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October 17, 2007Glenn Turner

The most frustrating aspect of not being an early console adopter is hearing all the details about first-generation games. Case in point: I came into Dead Rising knowing several of its faults, mostly that it's a fun & mindless diversion if you didn't try to play the game proper, but a maddeningly frustrating endeavor if you did try to take on the single-player campaign, thanks to a mind-bogglingly backwards save system.

Nevertheless, I thought it'd be a fun game. 'I love clobbering zombies!' I said to myself, as I picked the title off the used rack, sure that it was worth the asking price.

Then I played the game. It opens with a harrowing interactive taste of photojournalism as you quietly, somberly fly over the small town of Willamette, photographing its inhabitants being decimated by fistfuls of zombies. One especially striking moment occurs as you're flying past a multi-story building where there's a woman trapped on a rooftop, surrounded by a handful of undead. She fires a few gunshots at them, shots that echo softly in the distance, before she's out of ammo and finds herself backing up right against the edge of the roof. She turns, spots your helicopter and frantically waves, staring directly at you as you snap photograph after photograph, the game encouraging you along by noting the drama of the scene, literally, in big red words: DRAMA. The drama turns to violence as the zombies lunge at her, she loses her balance, and the entwined bodies tumble to the ground. I couldn't help but pan down along with them, hoping that she somehow survived the fall, but the bodies fell too quickly, and my lens was greeted with a scene of gore & asphalt.

It was mighty powerful and impactful scene, one that played on the distance a photojournalist has between himself and his subjects, while also putting the player in a situation of relative helplessness – all you can do during this scene is uncomfortably document the zombie horrors. I had anticipated that Dead Rising would be wall-to-wall camp & empty thrills, not the videogame equivalent of Salvador. Unfortunately, the awe didn't last long. After a few hours with the game, I found few somber photo scenes and instead was endlessly busied with beating up zombies in small sections of the game's mall. Several attempts to explore the mall more thoroughly ended up in encounters with bosses that proved to be endlessly frustrating, inciting deaths that threw me back to the beginning of the game, so I resigning myself to one section of the mall before simply casting the game aside. The worst part? Since the save system's 'restart from last save' isn't much better than starting over with earned experience, the initial scene that I found so impacting lost all its resonance upon the sixth or seventh play-through. Then, despite the fact that I desperately wanted to see if there would be any more meaty camera-based scenes, I simply gave up on the game as I simply didn't the core gameplay elements to be worth the aggravation. What a shame.

While I lamented not having the gusto to plow through the game, it got me thinking: What other games have I ditched, not because they weren't engrossing, but because the gameplay got in the way? Here are a few recent examples of mine, and they all have one common theme. See if you can guess what it is without cheating!

Chulip - Chulip's brand of brazen wackiness was right up my alley: A game where you, as a small boy, kiss the populace of a small town? The quirkiness attracted me like iron to a magnet. I waited three years for this title to come stateside and, when I finally got my hands on it, I was even more surprised to see that the plot beams with a tale of class conflict (a theme that developers Punchline seem quite fond of, as it's also prominently present in their recent game Rule of Rose), and the town's stage felt sincerely quaint. But, about 20% into the game, dying in Chulip's town caused me to lose too much progress and the save system left me feeling forlorn. It's too bad, as the subject matter was treated with more gravity than most would bother with, especially given the cute visual design, but the effort I'd expend to experience it seemed far too daunting.

Siren - A survival horror property from the director of Silent Hill? 'Sign me up!,' I said. Featuring more narrative threads and characters than a Tolstoy novel, with events unfurling over a large span of time and jumping back-and-forth between years and locales like most players flip through inventory screens, Siren was an ambitious undertaking. Unfortunately, the game itself required loads of rout memorization and trial-and-error attempts just to survive the most basic of levels. Challenging storytelling I can deal with but, sadly, I can't cope with frustrating and repetitive memorization-based gameplay. Instead, I read Insert Credit's illustrious review of it, and quietly regretted my soft nature and envied reviewer IGGY's determination.

Contact - I adore Grasshopper Manufacture. They take risks with every property they touch, even the anime adaptations that many developers would sleepwalk through. So, of course, I'd be excited about them helming a DS-based RPG Contact, an RPG that seemed to mirror the distinguished Earthbound series both in design and conception. I was looking forward to an immensely playable, but post-modern, RPG that'd tickle the intellect as much as my stylus. Instead, within half an hour I found myself emptily staring at my character while he was immersed in combat and murmuring 'that's it?'

Visually, the combative dual-screen 8-bit and 16-bit styles are great, and the story hinted at something engrossing, but apparently I'd have to sit through some of the most mind-numbing combat scenes in order to steal a glance at them. Thanks, but no thanks, Grasshopper. I'll see you again when No More Heroes comes out.

What do all these games have in common? They're all games that, if I had a cheat code for them, I would have persisted and trudged on through them. I admit, that may sound a bit bewildering: A grown man wanting to cheat to complete a game? All of these games painted a compelling world or, at least, the promise of such a thing. I remember when I was a kid, if I felt a game was taxing me a bit too much, and if I only had a weekend with it (which was pretty common, as usually I was playing another friend's games at a sleepover or some such thing), I'd brush my dignity aside, enter in the code and just plunge through the game, suffering no damage or skipping troublesome levels. At least this way I'd be able to marvel at the sights I normally would never get to see, the ending I'd never come close to accomplishing of my own accord, and get a resolution to a story whose beginning I had heard dozens of times.

And now that I'm older, I see that it's not just a problem of time, but of indifference, of frustration, of perceived unfairness. I play games to experience new places, new worlds, new situations – not to just observe them, as I can do that with other media. And when I'm tantalized with the prospect of a fascinating social dynamic, like with Chulip, or the exploitive dynamics of Dead Rising, I get upset when abstract & obtuse obstacles get in the way of experiencing these worlds. What makes matters worse is that the invincible cheat codes and level selects of the olden days have been deprecated, thanks to modern video game rental culture and in an effort to 'keep games fresh'. Thanks Blockbuster.

Certainly, I recognize that these obstacles are 'part of the game', but it showcases the delicate balance between the game and the game's environment. If the game's rules don't prop up the environment, no matter the allure of this fantasy world, you won't feel the need to explore it. Still, it's a testament that these games resonate in my mind, despite fundamental gameplay problems, despite how much time I haven't spent with them, simply because of their originality and uniqueness.

I'm betting that you, dear reader, have had similar experiences in your gaming lifetime, so let's hear 'em! What games had you immersed and wanting to see what would happen next, only to give up because the gameplay got in the way? And, if you could have, would you have applied a cheat code to progress further or would you proudly abstain?


12 comments for ‘Dead Rising & Interfering Gameplay’

#1 Matthew M. Williamson Oct 18, 2007 12:56pm

You know, I'm going to agree with you on everything except one thing: Dead Rising. You obviously took your expectations of the save system and made it out to be much worse than it is. The game can be replayed from the beginning if you die, but it does not have to be. Save points are marked on your map, there’s just not that many. The first one happens before you can even “die” in game. The game is fantastic and for many more reasons than just photography. If that's really your hurdle with the game then you missed something very apparent about the save system and need to revisit it.

I restarted about half-way through my first time just to make the game a bit easier and I had missed a few events. After that I realized that it is impossible to see everything in one play through of the game. There's some really excellent commentary, situation, and satire that you’re missing by dropping the game where you did. If you follow the story you'll find that there are very few moments in the game where you're just wandering around killing time.

#2 Glenn Turner Oct 18, 2007 07:08pm

Matthew,

Thanks for the comment! It's entirely probable that I dropped the game a bit too early, and I'm aware that I could just load up the last save and start from there but, ultimately I felt my progression in the game was halting, as if I was out of sync with the game. Sure, I'd save, but when I did end up dying I felt the PP loss would be too great or I had made too much progress since my last save or whatnot so I'd just save and start over, and hope I'd make more headway the next time.

Obviously I should have made that a bit more clear, and I have tweaked the article a tad to try and address that.

Nevertheless, your confidence in the game tempts me to give it another go. Maybe I'll be able to get in sync with it in a few months.

#3 Matthew Williamson Oct 19, 2007 02:05pm

Yes, please keep it open for rotation. As a hint: ignore PP! Especially on your first run through. I highly recommend playing the game at least twice. The first time you should work on surviving and finishing the story. Second time you can work on surviving and getting PP. Also you can work on the bosses that were too hard on your first play, and/or finding the hidden ones.

Aside: if you want more juice to keep playing read the article "To Be Frank" in issue 7 of the Gamer's Quarter.

#4 WholeFnShow Oct 21, 2007 03:40am

I believe you may have been spoiled by Beyond Good & Evil's photography system. I am right there with you on that. It's one of the reasons I didn't like BioShock as much as could have. I just wanted more from the camera.

More to the point of the article though, I find that I thrive on this type of gaming adversity. Thanks to games like SSX, I am obsessed with performing the "perfect run" of a stage, section, or mission. I will go into a new area and the first thing I try to do before I get killed, and I always get killed, will be the way I try to pass that section until it works. It's just a near endless run into a brick wall until the wall gives.

Just for example, I'm still trying to clean up Monster Hunter on psp. I've logged 500+ hours. What are not logged are the presumable 200+ hours of unsaved failed mission time. But I refuse to Not beat this game.

I'm trying to think back, and the only game I can remember not being willing to finish was a PSP game called Bounty Hounds. The only reason I got it was because it looked like a futuristic version of Monster Hunter. What it turned out to be was a futuristic version of Monster Hunter where they invented a way to make Monster Hunter no freaking fun at all. So I just stopped playing it, regardless of it's outstanding style. Guess I'm a bit more of a hard-headed and stubborn gamer than most.

#5 D. Riley Oct 21, 2007 02:10pm

I remember BG&E's photography barely even being there. Another string of sub-par subquests in a sub-par game.

Anyway. Maybe to really appreciate something like Dead Rising's save system you have to be weaned on things like the Resident Evils of yore. Nowadays I'm surprised when games DON'T boot you back to the title screen when you die. I breathed a sigh of relief the first time I died in Folklore and didn't suffer any loss in progress beyond the three screens I had to walk through to get back on track. It wasn't always like that...

We're pretty spoiled these days.

#6 Glenn Turner Oct 22, 2007 11:01am

I believe you may have been spoiled by Beyond Good & Evil's photography system. I am right there with you on that. It's one of the reasons I didn't like BioShock as much as could have. I just wanted more from the camera.

Nah, I'm with Riley (as you might remember, the two of us found the game itself to be exceedingly lackluster) - I didn't find BG&E's photo system to be terribly substantial.

But I agree wholeheartedly with you that BioShock's photo system was amazingly disappointing. The simple fact that you couldn't photograph anything you wanted was terribly disheartening. I don't care if I get any experience, new abilities, defenses or whatnot from it – I just wanted to document my trip through Rapture!

We're pretty spoiled these days.

Indeed. But I'm okay with that!

#7 TrueTallus Oct 22, 2007 12:39pm

Don't waist anymore time with Contact. That game DEFINES disappointment, especially if you stick with it.

I'd say Phantom Dust is the most frustrating offender for me. I've seen in several reviews that its story is an irritating afterthought between bouts of awesome card-battling-like action, but my experience has thus far been just the opposite. I'm finding the combat overly abstract and difficult, and it's almost gotten to the point that I'm not willing to actually play the game to explore what I consider to be a fascinating setting. I don't want to have to set up my deck, or be forced to survive on the 2 seconds of story between fights, or endure the disappointment of being rewarded with yet another gameplay tutorial for completing a mission. I guess I could go read a book, but most books aren't nearly as pretty.

I was going to say GTA:SA because my recounting of the tale of CJ and friends is stymied about halfway through at yet another impossible mission, but that game has enough cheats to choke a mule. I just can't bring myself to enter them...

#8 Mitchell Dyer Oct 24, 2007 03:10am

I loved BG&E with every fiber of my being but the reward for the photography was some pithy amount of coin. No thanks. It was fun when I got it, just to tool around with and take pictures but it was uninteresting...

#9 raigan Oct 31, 2007 10:13pm

I have a few complaints about Dead Rising, but the save system isn't one of them -- you can save whenever you want to, you just need to go to a save point. What's hard about that?!

If, as you seem to have done, you try to play through the game without ever saving.. well, obviously it will be quite hard/frustrating -- the same could be said of Super Mario World! Just plan each mission/route using the save points as waypoints along your path through the mall.

#10 Fiddytree Dec 23, 2007 03:28am

I remember at the very beginning of my first time through Dead Rising I had the same trouble but as I went on, I realized it was more of me just not knowing where the save points were. Once you learn the map, it's easy. Also I would say on your first play through the game, it's best to just go around and the mall and kill zombies and have fn exploring the environment and your abilities. FInd all types of weapons and level up. That way when you go through the game your second time, you have more life and attacks etc and it makes the boss battles easier.

I'd also say that I thought Dead Rising was an excellent game and I had a lot of fun going through it. I've played a lot of 360 games since then that I thought were mediocre (Crackdown, Call of Duty 3, Assassins Creed) so it might just make it look that much more appealing to me, but I'd say go ahead and finish it

#11 Anonymous Sep 8, 2008 07:09pm

your all stupid you aren't supposed to play a game more than twice because any game sucks after that plus you have to know what yoour doing when fighting bosses and you whine because there is no cheats only poons need health cheats

#12 chadness Nov 5, 2009 01:58pm

Not true i play through games maby 4 times and dont get tired of them. just becuse YOU get bored after two doesnt meen thats like the rule of gameing or anything.

As for dead riseing I love the game its asome. it does have its faults but its the fact that you HAVE to play it a few tmes to see/get everything, that makes it intresting.

only problom I have is that the tons of zombies at night are hard! oh and the anoying ass transresever messages whe your in the middle of battle :p but its still an asome game