Friday, February 06, 2009

Dead Writing.

Well, six months after buying it, I finally beat Dead Rising. It didn't take me six months because it was particularly difficult, it was just that after getting about halfway through, I decided it wasn't very good and went onto something else.

Later on I realized that there wasn't really anything wrong with Dead Rising, the problem was that it just wasn't the game I was expecting. I bought Dead Rising expecting a deep, free-form sandbox game and instead, I got a pretty linear, much shallower game with sandbox 'components'.

However, when I started playing Dead Rising based on what it is rather than what I thought it should be, I found myself having a lot of fun.

There's one problem left, however. The ending to this Dead Rising is absolutely terrible…and I checked online and found, with horror, that I did indeed get the 'best' ending.

Warning, Spoilers ahead.

The first ending or 'false' ending wasn't actually all that bad. After surviving three days in the mall, rescuing a bunch of people, thwarting the bad-guy's master plan and getting past the special forces soldiers sent to cover up the whole thing…you get to the helipad only to see the helicopter crash into the ground because a zombie stowaway attacks the pilot. Frank (the character you control) drops to his knees in defeat as the Helicopter crashes in a fireball and the zombie horde slowly closes in around him.

Sure, it's an ending that lends itself to film rather than a game but it's still a fairly good ending and lends itself to a sequel. It's your basic common-or-garden cliffhanger.

But, after the credits roll, you get to go into 'overtime' mode…which unfortunately plays like the writing was suddenly taken over by four hundred separate people who weren't allowed to discuss the story with each other or even see eachother's work.

Firstly, you're given the news that you've been infected with zombie-ism and need to collect a bunch of stuff from around the special forces-infested mall so your sexy Hispanic love-interest can whip you up a cure and stop you from turning into a zombie.

That would make perfect sense, except for the fact that less than an hour of game-time ago, the mall was completely and totally deserted. The Special Forces had arrived, eradicated all the zombies and then left... Suddenly they're all back with no explanation. Also a little weird is that Isabella has suddenly changed from the hot 'peasant-girl' love interest to a Nobel-Prize winning chemist...also with no explanation.

So you spend a while running around the mall, dodging Special Forces troops and Zombies while gathering the supplies you need. When you finally get everything and take it to Isabella, she gives you the news that it's not really a cure. Apparently you're still going to turn into a zombie, only now you have anywhere from a week to a year before you change instead of 24 hours. Your reaction to this leads to a massive leap in logic which, in turn, leads Isabella to conclude that there's another plot to spread zombies all over the world. That plot won't get dealt with in this game though, so all that should be left to do is escape the mall and that's it, right?

Well…Not exactly.

It appears the people at Capcom are not only unaware that it's entirely possible to end a game without a gigantic boss-fight, they're also unaware that it's a really bad idea to end a good, story-driven game with a completely pointless boss fight against a previously unknown, one-dimensional cardboard-cutout badguy that feels like he's been shoe-horned into the game purely to give you a Boss to fight.

I can almost hear the meeting at Capcom:

"And that's the end of the game."

"What? No Boss fight?"

"Of course not, a boss fight wouldn't fit into the storyline and this really isn't that sort of game."

"Pffft, fuck that! You've GOT to have a boss-fight at the end or it's not a proper game. Put one in with lots of machine guns, missiles, lasers….oh, and a tank."

"But Sir, the player's spent the entire game fighting zombies with improvised weapons! Don't you think that going from fighting zombies with two-by-fours and coathangers to using high-end military hardware against a computerized tank will be a little jarring for the player? Not to mention…"

"Oh, oh, oh! And after the big fight with the lasers and the machine guns, the player has to fight someone hand to hand."

"But…it'll ruin the game!"

"Fuck you! I'm the boss! Do it or you're fired."

You see, up until this point the main bad guy actually had some depth and complexity. He was definitely the big-bad, but you could identify and sympathize with him. Sure, he unleashed an undead horde, but he did so out of a twisted sense of justice and revenge. When you take him out, you're glad he's gone, but you also understand him and feel sorry for him...and there's a real heart-wrenching moment when you have to tell Isabella (who just happens to be his sister) that he's dead.

Basically, the game ends narratively and emotionally when Carlito is killed and Frank and Isabella leave the mall. When you're standing on top of a military jeep, firing a machine gun at a tank that's firing missiles, lasers and miniature helicopters with machine guns on them at you, it feels completely out of place from a gameplay standpoint, and also completely superfluous story-wise.

Did I mention that after you take out the tank, you have to fight the tank's driver on top of his half-wrecked tank.

Why? Who thought this was a good idea? I've beaten the big bad guy already, all the plot points have been resolved. Why am I forced into a boss battle for it's own sake? It just feels ridiculous to have this climactic set-piece battle against a guy who's name you don't even know.

Basically, it's like Luke destroying the Death Star, celebrating on Endor...and then there being a half-hour sequence where some random Imperial Officer chases Luke around with a bit of wood until Luke shoots him.

Then, the end cutscene takes this train-wreck and somehow manages to make it even worse.

You've killed the tank driver, what do you do? Do you get in the tank and drive it to safety? Do you at least attempt to rescue Isabella, the woman who's saved your life three or four times, who's trapped on top of the wrecked jeep you fought the tank in?

No, you drop to your knees and scream at the sky for no reason. Fade to black.

So, firstly, I've just been forced to fight a cardboard bad guy because some asshole thinks a game can't end without a boos-fight...and then I'm supposed to accept an emotional reaction from my character that makes no sense whatsoever.

So far Frank's spent three days in a zombie infested mall, watched a ton of innocent people die, killed the big bad guy, saw his escape helicopter crash, been told he's going to turn into a zombie, found himself a cure, carried Isabella through a zombie infested cave, blown up a tank...but then decides to give up because he's killed a stranger. He gives up, despite the fact he's within spitting distance of safety...oh yeah, and has access to a fully-working tank.

I mean, seriously, why? Frank obviously has a thing for Isabella, so I can imagine him reacting badly if he was forced to kill Carlito in front of her, or if he'd just had to watch her die.. If the bad guy had turned out to be an ally who turned traitor on him, I can see that kind of reaction. If you'd defeated the bad guy but found yourself in a situation with no chance of surival, sure…the ending would work.

Instead, you just killed 'Stock Bad-Guy No. 4' and there's a handful of zombies around you…and you have a tank. Great place to give up for no reason.

But wait, it gets worse.

After the credits roll, some text comes up that says Frank managed to escape and stop the cover-up.


Firstly we're given a shoe-horned in, badly written ending that makes little sense and follows a boss fight that was there for absolutely no reason…and then they destroy the one thing that was halfway decent about it…the cliff-hanger ending.

What I really want to know is why they ended the game with Frank and Isabella in such a precarious position if they were going to tell you they survived anyway. Why not, you know, show them escaping.

Again, that's like Star Wars ending with the X-wings approaching the Death Star, luke getting hit...and then the credits rolling...but then after the credits, some text comes up that says "Luke survived the attack on the Death Star, and like, totally blew it up.

Long story short, compromised story for gameplay and basically ruined both.

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