Written by Eric Layman
Category: News and Other Musings
Published: 17 December 2010
Previous Top Tens: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009
After a reasonable amount of thought I whipped up a list of my favorite ten games of 2010. Obviously I didn’t get to play everything so I couldn’t included what I didn’t completely experience, but I still got a good number of titles under my belt. So, in no order…
Nier doesn't have the most inviting premise. It usually looks like an up-res'd PlayStation 2 game, features dozens of ancillary fetch quests, and seems overly simple to the untrained eye. Those observations are valid, but ultimately cast aside as trivial annoyances in light of what Nier actually gets right. Numerous stabs at switching up the gameplay (everything from a text adventure to a shoot 'em up make an appearance), my personal favorite soundtrack of the year (listen as vocals seamlessly slide in an out of the themes), and ambitious, gargantuan boss battles struck a chord, but the real draw of Nier was its narrative. At 27, I find it hard to connect with a story, especially through archetype-heavy Japanese games. With a wild, winding tale and some of the best original characters seen this generation, there wasn’t anything else offering what Nier presented. Completing the tale was a risk that came with playing through the game (with moderate carry-over) four different times, but following each thread to its end proved worth the effort. There will never be another character like Kaine or Emil, just as there will never be another game like Nier. Time will never be kind to graphics, but great gameplay and good stories will never be forgotten, and it that regard Nier is going to end up as one of those "hidden gems" you always wish you would have played. Quite a shame for such a great game. Eric’s Review: 8.4
Heavy Rain wasn't the second coming painted by my impressions at CES and E3, but it was still (like most else on this list) an experience wildly divergent from any other release. The characters, Ethan and Madison specifically, bordered on both cliché and implausibility, but their struggles were entirely relatable. Ethan's segments, in particular, created a level of tension unrivaled by anything else in 2010. I was yanking the SIXAXIS back and forth to avoid cars like my life depended on it, and my decisions on his other "tests" required a significant amount of careful thought, rather than my usual do-it-see-what-happens approach to choice in videogames. Sure, Heavy Rain became significantly less impressive once the curtain was pulled back, but the illusion the first time through felt real enough to me. It'll only work once, but it's a hell of a show. Eric’s Review: 9.4
Usually my year-end lists are dominated by downloadable titles, but Limbo seemed to eat everything else's lunch in 2010. Certain aspects are simplistic on the surface, but utterly essential in context; the start-and-go approach was unnatural, but entirely essential to the sense of danger and discovery. Much like the kid in Limbo, you don't know where you’re going and have only the slightest idea of what you're doing there. Of equal importance was the marriage between gameplay and presentation; nearly every puzzle was potentially lethal, but each one rarely required the same skill set. Creating a sense of danger, especially one attached to the frailty and fearfulness of youth, created an experience not found elsewhere. It was short, but length was irrelevant alongside an experience as valuable and unique as the one offered in Limbo. Steve Schardein’s Review: 8.4 / Eric’s Impressions
Dead Rising 2
Like Just Cause 2, Dead Rising 2 was firmly aware of its ridiculous circumstance. It wasn’t concerned with reality, and it allowed the player to celebrate every senseless moment of it. Amidst the preposterous selection of weapon combinations lied a true old-school approach to game design. With its counting clock and limited save files, Dead Rising 2, much like its predecessor, wasn’t intended to be played through once or even twice. Much like games of eras past, its punitive nature was a means to force the player into perfection. To some that meant a quick reason to exit stage, but others, most notably those of us who grew up playing games in the 80’s, it was a means to appreciate a tangible sense of consequence. Modern gaming culture and design has conditioned players to accept a mediocrity and poor performance as minor setbacks instead of absolute failure, and there’s a certain pleasure in a game that plays for keeps. Eric’s Review: 9.0
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 accomplished what I previously didn't assume was possible; it made the original Mass Effect feel small. Hits were taken when the overarching narrative fell to the extended sessions of character development associated with assembling your team of badasses, but such a sacrifice felt like a more intelligent route for the middle entry in the series. More importantly, the additions to the gameplay expanded Mass Effect from repeat-heavy, content-light affair into diverse journey for each member of your squad. Combat was greatly improved, and each member of my squad was outfitted with invaluable abilities, each of which could be considered indispensable. It would have been easy to choose had they not been characters of interest, but, in classic Bioware form, each was fleshed out with a ton of back story and exceptional dialogue. Great voice work, exceptional (and controversial) gunplay and combat, fantastic art direction, awesome post-release content, and mastery of Unreal Engine 3 second only to Epic all helped establish Mass Effect 2 as the highest game I scored this year. 11 months later, it's hard to disagree with myself. Eric’s Review: 10.0
I usually don't put much stock in scores, but Bayonetta made a statement when it joined Ocarina of Time as the only game to receive an ace from both Edge and Famitsu, two magazines notoriously stingy with perfect scores. Bayonetta is the fulfilled vision of a sole entity. It is a product untainted by focus group research, marketing interference, or poisonous publisher oversight. Hideki Kamiya made the game he wanted to make and, in the process, authenticated his work with an incredible sense of purity. This is manifested in the combat engine, which is currently the pinnacle of the character action genre. From a pure control standpoint, Bayonetta is faster than Kratos, less restrictive than Dante, and more cohesive than Ryu and her perfect sense of control is woven into the fabric of the gameplay. Best of all, I never, ever got discouraged while playing it. Few games transform trial and error from a penalty into a legitimate learning experience, insuring you'll learn and build a skill set to overcome the ridiculous difficulty. There's plenty of garbage in Bayonetta that flat out doesn't work, but it's fundamentally unrelated to the gameplay. In terms of content, gameplay, and presentation Bayonetta is a sort of focused insanity. Games like this don't normally get made, and it's important to take the time to appreciate them when they do. Other Impressions
Vanquish and Bayonetta largely accomplish the same goals for different genres, but one area where they diverge is presentation. If Bayonetta is an abstract of performance art, Vanquish offers a mainline injection of teeth gritting splendor. Shinji Mikami’s answer to cover based shooting is an understatement, as Vanquish offered more than enough tools to transcend into the upper echelon of third person shooters. Sam Gideon's ridiculous suit is responsible for most the conscious and all around impressive technical and visual feats of 2010. Vanquish is a game that begs to be repeatedly destroyed instead of casually beaten, and offers a path to such through unparalleled control and dedication to precision. The lack of upgrades to movement bring an old school sense of progression, one where a novice and expert can accomplish remarkably different feats under an identical set of rules. Best of all, any way you spin it Vanquish is a wildly impressive visual spectacle. It's not as all around perfect as Bayonetta, but remained an indispensible experience to celebrate the return of skill-based gaming. Eric and Steven McGehee’s Review: 9.1
Persona 3 Portable
On any given day Persona 3 might be my favorite PlayStation 2 game. A relentless fascination with Japanese culture and a slavish addiction to the Shin Megami Tensei games lead to a predictable result, but that didn't make it any less deserving or qualified. A better testament to P3P's quality would be that I had little issue with playing through an 80 hour game a third time in as many years. A better refinement than even FES, P3P offered the biggest game changer of all; the ability to play as a female main character. With it arrived several expected differences, but also significant changes to the game's structure. Combined with the streamlined day-to-day operations exceptional new music, it wasn't hard to stroll through another round of Persona 3. What truly sent it over the top was also quite obvious; I could take a massive, epic RPG with me anywhere I went. It's commonplace in the handheld landscape, but still an ace in my book. Eric’s Review: 9.4
Just Cause 2
Just Cause 2 is a better test ground for insanity than it is a videogame. The traditional challenge of a game, visible in Just Cause 2 through fairly routine open world missions and aimless bouts of destruction, isn't as special as the ridiculous opportunities that surround and support it. Concept alone lends itself to an array of performances made possible through an absurd physics engine, magic grappling hook, and infinite parachute. Riding a tuk-tuk down a mountain, attempting to exit and re-enter then helicopter you just jumped out of, and sky jacking passing planes were just a few of the random challenges I made for myself. Just Cause 2's wonderfully silly toolbox is a gift for players hell bent on jumping outside the lines and creating their own fun. Not many games have such a self aware sense of absurdity and ever fewer afford the player countless opportunities to exploit them. In a way it was just like the first time I played Grand Theft Auto III; I didn't care what was supposed to be happening, I just wanted to get lost with experimenting in the world (which the game facilitated; please see my videos uploading using Just Cause 2’s YouTube connectivity) Plane Exit | Stunt Turns Violent Death | Gunner Scream | Runway + Car + Airplane | Helicopter + Mountain + Car | Exit Helicopter -> Skydive -> Reacquire and Re-enter Helicopter - - Eric’s Review: 9.0
Super Mario Galaxy 2
What Mario lost in the stagnancy of a sequel was corrected in a fresh approach to nearly all of Galaxy’s mechanics. Tokyo EAD came up with hundreds of great ideas and then tossed them out like candy. Whereas other developers are content to squeeze every last drop out of a concept, Tokyo EAD refined each idea to a single instance of perfection before quickly moving onto the next great sequence. It's a drastically risky approach, but one that ultimately worked in Galaxy 2's favor. Coupled with a perfect sense of control (who would expect any less?) and the mastery therein required to grab all 242 stars, and you're left with one of the best gameplay-focused experiences of 2010. Steve Schardein’s Review: 10.0
Other games I highly enjoyed:
Undead Nightmare – A perfect expansion. Undead Nightmare fundamentally altered Red Dead Redemption’s mechanics and applied them to a conscious selection of insane circumstances. Utterly delightful and a steal at $10. Nathan Steven’s Review: 9.0
Final Fantasy XIII – Had an absolute blast when I played it and I still maintain combat as the current pinnacle of active time battle, but time hasn’t been kind to my thoughts of XIII. Still a great game, but ultimately hollow and plodding when separated from conflict. Eric’s Review: 9.0
Red Dead Redemption – John Marston and his insistence on not giving a shit about anything other than his family turned him into my one of my favorite characters of the year. The world was impressive in scope and technical prowess, but ultimately buckled under repetitive mission design. Still, a must-play. Nathan Steven’s Review: 9.8
New Vegas - A worthwhile dive back into Fallout savaged by the worst technical presentation I have ever seen in a high profile release. Nathan Steven’s Review: 7.6
Gran Turismo 5 – The best racing simulation to ever grace a console granted Gran Turismo 5 a certain amount of confidence, but its poor interface and occasional backwards approach to design kept it out of my top ten. A phenomenal game, but I couldn’t push any other game out in its place. Eric’s Review: 9.0
Enslaved – Enslaved’s rich presentation is ultimately limited by its rather conventional design. A great example of storytelling, but I wish Ninja Theory could have wrapped a better game around it. Steven McGehee’s Review: 9.2
Pac Man Championship Edition DX – Along with Super Mario Galaxy 2 Pac Man CE DX is probably one of the best pure-gameplay performances of the year, but, despite dumping over a dozen hours, the lack of friends playing this game has limited its potential. Grabbing my own high scores is fine, but it would have been more interesting had a few more people on my friends list participated.
Yakuza 3 – Yakuza 3 (and its prequels) is one of the few games from Japan that actually makes the player feel like they’re in Japan. Not what everyone’s looking for, but incredibly valuable to those who can appreciate it. Not a bad brawler/RPG either, but the content removed from the North American release was a bummer.
Written by Eric Layman
Category: News and Other Musings
Published: 14 December 2010
For Flap Jaw Space’s (the Digital Chumps Podcast) poorly named “We All Play A Game” segment this week, we’re all playing Enslaved. I took some extra time and wrote a bunch of my thoughts for a slight preview. The ending is discussed, but in a vague-ish non-spoilery way).
Namco apparently wanted to position Enslaved: Odyssey to the West as an analog to Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2, but a more apt comparison, at least in terms of my personal gaming brain storage, was Grin's Bionic Commando reboot or Ubisoft's 2008 Prince of Persia. And by that, I suppose I'm trying to say it felt like a type of character-driven experience I would have had on the previous generation of consoles, only with the additional benefit of a few modern sensibilities.
Take, for example, the art direction. On one hand Ninja Theory constructed their post-apocalypse with a bright and vibrant color pallet rather than the bland browns found in so many other games. Cityscapes being reclaimed by vegetation gave way to vivid blues and greens, whereas the later game’s evening levels were soaked in red and orange saturation. Even the water, which is always some bright shade of neon yellow, couldn't stand to be average. At first blush it looked amazing, but over time I started to pay more attention to its limitations than its majesty. Ninja Theory's grasp on Unreal Engine 3 is partly to blame, with pop-in frequent, textures muddy when up close, and an all around jankyness that suggests less proficiency than the minds at Bioware or Epic, but more at fault was the level design. With the exception of the great Cloud segments, I always felt I was being lead down a nicely decorated hallway. The world was apparently beautiful, but I wasn't allowed to go off and explore it. Certain segments, most notably in the robot junkyard, promoted sweeping vistas to gaze at and take in, but for the most part Enslaved's great art offered a glimpse instead of the whole package.
Not that the fiction wasn't fascinating; I was greatly impressed by the lengths Ninja Theory went to justify their world. Communication over distances? Handled with the headset. Don't want Monkey abandoning Trip? Artificial boundaries are constructed by the headset. Need to figure out the awareness zones of enemy robots? That's why we have the dragonfly. The puzzles lacked any sort of immediate justification ("I don't know, he just likes building bridges") and the random ammo placements completely broke immersion, but as a complete work Ninja Theory did a great job in crafting a believable world.
Like Prince of Persia, much of the narrative was fleshed out through incidental dialogue. Interaction between Trip and Monkey bordered on cliché, but for archetypes we're used to seeing in movies rather than videogames. "I die, you die" is a concept seen in every co-op mission ever created, but usually justified through failure states instead of narrative consequence. When Yorda is pulled through a black hole or Leon Kennedy lets the president’s daughter succumb to the undead, the character is presumably so overcome with guilt that they lose their sense of purpose, but Monkey actually loses his entire life. It's an easy observation to grace over, but important nevertheless.
What worked even better was the ending. Throughout the game I found masks scattered around that offered three second clips of real-life FMV. Seemingly inconsequential, they were of simple events like a man climbing a mountain or riding in a boat. The normalcy of modern (modern as in 2010 in the real world) life seemed like a fairly mundane flashback for a videogame, and I couldn't figure out what to make of it. Was Monkey a product of frequent reincarnation? A Star Child ala Neo, constantly tasked with saving the universe? As it turned out, not so much, but the end result was far more satisfying. Andy Serkis' real life visage gracing the screen was alarming, and the context behind his speech in the epilogue was an excellent reveal. The game hinted at this occasionally by never explaining what the slave ships were for, or who would even need human labor, which made the payoff far more satisfying. I only wish I would have had some sort of control over Trip's actions, but that's a minor complaint for an otherwise great ending.
Combat was the one area where my expectations were defied. Monkey's move set is incredibly limited; a soft attack and a strong attack that can be chained together reasonably well, along with an area attack and a stun-inducing charge move. The can be powered up to some effect, but the challenge in combat lied with managing different arrangements of robots rather than stringing together complicated sets of moves. Aiming for the one robot that I could usually tear apart and self destruct onto the other robots was essential to a smooth flow of battle, and managing the stun-move so it appropriate shielded enemies always proved appropriately difficult. Getting stuck in Monkey's animations was stupid, but ground was covered when Monkey's attacks always seemed to home-in regardless of the direction I was facing.
Coming to terms with Enslaved's linearity was disappointing. Whenever Trip would say, "hey can you get over there" I always knew there was only one path and one method to go about doing so. An absence of Red Herrings would surely cut down on player frustration, but at the same time it removed any sense of legitimate exploration. It was always climb some pipes, swing on a few things, and jump off platforms only when allowed. It grew more contrived toward the end, when the dragon fly would actually lead Monkey around a path that was already too obvious. To its credit Enslaved starting throwing hazards into the platforming later on (the giant gear room in particular), and the sense of immediacy usually enforced did well to make up for the simplicity, but brief timing challenges weren't the same as actual platforming, leaving movement feeling rather anemic. Platforming was performed in similar fashion in Uncharted, but usually limited to brief segments. It seemed that entire sections of Enslaved, such as the race with Pigsy revolved around mindless sessions of pointing the analog stick toward the glowing thing.
But I can’t say it wasn’t a positive experience. I’m going to start a playthrough on hard in a few to try and clear out the remaining trophies. Hopefully it’ll be a fun game to revisit in a few years, but I can’t say the ten or so hours thus far wasn’t time well spent.
Be sure and look out for Flap Jaw Space: Episode 14 this weekend, where I’ll discuss the game with Chris and Steve. And don't forget to check out Steven McGehee's review from last fall.
Written by Eric Layman
Category: News and Other Musings
Published: 09 November 2010
Hello and welcome to part two of a poorly written feature covering my time with Fallout: New Vegas. Rather than post extensive impression like I did for Fallout 3, I have decided to write from the perspective of my player character, DariusRucker. It's 90% "his" point of view concerning intended plot elements, tomfoolery, horrible glitches, and random observations associated with New Vegas. Time stamps are according to the in-game calendar. It's spoiler-ish; major stuff won't be ruined but it does reference a good deal of content. This journal "starts" after I had been playing the game for maybe seven hours.
10/31/81, 11:45 AM – I don’t get Ghoul hate. Sure, those feral bastards will ruin your Saturday, but the civilized folk are perfectly fine human beings things. I know a lot of people who secretly hate Ghouls but maintain that, since they have “a Ghoul friend” that their hate is somehow justified. They’re racists, plain and simple.
10/31/81, 5:46 PM – Ran into a Ghoul cult, for which I have agreed to collect materials needed so they can ride a rocket into space or something. Dialogue options with their crazy non-ghoul friend Chris indicate I could possibly trick him into sabotaging the whole operation, but my speech level isn’t permitting me to do so. Damn my stupidity.
11/01/81, 12:13 PM – I found a space helmet and I am never doing to take if off.
11/02/81, 8:28 AM – Caesar’s Legion, whom I have decided to kill at first contact, had a bunch of Powder Gangers (whom I also don’t like but whatever) tied up so I decided to murder Legionnaires and complete a quest. During the gun fight the captives actually got up and ran away, but then returned to their captive point and kneeled down in order for me to free them. How considerate.
11/02/81, 8:29 AM – Decided to instantly murder freed Powder Gangers. Didn’t like watching 40exp simply walk away.
11/06/81, 6:17 PM – Dude what the hell is with Novac? First off the body of the lady I murdered like a week ago is still there, minus her head and left arm. It’s still in the exact same spot as well. Worse, I was talking to Cliff Briscoe and he mentioned someone murdered Miss Crawford, so I told him I did it and he was shocked, but after that he didn’t seem to care. Meanwhile he eyeballs are slowly falling down the steps.
11/07/81, 12:16 AM – The crazy assholes in Vault 11 had a clearly labeled sacrificial chamber. I feel like an idiot for walking right into it. Cool setup though.
11/7/81, 5:46 PM – Killed some fiend named Driver Nephi. It gave me the option to rip off his head and add it to my inventory. Of course I did it, why the hell would anyone say no? I’ve been trying to collect heads and present them to other people for the last ten hours.
11/09/81, 12:12 PM – Killed some fiend named Violet and collected her head. I am glad this is becoming “a thing.”
11/02/81, 7:34 PM – Incinerated self about a dozen times before I figured out to throw a grenade at the gas leak in Vault 22. Didn’t consider possibility of getting door shut in time. Should have been obvious.
11/15/81, 7:00 AM – Had to ditch Veronica because she broke. She would stay in one place, refuse to fast travel with me, and then randomly show up and punch a guy in the head. When I left her she was standing in the armory of Vault 34 staring at the wall, and she’s probably still there. I had suspected she was a cyborg for a while.
11/22/81, 6:45 AM – Picked up a new companion, Cass. First thing she says is, “Shhh, we’re hunting shitheads.” I like her style
11/22/81, 9:07 AM – Whenever I kill someone in Freeside I always put the body in a burning barrel.
Written by Eric Layman
Category: News and Other Musings
Published: 03 November 2010
Hello and welcome to part one of a poorly written feature covering my time with Fallout: New Vegas. Rather than post extensive impression like I did for Fallout 3, I have decided to write from the perspective of my player character, DariusRucker. It's 90% "his" point of view concerning intended plot elements, tomfoolery, horrible glitches, and random observations associated with New Vegas. Time stamps are according to the in-game calendar. It's spoiler-ish; major stuff won't be ruined but it does reference a good deal of content. This journal "starts" after I had been playing the game for maybe seven hours.
10/25/81, 4:55 AM - Met some sort of albino woman, Ranger Ghost, in the Mojave Outpost. She gave me a mission, but didn't seem interested in following me anywhere. To remedy this I shot her in the back and, luckily, her head came off. I proceeded to take her head around the camp in an attempt to show it to people, but was quite puzzled when no one cried foul, or even seemed the least bit interested. Reloaded save.
10/25/81, 7:30 PM - Farmer in the town with a giant fake dinosaur told me one of his Brahmins was getting killed every night at midnight. Waited around until midnight, where I witnessed a small black tornado materialize into a giant blue mutant that looked like one of those things from Avatar. It also had stealth technology, but I managed to repeatedly shoot it in the head until it died. Found cool minigun on body. Farmer seemed pleased.
10/25/81, 11:55 PM - Looked at Pipboy and then wound up at the cross media bar.
10/26/81, 3:04 AM - Stumbled upon Powder Gang camp near the Nipton Road Pit Stop. Shot and killed everyone and then slept in one of their beds. Woke up a few hours later and decided to neatly stack all of their bodies in the camp fire. A few were missing their heads but I don't think it mattered since the bodies were somehow never set ablaze by a flame that otherwise seemed to be eternal (fascinating in and of itself).
10/26/81, 4:55 PM - Convinced foolish NCR I was one of them and got into Helios One. Ran into idiot scientist who gave me pass codes to satellite uplinks. Might have found some sort of mega-weapon, access of which involved slaughtering dogs. Going to try and use it on self or them but outstanding moral implications has delayed this process. Decision to come later.
10/27/81, 8:10 PM - Ran into a girl named Veronica who wants to travel with me. She's in the Brotherhood of Steel! Excellent, now maybe I can take down some of the shit that's been kicking my ass.
10/28/81, 10:06 AM - Stumbled into Black Rock Cave, which was actually a Nightkin hovel. Discovered a Nightkin is probably the blue thing I killed earlier. I would have been brutally murdered here had it not been for Veronica, who slaughtered them all despite being set on fire for duration of fight.
10/28/81, 11:58 AM - Went back to hotel I rented in Novac to drop off the awesome weapons I got from killing Nightkin. Discovered all the stuff I had stored in my room missing. Theft possible, but glitchy game likely to blame.
10/28/81, 6:36 PM - Well, sending Veronica in to Scorpion Gulch to deal with huge Giant Radscorpions was probably a bad idea. She's currently unconscious, here's to hoping she gets up soon because there's no way I can deal with these things.
10/28/81, 6:56 PM - After briefly levitating, which looked suspiciously like broken animation, Veronica got up and appears to be fine.
10/29/81, 7:42 AM - Literally fell into this place called Hidden Valley. Found a bunker with graffiti all over it. Went inside and to my immediate surprise, Veronica goes to an intercom, says something about a password, and a voice talks back and unlocks a door. It appears to be some sort of underground fortress!
10/31/81, 12:08 AM - Nearly got No-Bark, a gentleman in Novac whom I suspect to be mentally retarded, killed. He talks of chupucabras and molemen, and I thought for sure he sold Boone's wife into slavery. Nearly jumped the gun and turned him in, but luckily I discovered it was someone else. When the correct person was murdered in front me I tried to drag the body up some steps in an effort to present it to its vengeful assailant, but stopped when it wouldn't let me take it in the building. Much to my surprise/horror, when I walked back out of the building the blown off body parts had magically surrounded the body I had just drug for 100 yards. Took a nap, came back out and observed the town's patronage walking over and around the body parts of this considerably prominent figure and paying absolutely no attention to it. Strange place, this Novac.
Written by Eric Layman
Category: News and Other Musings
Published: 26 September 2010
Going on vacation a few weeks ago resulted in a few unexpected consequences. Failure to properly operate sunscreen led to the bulk of my problems, but another was the byproduct of being a thousand miles away from my 360; I couldn't review Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, Capcom's incredibly priced downloadable prequel to Dead Rising 2 (Greg did an excellent job of that). Thankfully $5 wasn't that much of an investment risk, so I picked it up when I got back.
Sort of an uncommon observation, but I couldn't believe how (for lack of a less manly word) adorable Blue Castle made Chuck's daughter, Katey. Her rubbery face was incapable of expressing much emotion, but her clothing, which sported animals, sparkles, and other undeniably cute things, made me feel like she was a real little kid. Her backpack that Chuck eventually pulled from the truck was equally endearing. The absolute last thing I expected from Dead Rising 2 was to give a shit about the characters, but the father/daughter relationship (something honestly not explored in most games I play) was enough of an surprising hook to provide actual motivation to the character. In fact, on my first go around I flat out let someone else die so I could save the Zombrex for my daughter.
As could be inferred from that last line, I wound up playing through it twice over the course of around five hours. My first playthrough was a relative disaster. As was the case for the last Dead Rising game, the first time out was more or less a dry run for the eventual optimal playthrough. I leveled up a few times, figured out where the hell everyone was, and then did my best to find the only key to a locked door.
And I made a bunch of shit. The weapon bench was where I spent the bulk of my time with Dead Rising 2 at E3, and my first playthrough resulted in a similar experience. I love how you're rewarded with PP for kills that are relatively inefficient, but often highly skilled, hilarious, and the product of experimentation. The drill bucket, which you place on a Zombie's head before it blows it up, in particular was barely useful as a means of crowd control, but the sheer concept, the fact that someone had that crazy idea and then they actually put it in the game, was beautiful. Limiting special abilities to the cards ensured that you don't need a license to make anything while simultaneously rewarding experimentation. It's a little rudimentary, but it's an awesome way to bring something new to the series and/or replace photography.
Not that it needed much new anyway, given there still isn't much else like it. In the original Dead Rising I considered the timer to be the product of awkward Japanese game design, an archaic devise shoehorned into the design document because Capcom couldn't figure how the hell else to make it a challenge. I initially cursed Case Zero for included the same stupid system, but on my second playthrough I really began to appreciate the demand it created for ultimate perfection. I had everything mapped out ahead of time, and, in the end, actually wound up with a bunch of spare time to humiliate zombies. It’s atypical, but it actually works in both the context of the game and as a significant challenge. It's a cheap way to encourage multiple playthroughs, but since when was that a bad thing?
Survivors also seemed to operate with a better degree of intelligence. I didn't really even have to babysit anyone. In fact, the only time I started to become overwhelmed was when I stopped to clear a path. I'm sure the challenge will get ramped up a bit in the actual game, but Case Zero provided a great foundation for that stuff.
To be fair there was a bunch of stuff I didn't really like. I found certain sequences were dependent on random actions. For example, it wouldn't let me start looking for survivors in the afternoon until I entered the garage after like 12pm. Bob would just sit up on the roof and pick off zombies until it got dark. Through utterly random experimentation I figured that shit out and wound up going back to a save file from 12pm, but that could really screw up events in the main game. I'm also not a fan of multiple buttons to cycle through dialogue which is often important to rescuing people, and trying to pick up one object when there are a bunch on the ground is near impossible. I found myself cycling through shit and then throwing it just so I could pick up my nail bat in a sea of buzz saws. The load times between sequences were terrible. Not having a run button is also a bummer, but, in lieu of speed devices like the moose head, sort of understandable.
It should go without saying, but Case Zero was an amazing piece of content for the price. Though it was intended to only be two hours long, there was enough content in there to push five to seven. Figuring out and then making all the weapon combinations ate a bunch of time, as did trying to level Chuck up to 5 (the cap) so I can import him into the main game. The open world of Still Creek also contained a fairly good amount of secrets and inaccessible areas, most of which contained unique weapon parts. There's also the sanbox screw around factor, where I did things like try and aim my shotgun at survivor's heads, tried to use the Queen around an I.E.D. to see how many things I could kill at once, and experimenting with the variety of ways in which a broadsword could slice the living dead. Zombie humiliation is a major part of Dead Rising, assuring that, even though flicking off poker chips may seem pointless, it has a grander purpose in the name of pure idiocy.
I also experienced a moment of sheer panic. On my second playthrough I decided to do everything, which required an additional shot of Zombrex for a survivor, Sharron. That could easily be obtained for $25,000 at the pawn shop, and, using money from the previous playthrough as well as some scratch I looted from beating up slot machines, I bought an extra. Problem is I didn't pick it up, so I wound up giving my daughter Katey’s Zombrex to Sharron. I realized this around 6:30pm when I took note of the giant zero next to the Zombrex that was a permanent part of the HUD. Luckily my optimal playthrough was saved by a quick slot machine massacre (thankfully, those respawn), but I almost shit myself at the prospect of screwing it up.
Which, oddly enough, was pretty much the theme for the first Dead Rising. Screw up as little as possible and then, when you inevitably do, do something crazy to right your wrong. I can't wait to see this content pushed into a full game.