Saturday, September 08, 2007

Dead Rising

I got the chance to borrow Dead Rising the other day, and have played it a significant part of the way through (partway through 'Overtime').

After playing for awhile, I'm left bewildered.

How on Earth could such an innovative, creative, diverse replayable game be released with such obvious gameplay flaws?

Let me give you a bit more. You're a freelance photographer/reporter, in a mall, filled with zombies. Your objectives are to:
  • Survive.
  • Reach the helipad in exactly three days of gametime, for your ride out.
  • Reveal "the facts" about how zombies ended up in the mall, as dictated by a set of chained quests.
  • Rescue a variety of survivors hiding in the mall, desperately avoiding both the zombies and a variety of psychopaths.
  • Killing psychopaths and zombies.
  • Gain "prestiege points" (read: XP) by doing varieties of the above tasks, as well as taking photos for later publication.

All of these (except survival) are optional, and in fact, it would be exceedingly difficult to satisfy them all simultaneously (I think there are at least 5 main endings based on combinations of above). This automatically means heavy replayability, but is further augmented by unlocked game content, including a continuation "overtime" day following one possible ending, a free-play mode, and plenty of fun Xbox achievements.

And, in the end, you get to rummage through an entire mall, taking whatever the hell you want from it, and using these objects to kill zombies, and perhaps take pictures afterwards of your handiwork. Oh, and the graphics are great.

But one must wonder where their test team was on for all this. Such a great game is completely ruined by several fatal gameplay flaws.

  • Controls. Every single button on the controller is used, normally in unintuitive ways. Plus a series of special moves for which they do not describe the controller combinations to activate.
  • Control utility. When your weapon durability expires (yes, all weapons do this), it automatically switches to the next item (no you don't really control ordering).... if you're wildly swinging a bat, congrats, you've quaffed all your healing potions before you realize it. If you get a radio message, it beeps intermittently until you answer, locking out all combat controls; unless you get attacked, in which case it cuts you off, then you get chastized for interrupting the speaker. Your guns are practically useless without targeting, which takes forever to manually perform (no Z-targeting!). Likewise, action shots are not enabled for your camera, and even if they did, taking any 'good' photos basically means you're going to get hurt.
  • Difficulty. The game is hard... very hard. Without an FAQ, most are just going to get frustrated and quit when you encounter your *first* psychopaths which outnumber you three to one, have the game's most powerful weapon, and a jeep, before you've even really seen much more than your first handgun!
  • Unforgiving. Most games these days seem to have a "no stuck" mentality - ie. you can never play yourself into a dead-end. This game explicitly counters this - the main plotline is heavily time-sensitive, and offers no outs. You can only make one save game, so you can screw yourself easily by saving with too little time left or with too little health to survive an encounter.
  • Quirky human fights. Fighting hordes of zombies works gracefully. The human fights are downright lame - they're pattern fights at best, and at worse simply require you to exploit pathing and clipping bugs to make possible. This gets even worse when they start loading the mall with humans with full automatic weapons.
  • Heavy zoning. Come on, if WoW can have an entire continent with seamless transitions, one should expect a single group of mall stores without 15 seconds of loading time.

Seriously, how can anyone with any experience of enjoyment of games justify all of these as non-critical issues?

Game companies just make me mad sometimes.

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