Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising is one of my favorite games and I've been keeping up with the series since it's inception. I remember seeing early screenshots of the game prior to obtaining an xbox 360 and imagining what a game like that could possibly be like. I still remember fondly the days of playing it for the first time, in my first apartment, with whom would later become my wife. We instantly fell for the charisma of the Frank West character and enjoyed the game thoroughly. It really showed off what was capable with the gaming hardware of the time and I greatly admired it's unique and interesting game design, so much so that I remain more than willing to overlook whatever execution related flaws the game had.

I begin to think Dead Rising was surely well...dead, but lo and behold a sequel came down to us courtesy of a Canadian studio that would later become known as Capcom Vancouver. I had my concerns about what might happen with such a unique game design when put into the hands of western developers after having waded through the deluge of ignorant criticisms laid at the feet of the first game by many gamers on this side of the ocean. Would they give into these stupid complaints about the time limit and about saving survivors? Would they remove the tongue and cheek humor and ridicule?

No! They nailed it! They really, really nailed it!

Dead Rising 2 remains perhaps the most objectively polished game in the series, in fact, It's difficult for me to identify a single element from the first Dead Rising that was not objectively superior in the second. Sure, there are things I consider better as a matter of sheer preference; I happen to find Frank more charismatic than Chuck, but I really liked Chuck too, and it's only those sorts of very subjective claims to superiority on behalf of Dead Rising one that I can make.

Well, except for the jump kick. If I remember correctly, I recall that being far more effective in the first game.

Then, along came Dead Rising 3. Surely this is where things go wrong. Look at the colors! Look at the marketing! They've gone too serious!

...Nope! Dead Rising 3 was good too! No, it wasn't on par with the first two, but it did manage to open up the game to a much larger environment with out completely sacrificing what makes a Dead Rising game work. There were even some improvements; This one handled survivors the best by far. I chalked up some of the decisions made here as concessions, perhaps to Microsoft, to make the game as palatable to as many as possible.

Then along comes Dead Rising 4, featuring none other than Frank himself, back in Willamette even. With a proven track record under their belt, CapVan left me feeling confident walking into DR4. I barely even paid attention to the game prior to release, despite being set on an early purchase (I reserve this behavior for only very, very special games. I really like Dead Rising.)

And, well...I'm having fun with it so far. It's good. It even has some improvements none of the previous titles could lay claim to. But, it also seems that CapVan has finally taken that brutal axe swing at the foundation of the Dead Rising design I have been fearing since the second game was announced.

DR4 has omitted two absolutely vital elements to the DR design and weakened or confusingly altered some of the tertiary elements. The exceedingly important timer mechanic is finally removed and people everywhere who dislike Dead Rising 1, 2, and 3, and probably aren't interested in buying Dead Rising 4, can finally rejoice. Additionally, survivors have been completely removed as a dynamic game mechanic and have been relegated to a collectible upgrade for the game's new vendor system, which in itself is of dubious desirability in a game that ostensibly challenges you to make due with whatever you happen to find.

Less critically, the challenge has been significantly lessened. This is the easiest Dead Rising by far and although there is some cleverness to the way items are now handled, some functionality has been lost. Frank West himself looks very different, inexplicably so, and the new voice actor increasingly distances the new Frank from the one you'll remember. He's written a little differently too; oftentimes I enjoy the writing here, but he also makes some decisions that seem a little out of character to me. Frank was always kind of an asshole, but an asshole with a heart of gold...or at least silver. Frank actually straight up leaves a guy to his potential death and I couldn't quite tell if they were playing it up for humor or if Frank genuinely didn't care if this guy died.

I could go on for some time, but this is starting to get pretty lengthy. All in all, these sorts of decisions have arguably taken Dead Rising 4 out of the survival horror category. This is starting to sound pretty negative, but like I mentioned previously, I am enjoying it and I continue to play. I just find it striking because 1) I love Dead Rising 2) CapVan has consistently impressed me and 3) I've been worried about these sorts of changes since the second game was announced. As things stand currently, it may be my least favorite in the series and I'm a little worried about what this might mean for a potential Dead Rising 5, but it's still fun to see Frank back at it again and it's fun seeing some actual "investigation" mechanics. I'll keep going and we'll see how this one turns out.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas, 2016

Our Christmas morning was wonderful. The kids had a blast and we loved watching their little imaginations run wild. We had incredible food, lots of laughs, and lots of love.

Thank you to everyone who helped make our 2016 Christmas special.

2016 was a wild year of ups and downs. But on this day, we remember the insurmountable "light that shines in the darkness." Whatever 2017 may bring, God is good and there is no darkness that can swallow up the hope he gives. God bless us all as we pivot from this time and begin to look on toward the new year.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Resident Evil VII: Return or Departure?

Resident Evil VII is coming out soon and I almost certainly will be making an early purchase. Based on everything I've seen from the demo and trailers, it's got this old survival horror vet interested and while I am highly intrigued to navigate those dingy and disturbingly brown corridors we've been teased with for the past year, I can't say that I quite feel like I'm anticipating a Resident Evil game yet.

As I see it, the Resi- design (as our cross-Atlantic cousins are fond of calling it) is composed of the following essential elements:
  1. Sci-fi monster horror
  2. Resource management
  3. Fight or flight combat
  4. Strategic exploration
  5. Puzzle solving
  6. Camp
  7. "Spec-ops vs Illuminati" theme
  8. Appealing characters
These eight elements comprise the core aesthetic identity of the Resident Evil series. They are explicitly present in the first five titles (and by definition, REmake as well.) The series was redrafted with a new perspective in the excellent Resident Evil 4, although elements 1, 4, and were perhaps more weakly represented and element began to lean a little more in the "fight" direction. With RE5 and RE6 this shift in elemental priorities was pressed to the point where many fans simply could not stop lamenting the decay of this once horrifying franchise into a thrill based action flick. I reckon the further you depart from a combination of these eight things, the less your game is going to come off like Resident Evil.

Capcom, surprisingly some would say, has apparently decided to cater very specifically to the desires of these critics by once again redrafting the Resi design with REVII. As mentioned above, it's certainly caught my eye, but I would be remiss as a true blooded  Resident Evil Fan if I did not confess that I am concerned that some of what I consider to be Resi's essential character may be left behind. Namely, elements 6, 7, 8, and maybe even (although I expect my worries are misplaced on that last one.) Element 3 is almost certainly a pendulous reversal from the shift that took place after RE4's success, which could be fine. 

If those concerns turn out to be well founded, that means around 50% of what is responsible for creating a "Resi Vibe" has been excised from REVII.

You'll notice that I did not address the new first person perspective, despite this being the most obvious departure from previous titles. This is because my aforementioned list of eight is comprised of features that are both:

1) Aesthetically meaningful 
2) Important to Resident Evil in particular

While a FPP is certainly a substantial emotional shift, it only really threatens feature 8, and not even necessarily so. You need only consider Mr. Nukem for proof on the matter.

It does, however, make it more similar to many, many horror games that have arisen from the Indie realm over the past few years.

So, will it be good? Hopefully; things look good so far. But, while this appears to be a return to horror, I'm not yet convinced this is otherwise a return to what we originally fell in love with. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Hell of a logo, though.