Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Dead Rising

Russ Pitts | 15 Aug 2006 15:50
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Capcom's zombie-infested survival-horror game is enchanting, addicting fun, in spite of a handful of half-baked design decisions.

A few of us here in the office (and around the world apparently) picked up Capcom's Dead Rising over the weekend. I think this is an exciting game for a number of reasons - not just for the player, but for the industry as well - but before I get too much into that I need to share a few things that I absolutely can't stand about it.

The first is the backward save system. Seriously. Capcom, the year is 2006. Your consumer base has moved beyond the concept of save points and single save slots. Time to join the party. Not being able to save when and where I want (or at the very least having frequent, automatic saves) in a game as large and complex as Dead Rising leads to many a moment of frustration when we discover that hours of game progress must be re-played. Thankfully, the gameplay in Dead Rising is addictively fun (more on that in a bit), but that doesn't excuse Capcom's stubborn resistance to evolve with trends.

Yet I'm still playing.

Here's another twist: the game comes pre-loaded with the ability to completely erase your game progress without making it clear that it's doing so. Worse, the game actually makes you think that this is a desired option. If your character dies, you're presented with two options. The first is Load Game, the second, Save Stats and Continue. Load Game will load your most recent saved game. Save Stats and Continue will ruin your life.

Basically, it erases all of your game progress, sending you back to the beginning of the game. I discovered this the hard way, after having played the game for about 15 hours over the weekend. The only bonus to this treachery is that you will restart the game with the same bonuses you had when you "saved status," making the climb back to your place in the narrative a little less difficult. Still, WTF? Who on the planet would consider this a good thing? And to not explicitly describe that this option will erase your saved game is a crime.

And yet, I'm still playing.

The other thing I completely can't stand about Dead Rising is the fact that it was designed to be incompatible with standard-definition televisions. Many developers of games for the Xbox360 take advantage of the console's HDTV-compatibility, and some even go so far as to heartily recommend that players play their game on a high-definition television, but Dead Rising is the first game I'm aware of to make playing the game almost impossible (and severely painful) to play on an SDTV.

I'm speaking about the in-game dialogue and on-screen text. Many of the characters in the game are not voiced, so their hints and story dialogue are displayed on-screen as subtitles. On-screen text is also employed to provide the player with information such as where to find quest items, and side missions, and to provide mission status and updates. The problem is that unless you're using an HDTV, this text is impossible to read. Not difficult, impossible.

I own a 36", 5-year-old TV. It has about as clear and large a picture as you could expect from a tube-based TV. And yet I find myself leaping up from the couch and pressing my nose against the glass to try to read the text displayed in Dead Rising. And I still can't read most of it. I have no idea what I'm missing, but I'm sure it's important. Perhaps it's the part about how the game will erase your saved games.

And yet, I say again that I'm still playing.

In spite of all of my protestations that games should be finished, perfect and playable for me to even bother picking them up, in spite of my loudly-voiced opinion that patches and updates are the lazy developer's excuse for poor project planning, I not only spent good money on Dead Rising, in spite of its extremely frustrating flaws and poor design choices, but I'm enjoying the hell out of it. I actually thinking about it right now, and can't wait to get back to playing it.

All of the hype over this game has been justified. It is one of those rare examples of expectations being not only met, but exceeded. I'm hoping that they patch, or address the problems I've noted above, but even if they don't I'll probably play this game to completion and beyond. And I'm not even sure I can tell you why.

Resident Evil 4 made it fairly obvious that the guys at Capcom were into zombie films, and being into zombie films myself, I have to say that Dead Rising is Day of the Dead to RE4's Night of the Living Dead. It's the campy, goofy, yet still terrifying younger brother of a zombie game, and the number of ways you can beat on the walking dead, and the amount of time you can spend doing it, is simply amazing and the quite frankly the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. In fact, it often feels as if the zombies in this game are simply inconvenient set pieces, obstacles to be overcome in order to progress through the story, which is exactly as it should be. In Dead Rising, zombies are deadly, but slow; menacing, but dumb; hard-to-kill, but fun to beat on, and the game provides the would-be zombie-slayer with every possible implement with which to beat on the undead. Then, when you get bored with doing that, you can work on the main storyline for a while, and beat on more zombies along the way.

It's fantastic. And in spite of its soul-crushing frustrations, it's the most fun I've had playing a game since Guitar Hero. Dead Rising also has a guitar in it, but you can use it to hit zombies, which makes it go to 11 in my book. I also recommend the chainsaw, and the bowling ball, and the hedge-clippers, and the teddy bear mask, and the battle axe, and the potted plant, and the propane tank ...

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