Monday, January 05, 2009

Dead Rising

So, as my role as a public service to no-one, I thought I'd review a game thats about 3 years old. Dead rising is an xbox 360 game, one of the earliest releases, and full of promise. It got pretty good reviews at the time, although most reviewers did note the flaws I'm about to point out. For them, however, these were forgivable. Note that most of these flaws were not really a result of the limitations of not knowing the system- in many cases these flaws were deliberate design features, which serves to make them even more frustrating.

Dead Rising was based on a concept which gamers were bound to love- 72 hours in a mall filled with zombies, and you. In many ways, it delivers on this promise- the mall is packed full of zombies, and there are many ways to kill them. Chainsaws, pistols, uzis, baseball bats, coat hangers, the list goes on. There are even amusing items one can use on the zombies for giggles- giant foam heads, paint cans, these can be placed and will usually ensure a chuckle. The combat system is quite simple- you just mash to hit, although different weapons will attack at different speeds, and one can throw items if one wishes. To shoot you must aim first, which can be frustrating- wild shooting will invariably miss, and while this is somewhat realistic, it can be painfully slow to get a shot off, making guns not as useful as you might have thought. The complete lack of ammo (and the inane inventory system, which we shall get to), makes them even more of a waste of space.

Additionally, during the game you play a photographer. So part of your mission is to take photos, which earn you points. Touching moments between survivors, brutality from the zombies, comedy moments mentioned from before, all these will earn you big points. The photography is done in real time, so you have to take your snaps quickly or risk getting mauled.

So far so good. So whats the problem? Well there are multiple issues this game possesses, and they all seem to revolve around the game wanting to take your fun away. The game is set to a main plot, which is fine- a sense of direction is often appreciated- but to follow that plot you have to get to certain points within a time limit, or fail it FOREVER. Thats right, if you don't reach a certain point within a certain time, you will never get to do the plot. Not fun. I understand the challenge inherent in forcing oneself through zombies to get to a particular point, and making that as a MISSION might have been enjoyable, but to style the entire game around it? Unforgivable. As a result, a lot of the free roaming fun is drained as you are constantly aware that you need to be in certain places for certain times.

Next of all, the missions attached to the main sections often involve bosses, frequently shoot outs with other humans. These are awful. The control system is simply not complex enough to allow you to obtain fun out of these, as you have to stand on the spot and point slowly in the direction you wish to aim at. Bullets do ridiculously small amounts of damage to others, meaning fights drag on for ages, with you perforating your opponent full of gunshots. Inevitably, having suffered this, they run away! Also, theres no guarentee you will have the tools for the job- you don't know how much ammo you will need, and running out of ammo in a fight is not fun- I once tried to take a sniper down using a hockey stick firing pucks at him. Things did not go well for me.

To be fair, one can utterly ignore the missions, and simply get on with the game. You miss out on certain elements, but never mind. Still the game wants to drag your fun away. The health system is fine, if a little punishing, with you starting, at least, only able to take about 4 hits, but combine this with an incredibly harsh inventory system- you start off with only 4 slots to carry, bearing in mind you need to carry both food (which heals you) and weapons, and it starts to get worse. It would make sense if your health could slowly regenerate if you stayed away from zombies for a while, thus meaning that if the player got in a tight spot they could hole up and heal for a while, rather than having to push through a mass of zombies on only one health bar. Adding this pressure is weapon decay. There was a lot of irritation in reviews at this system- weapons usually survive only about 10 kills before becoming useless, but this actually makes a lot of sense- you are beating these creatures to death, so this isn't surprising. However, the fact that you have such little inventory space means it's quite easy to be left short and surrounded by the undead.

Which brings us to our next points. Save points. If you die in this game, there are no such things as check points, only very infrequently placed save points, where you will have to restart and travel ALL the way again. This is not fun, and could have been dealt with much better. While the ability to save at all times may have been too much, the option to save when leaving or entering a different area would probably have worked (with automatic restart points for each area additionally!)

Another issue which reduces fun are the missions. Along with the main story, you can get escort missions on your radio. This brings two frustrations. First of all, when you answer the radio you are defenceless, and if you cut off to fight, Otis (the man on the other end), gets mad at you! This is EXTREMELY annoying, and could have been avoided once again. The missions themselves annoy. Escorting people is never fun, especially these slow idiots. You can arm them with your hard won weapons, of course, which will make them slightly more effective, but once having done so you have to traipse ALL the way to the safe room. This can be a massive amount of distance, and will take most of your time and patience: I would be impressed if anyone following the story missions would also have the time to do more than a handful of these. Once again, it would make more sense to set these as rescue missions- you fight off some zombies from them, get them up, lead them to the exit to the area, and then they claim they can make their own way from there.

The main problem throughout is the feeling the game has that you need to be challenged, while the player is mostly there to have fun. This is nowhere more accentuated by the extra enemies. After certain time points, new enemies turn up. In the park, a place you will have to cross frequently, a car full of convicts who delight in shooting you down (where on EARTH they got this stuff from, I have no idea), control the land. It's possible to kill them, but extremely hard work, especially earlier on when you are not particularly well equipped. While they can be avoided, later on enemies appear everywhere- psycopaths and special operatives, who are far less fun to fight than zombies, and are really unecessary.

There is a version being made for the wii now apparently. Hopefully it will avoid the pitfalls this game managed to sink into, and create something that is genuinely fun.

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