Some thoughts on Dead Rising, and chasing the ‘Call of Duty crowd’

I’m going to open with a screenshot from Dead Rising 2.

And now one from the E3 demo of Dead Rising 3.

Quite the difference, isn’t there? Of all the things that have been announced over the last couple of days, none make me sadder than the idea of Capcom wanting Dead Rising to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd. They tried it with Resident Evil 6, and that game was a jumbled mess, lacking in any of the charm of previous entries in the series. And now they’re doing the same with Dead Rising.

Look, I’m going to make this simple, with a highly scientific, and mostly symmetrical flow chart.

Not exactly a difficult formula, is it? Resident Evil 6 went after the CoD audience, and despite selling six million copies worldwide, fell short of targets. I’ll grant that Call of Duty is the market leader, but what these companies are failing to realise is that you don’t get to overtake or be the leader by following the current leader. Dead Rising had a nice little niche carved out for itself. According to VGChartz, Dead Rising sold two million copies on Xbox 360, and Dead Rising 2 sold 2.59 million copies across Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Both of these are solid. If Capcom were to aim for an audience of 2-3 million and budget accordingly, they could have a hit in terms of their expectations. Instead, what they’ve done is remove everything that makes the first two games unique.

I’ll grant that not everyone likes the six hour timer, or the idea of having to be in certain places at certain times. But this is the core gameplay mechanic. I’m forced to decide whether I want to save that survivor who obviously needs my help and risk missing the next story mission. Or do I ignore him/her in favour of the next mission and hope they’re alive by the time I’m done? Do I spend my six hours just killing zombies and levelling myself up? It’s the survival aspect of the survival horror genre. Removing that timer removes all the tension from the game. In a way, reducing it to a separate mode is worse. The first two games are paced and balanced for that six hour stretch. Putting it in as an afterthought just seems insulting.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they’ve stripped out the joy. Go back up and look at those screenshots. The first two games were the only zombie games I’ve played where I can make a stuntman wear a dress while tearing zombies apart with a paddle saw. Talking to a friend last night, I coined the genre survival humour, and it’s an apt description (perhaps more apt than when I labelled Borderlands a first person looter). Anything unique or fun about the series is gone, in search of a grittier, more serious tone. The humour is out, replaced by dour seriousness.

It might be a zombie game, but I struggle to see how it’s Dead Rising.

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