I have slowly been accumulating some games for my Xbox360. My first batch was Perfect Dark Zero (a serviceable shooter with some co-op stuff which sold me on it), Shadowrun (which is very fun, and I am very bad at it, but the fun makes up for it), and Crackdown (which is fun, but incomplete in a _lot_ of ways). Fargo picked up Chrome Hounds (which is his sort of game to a T, lots of fiddling around with mech configs, and then slowly hammering a landscape flat with insanely powerful weapons). There were a few missing games I had initially scoped out that turned me over to buying the 360, notably the yet-to-be-released GTA IV, Burnout Paradise (released not too long ago), and Dead Rising. I was having all kinds of trouble finding a copy for myself. EBGames online wasn’t carrying it new or used, I wasn’t hot to spend $30 for a copy at Wal-Mart, so I was just kind of dragging my feet. I went over to the Gamestop looking for Tomb Raider: Legend (don’t judge me), and lo, there were four copies of Dead Rising. Eureka, I thought. This is it! All those videos showing me a sandbox world filled with zombies, oh, goodness. I was imagining the joy of jumpkicking a zombie in half and then filling a room with lead, smearing gore from ceiling to floor, then casually mucking through to uproot some survivors. How much fun it would be!
Then I got home.
And put the disk in.
And started what I shall call “The Cut Scene Zone 1:1”.
We start off with a CUTSCENE – Fourth grade vocabulary photojournalist Frank whogivesafuck is flying with Generic Burnout Pilot 3, and we are playing Pokemon Snap! but with human tragedy (10,000 points to catch the woman as she falls off the building) instead of colorful animals who can only say their own names. Scary helicopters show up, but don’t shoot you down, in a CUTSCENE. We land on the roof, and in a CUTSCENE overdramatic Mexican Mariachi/Super-Mercenary 1 lets us know that we have “entered hell”.
You head down stairs, check out a basically worthless store room, and eventually, you hit the right combination of doors to enter the Mall. A fat man tells you that you need to go get some stuff to shore up this door (despite there being plenty of room in the well secured area you just left to take all these people and more), so you head off. Taking pictures all the while, of people bitching about things, or holding baseball bats. Just as soon as you get back to the pile of crap, you hit ANOTHER CUTSCENE.
Vaguely spooky old guy points cane at you. Woo woo. You go to grab a pile of stuff, and we’re into a(nother) CUTSCENE. One of the various characters you walked past, never mentioning the essentially bunker like security area you start the game in, decides that her poodle is worth the lives of everyone in the room, and despite being an elderly woman, nobody is capable of holding her back from opening the door to a flood of zombies. Now your job is to get to the stairs, and save anyone you can from this front area. Attempting to save anyone will invariably lead to your death. Attempting to fight will invariably lead to your death. Doing anything but a broken field run directly from where you start to the stairwell is certain death. If you manage to get to the stairs, you enter a CUTSCENE. If you don’t, you fade out and then wake up into a CUTSCENE. These CUTSCENES feature an anatomically improbable woman who fiddles with your camera for a while and then walks off, a janitor who borders on dottering, and a black man with a death wish who immediately heads into the ventilation system to seek his path off this mortal coil.
The janitor hands you a TRANSCEIVER and a BIZARRELY DETAILED MAP of the mall. At this point, you are essentially done with anything you really need to do. If you just wait in here for however long, and then go up onto the roof, the helicopter will presumably come get you. If you, instead, choose to go out into the mall and do any missions, you will invariably die.
Here’s the “brilliant” bit. This is… intended. Yes. According to every fucking thing I’ve read, apparently the goal of this game is to die, several times, until you’ve levelled up enough to actually do stuff. I (with Fargo’s help) died at various stages of my awkward career as asshole photojournalist/captain-save-a-ho/serial shoplifter enough times to get to level 10, all without finishing a single mission. This is largely due to the fact that the game has no learning curve whatsoever. It also has something to do with the fact that Frank moves like a simian, there’s no real indicators of victory conditions for missions, the weapons all have significant drawbacks, plus they degrade RAPIDLY, anybody you’re trying to escort has a death wish and will head into the middle of whatever group of zombies currently looks hungriest, and Otis (the janitor) will call, just to chat, twelve times a minute to let you know that he found a mouse that he thinks looks like you, or that he just wanted to hear your voice again. This has all, undoubtedly, been covered in every review of the game ever. But, my biggest issue is none of the above.
It’s the fact that EVERY TIME you start over, you do EVERY CUTSCENE, and EVERY INSTRUCTIONAL POPUP, EVERY TIME. You have to fucking go through every step of this bullshit, every time, even though it’s an acknowledged fact that you are intended to go through this ten (forty, a hundred) times, you are expected, every time, to need the same instructions about how to pick shit up, how to take pictures, when to take pictures, etc, etc, etc. It’s lazy. Lazy fucking programming. I don’t care what your savegame model is, you can fucking put in there “Hey, I bet this dude knows how to aim a fucking gun now”=1 or “Let’s not worry too much about showing him the old guy for the zillionth time”=true.
I wish I could say I stuck it out and finished the game, and it was outstanding. But I didn’t and it isn’t. It’s going back to the store, and Lara Croft will come to me with it’s predictable, linear gameplay.