Hey guys! It has been much too long since my last (and so far only) Game Rant, and with the latest influx of E3 news, I thought it was about time for another. Enjoy!
I love the Dead Rising series. Before the zombie trope had become the played out genre it is, I was running around the shopping mall of Williamette, putting Servbot masks on countless zombie heads. When Dead Rising 2 was announced, Capcom did something that I actually consider to be brilliant, and released Dead Rising 2: Case Zero. Maybe it was because I was just beginning on my trek to become an indie developer, but with Case Zero I really noticed what made the Dead Rising series so appealing. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Dead Rising 2 came out a few months later, and just like it’s predecessor, I adored it.
When rumors began about another installment in my beloved franchise, I was understandably excited. And then they showed some of it at the XBox Press Conference.
Just… just watch the video below.
If you compare that with the video that leads this post, you’ll notice a fundamental shift in tone. That’s not actually my problem, but a symptom of a much larger issue.
Tone isn’t the Problem
I should make very clear right now that it’s not a shift in tone that worries me about the new Dead Rising. DmC had a distinctly different tone from its predecessors, and I LOVED DmC. The gameplay from Dead Rising 3 seemed to contain kernels of the game I so admired. It seemed you could still combine weapons to make slightly crazy things, all in the name of dispatching the zombie hoard. The character movement and aiming seemed to flow in a generally similar manner to its older brethren. So though the tonal shift gave me caution, I wasn’t yet ready to write it off. That is, until I saw this article.
With that, the churning in my gut was fully realized. The Dead Rising franchise has become grittier because they hope with the added grit comes more sales. And in doing so, Capcom displays that they don’t really understand the appeal behind the Dead Rising series, nor do they get what makes Call of Duty so popular. It honestly feels like a boat lost at sea with no one at the helm.
What about the above video says to you “Call of Duty”? Watch it again if you have to. I’ll wait.
Done? So what is Capcom misunderstanding? First of all, they don’t seem to get what makes Call of Duty so popular. It’s not the grit that makes countless people log in countless hours in the Call of Duty servers. It’s not the spectrum of gray and brown, the blood, the dark tones, the oh so serious delivery. Call of Duty isn’t appealing because it’s some realistic approximation of the horrors of war. (In fact, as a veteran, I’ll go ahead and let you know that there is absolutely nothing realistic about the Call of Duty experience.) People don’t buy CoD year after year because of the serious tone the campaign takes every fall. In fact – though this is completely anecdotal – when I bought the most recent Call of Duty, my first reaction was to immediately jump online. It was at least a month before I fired up the story campaign, and this is coming from a guy that thinks the Black Ops stories are the more interesting Call of Duty campaigns, and also coming from someone that would classify himself as a guy that cares about story more than your “average” gamer.
Why do people play Call of Duty? I can’t know exactly the reason, but my best guess is this: it’s a fast paced online experience that is a very well thought out blend of both competitive gameplay and the psychological grind of a leveling up system. I support my former claim with the fascination of Call of Duty players with their K/D ratio and the latter with the the number of level up guides you can find with a simple google search. Call of Duty is an extremely intelligent blend of the weakness of human psychology with a certain almost of social elements in the game.
So, again, I ask you: how much of that do you see in the trailer above? What about Dead Rising 3’s gameplay evokes what I’ve just pointed out?
If your answer is none, congratulations. You just passed my (probably very poor) personal gameplay analysis course. In short, Dead Rising will never attract Call of Duty players – at least, not in the way it was presented in that press conference – because Capcom has completely missed what appeals to Call of Duty players in the first place. If you want to attract the Call of Duty crowd, dark and gritty isn’t what is going to win them over. And if you honestly think that’s the path to nirvana, it only shows that you both don’t understand what the Call of Duty players are looking for and also what made your game so appealing in the first place.
I should note that I’m not saying Call of Duty is a bad game; quite the opposite actually. I very much enjoy the Call of Duty series (though I will sometimes raise umbrage with their leveling up system). I just simply think that chasing the Call of Duty dollar is an obvious path to failure which is only compounded when a company displays such a lack of understanding about what exactly that Call of Duty dollar is.
It’s All About the Mechanics, Baby
What exactly made Dead Rising good? Admittedly, our beloved zombie killer had it’s own leveling system, so we can draw parallels there, right? While yes, the first two Dead Risings had a leveling mechanic, it was implemented in a way that was vastly differently from the Call of Duty model. But like other stuff I’ve argued, we’ll get back to this in a moment.
If you really want to know the core appeal of the first Dead Rising games, it was simply this: Dead Rising was built around the conceit of making the escort mission interesting.
Escort missions are notoriously reviled in the game industry, and for perfectly justifiable reasons. In a typical game, you are given power in a completely agnostic manner. Typically, any other character on the screen is subject to you own subjugation. But with the escort mission, this is suddenly thrown out the window; suddenly, you are forced to consider the welfare of someone else, instead of simply dominating everything else on screen. Dead Rising ingeniously explores this boundary. In the game, you are constantly forced to walk the line between being alone, and able to completely and indiscriminately avoid or abuse every other obstacle thrown in your way, or forced to escort another character in which your concern caters between the well-being of yourself and another.
Added to this is an enforced time limit. You are constantly told throughout the game that you must reach a particular survivor before time runs out. Because of this, you are forced to constantly assess your situation: do you have time to return your current escorts to the safe house, or will you take them with you to the next survivor? The former is certainly the optimal option, as without having to concern yourself about another’s safety, you’re allowed a certain freedom. But the first option is almost never viable, and thus you find yourself somehow trying to squeeze from one place to the next, saving as many as you can, and returning them to safety when you can. The game is incredibly tense as it walks this tight line. And it’s always permanently engaging. And in no shape or form does it ever resemble Call of Duty.
“But the leveling!” you exclaim. Ah yes, I almost forgot this. But what you must notice is the vast difference between the two systems. In the end, leveling in Call of Duty holds two goals: the first is for bragging purposes. The sheer idea of prestiging is ONLY grounded in the social implications. The only real reward for achieving the next prestige rank in CoD is a shiny new badge, which only serves to proclaim your mastery to other CoD players. The second siren call of CoD’s leveling is the only one that can draw a similar parallel with our beloved Dead Rising. As you level up in the military shooter, you are given access to other weapons which (arguably) make it easier for you to dominate your opponents. Likewise, leveling in our zombie smasher also makes it easier to successfully rescue all those helpless survivors. But again, we must ask, what’s the end goal? Your hope, ostensibly, in Call of Duty in leveling up is to hopefully raise your K/D, and thus raise your social ranking. Dead Rising’s higher levels, however, simply make it slightly easier to walk across that narrow bridge of saving survivors. I would argue that while there are noticeable similarities, the end goal of either leveling system is drastically different.
Chasing the Mass Market
I can’t blame major publishers and developers for wanting to chase the mass market, as Call of Duty has been able to obtain. With the raising cost of game development, mired with the stagnant cost of game prices, it’s easy to understand why the pressure is to sale more games to more customers. But it is essential that if you wish to sale more games to more people, you first understand why some games have mass market appeal, and more importantly, what your franchise offered that other games did not. Capcom has seemingly failed thus far with this analysis in it’s current iteration on the Dead Rising franchise. As such, I can only worry that the game suffers the same fate that their previous mass market experiments suffered.
But mostly, it makes me sad to see that even Capcom can’t recognize what exactly made their previous series so brilliant.