jewel Wasp. I’ve noticed the disease also makes it so only the lower half of everyone’s faces will ever move, which effectively cuts the animation budget in half.

This is Dead Rising, a game which attempts to get just about everything wrong which it possibly could. I hated this game. I did not want to hate this game, dear reader. I wanted very much to like it, I certainly put in the effort. I made the attempt to draw blood from this stone. Know that it is not bugs or glitches that impeded my enjoyment, but a series of errors in judgment which lead to some of the least satisfying game design I’ve seen out of a big-name developer.

The major problem is the “controller-smashing” difficulty imposed on any player who has not already scoured and memorized the game’s item locations and rigid schedule. For anyone else(that is to say, anyone who plays this game for a first time) it is maddening. It leaves no room for exploration or training, if you want to keep up with the missions and rescuing survivors. The only time you are free to play the game unshackled is in the “Infinity mode”. But you have to see the main storyline through to completion before you are allowed access to it. I am here to tell you that any game which holds its own fun hostage like that is a game unworthy of your wallet.

At one point, let’s say about 2/6th’s into the game(as in: not even half-way through), I had to fight a man named “Carlito”. This is complicated by the fact that he has a high-powered sniper rifle that never runs out of ammunition, and I have a fragile baseball bat. It doesn’t matter how much I put into each swing. He’s all the way over there, and I’m all the way over here being shot to death. Sneaking up on him doesn’t work, because the AI for this character immediately brings the gun around and fires directly towards you whenever you move, even if the character model isn’t looking at Frank. Throwing the baseball bat is admirable, but Carlos’ bullets tend to be faster. He and all other bosses, known here as “Psychopaths”, have more health than 20 zombie or human character in this game combined. If my AI “partner” dies, it’s a game-over. If(when) Frank dies, it’s a Game-Over. If you take too long getting to the mission, or completing the mission, it’s a Game-Over. If you saved at a point and time too far away to get to the next mission, you have to restart the entire game if you want any hope at seeing the story through.

I believe there is room for challenging video games, but it has to be fair first. It’s not fair to fight a dual-chainsaw wielding clown with the athletic and damage-absorbing powers of Wolverine with nothing but a toy lightsaber and a handgun(which has surprisingly little effect, and takes three centuries to aim). All because I haven’t memorized the location of the battle-axes, shotguns and jugs of orange juice(three of the most useful items in the Willamette View mall).

Capcom, makers of the delightful(and you’ll note: fair) Mega Man games should know by now how to present a boss-fight. This game represents what is a (hopefully momentary) lapse in judgement. The odds are stacked so far in the Psychopaths’ favour, I had to wonder how it was ever expected for me to win. In the few times I did succeed, I was never sure of how or why it happened. The entire scenario is often made around something the developers most likely thought would be really cool in a feature film, and they unwisely assumed that they could shoehorn that into video game context as well. It’s less about skill and more about the game itself having pity on you after your 15th consecutive trip to the Game Over screen. And that’s not just if you die, either. God forbid I’m late to a mission by 12 seconds. It’s not like I have a wall of zombies, survivors to escort or convicts in a jeep with machine guns to contend with at the moment.

And Otis… Good lord. What did we do to deserve the hell that is Otis? Aside from having the impeccable knack for calling you at all of the wrong times, the game makes the startling idiotic decision to remove Frank’s ability to defend himself while answering his text-only, impossible-to-read phone-calls. And if you get attacked by the thousands of zombies in the area, go into a different part of the mall or activate a cutscene(even if it’s one that activates automatically no matter where you are), he calls back and berates you for “hanging up on him”. I tell you now, the most satisfying moment in Dead Rising is when you are allowed to murder Otis in Infinity Mode.

Much ire was raised for the one-save debacle. I understand why they chose it. They wanted to raise the stakes. One file means it has to count. In theory, it is sound. In practice, it is worse than I could’ve imagined. If any game needed the option to save multiple files for your progress, it’s this. I hope you like restarting and restarting the game over and over again, right back to the same Day 1, the same dumbass old lady who ruins everyone’s trip to the mall for her ridiculous zombie-dog, doing the same early missions, and reading the same, almost illegible text from Otis’ annoying god damned phone-calls.

There are several endings. The “main” or  “true” ending has the distinction of also being the worst of the bunch. While the main story itself isn’t bold or showing of intelligence, the characters and situations are by no means unwatchable. The canon ending however is as confusing, as lacking in clarification or even sense as the beginning to a new Halo game. Totally disconnected from what we’ve seen before and giving nothing in the way of explanation for what, how or why anything happens the way it does. Important characters’ fates are ignored for utterly no reason. This is not smart story-telling. This is incompetence.

Yes, it is possible to extract some small satisfaction here. There is a morbid pleasure in making Frank wear a dress and a Serv-bot helmet while smashing televisions over zombies’ heads. This enchantment wears off pretty quickly after Game Over #5, however. After that, it is not much more than an exercise in raising your blood-pressure. Keiji Inafune has expressed time and again that he wished he’d just been able to make another Mega Man Legends game. I’m not a fan of that series either, but at least Legends has an art-style.



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