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When Dead Rising first came out it was...well, it was one of the few games you could play on the 360. It wasn't great, but it squeaked by as something unique on a console that was still trying to find its identity. Once in Vancouver, steeped in game design and the attending developers, it became apparent that it was -- like all Japanese games (and I'm not afraid to say that) tragically flawed.
Dead Rising created tension that wasn't there by forcing one slot saving in bathrooms, sending you on badly designed "save the suicidal zombie bait" quests with draconian time limits, and freely admitting that you would probably die and lose all your saves (with their persistent character progression, which they assumed people would use for multiple new game plus' after repeated failure).
While I've always seen game director Keiji Inafune as the only Japanese videogame figure that has some idea of what's going on in the West, it's still distinctly Japanese in its ways of saying to the player "No, fuck you - try again".
After starting up Dead Rising 2, I had to shut it off after ten minutes of muted zombie killing, after equal time spent watching terribly cheesy cutscenes. On Twitter, @kweenie summed it up by saying "They made Dead Rising 1 with a different skin. They've learned nothing from that game's problems."
But for all that, I can't help but notice that they did learn from Dead Rising's problems -- they just didn't notice. Because they made Case Zero.
The game industry, for being one full of people with sleep rings under their eyes, tattoos and wandering imaginations, is shepherded by The Dollar and its keepers. What we've seen in the absence of The Suits (read: The Man) is an active independent community producing unique one-offs with a sharp focus on gameplay and creative business strategies that make sense in the digital shareware-rooted world of videogames.
Case Zero is a five dollar chunk of content, with all of Dead Rising's core gameplay, but with a focus: You, your safehouse, your daughter, and zombies. This is a zombie game. After buying Dead Rising 2 I regret it -- Case Zero is a better experience. Yet, it's believed that a game is supposed to be a certain entity, something with enough man-hour value imbued to be packaged and stocked on a store shelf alongside other equal servings of game experience.
But Dead Rising doesn't work as a 10-20 hour zombie slog full of Japanese-kitsch cliches. Of course, it does for some people -- but I can only speak for myself. There's a reason that, despite being a complex endeavour, Left 4 Dead is an anomoly: A co-op run through a zombie gauntlet.
What if, instead of working on a Dead Rising with new features, they had worked on a string of DLC worlds? Different safehouse hubs, different cities, different items, different enemies -- and no time limit. Dead Rising works as a game that never ends, because that's what the low-impact zombie bashing is -- a core gameplay grind for character skills, trapped inside an arbitrarily limiting traditional box, with the pretense of producing terror with a bag of tricks which are more adept at mindless hack and slash.
After those first hits against the zombies in Dead Rising 2 I was already tired. I remembered all those hours of Dead Rising the first. There I was, swinging a guitar at zombies, whacking them with an unsatisfying thump and twang eliciting the same spray of blood. And for what? A bad story? Hell no -- not again.
Without the hackles of "being a real, full length game"? With meta-mechanics that allowed me to perform the RPG grind in peace and make my own adventure? Hell yes. By boxing up game concepts into sixty dollar products we've started taking the player's imagination and spirit of adventure out of the picture.
What if I just want to see how long I can survive hopping cars over a zombie infested interstate highway with just a can of tuna and a machete? That's what I want to create for myself, but Dead Rising 2 assumes I care what they want to make me do.