Let’s face it: Zombies as a pop-culture thing are kinda over. It’s hard to say which supernatural creature will fill the void, but like vampires, witches, demons, and vampires (again), it’s a pretty safe bet that the zombie ship has sailed.
I’m pleased, if only because it’s just a matter of time before something I liked years ago is once again removed from the greater pop-culture zeitgeist. The last decade or so has been a long series of events involving me being worried that I’d be associated with people who like glittery vampires or space robots with relationship problems—and the sooner there’s one less thing to be co-opted, the better.
Watching the acceleration of these trends toward their inevitable end pleases me, and assisting them on their way is even better. When I didn’t give Dead Rising 2 a proper review, I regrettably missed an opportunity to help shove the zombie craze off a cliff. Such is the price of occasionally playing games that don’t make me want to vomit flaming blood from my eyes.
So imagine my glee when I found out that the game was getting the DLC treatment! New episodes of equally mediocre content, distributed digitally for my convenience? Count me out as a gamer, but as a critic, count me in!
Dead Rising was a very important early Xbox 360 tech demo. A game that demands you kill tens of thousands of zombies—and then helpfully displays a respectable chunk of them on screen at any given time—gives you a real sense of what the system can do. It was a sketch of 2006’s future, and the future looked good.
Problem is, actually playing it was about as much fun as playing a tech demo that someone tried to retrofit into a retail-worthy game. Dead Rising was a chore to play. It certainly represented the fragility of the human condition, but it did so in the simplest, most banal ways possible. It had limits on inventory slots, weapon swings, and time in the field instead of compelling gameplay or interesting plot development.
But Dead Rising and its few legitimate innovations sold millions of units and earned general critical approval, thanks in large part to a lack of competition. Capcom knew it had the makings of a franchise on its hands; what it didn’t know was how to effectively exploit it.
Any game that can be reviewed in six words is due for some pre-release reconsideration. “The same, but with duct tape” is all anyone who ever played Dead Rising needed to know about Dead Rising 2. Any game, add-on, DLC, or next-gen re-release that can be assessed with the exact same six-word review as its predecessor deserves a heavy dose of antipathy.
Dead Rising 2: Case West is just a shorter version of Dead Rising 2. Set shortly after DR2 proper, the new game unites series protagonists Chuck Greene and Frank West (who, after Dead Rising, got a seriously creepy Dan Aykroyd makeover) on a mission to—okay, remember how I said it’s all the same? They’re looking for evidence about the source of the zombie plague (again), which leads them through various zombie cliche-filled areas (again) with only their wits and a few dozen improvised weapons to save them from the zombie hordes and a series of species-traitor humans bent on manipulating zombie outbreaks to their own advantage (again, again, again).
It’s bland, it’s unfulfilling, it in no way solves the problems that either Dead Rising had, and all that is made worse because it’s yet another missed opportunity to innovate. Its only redeeming qualities are that it costs $50 less than Dead Rising 2, it’s over in less time, and it doesn’t require players to own the full game. (In Capcom’s defense, that last one is legitimately admirable. More developers should consider stand-alone DLC.)
Capcom is simply following a winning formula. Is it unfair to demand more from them? No. Hell no, even. This is how trends are started, but this is also how they’re corrupted. It’s how formerly grand and fun ideas mutate into regrets and bad tastes in their former fans’ mouths. It’s why guys like me have to bite our tongues every time someone talks about the “good old days” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and why more successful nerds like Patton Oswalt advocate the destruction of nerd culture altogether.
Series born of trends have to evolve or die, and unlike zombie movies, there’s no coming back, not even as a shambling blasphemy of its former greatness. (That generally happens before death, anyway.)