(Un)Dead tired of it:The Failure of Design Behind Dead Rising 2.

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

Going through my backlog, I came to Dead Rising 2. Having played the first one I was interested to see what the new developers did to improve on the sequel. While the general controls have been given a tune-up, the designers missed (or ignored) one of the main problems with the Dead Rising series that almost made me give up.

For those not familiar, Dead Rising is an action game where players have to survive for three days (in game time,) in an area infested with zombies. They can use anything they find as a weapon as they try to balance rescuing survivors, with finding out the story. Boss battles in the game are fights with other humans who have been driven insane by the situation. The design flaw is that the game was not designed for said boss fights.

The new mechanic in DR 2 was the ability to combine certain items to create new weapons, such as gems with a flashlight to create a laser sword (I don’t know how just go with it.) These weapons not only do more damage than the standard items, but they also provide the player with a greater experience bonus for using them. Allowing players to level up faster which in turn improves their attributes. The majority of the combinations are all close ranged, which is alright for dealing with zombies. However, this becomes an exercise in frustration when the player has to fight bosses.

Moving the main character around is tricky, the character moves slowly and performing any kind of attack leaves him stationary for a few seconds. There is only one defensive option in Dead Rising 2, which is rolling out of the way, but that requires the player to level up first to unlock it. The problem is that for the lack of defensive and offensive options, the bosses have plenty of both.

Bosses cannot be stunned by most attacks and can easily hit the player while they are trying to attack. Just about every attack from a boss will stun or knock the player down leaving them in a bad position and can sometimes be attacked while on the ground. Many enemies have frames of animation where they cannot be damaged at all and due to how responsive the bosses are, the player will have a hard time doing anything but get into a slug fest with them.

You would think that ranged weapons are the way to go, but the game design is balanced away from ranged weapons. Normal ranged weapons, like guns are hard to come by, and the few you get will not do anywhere near the damage you need to kill a boss. The few ranged combinations are more or less, specialty items for dealing with zombies.

This exposes one of critical design issues that designers have to pay attention to: creating encounters or situations that are beyond the scope of the design. The boss fights that I did managed to get through, were completed in two ways: either finding AI exploits to render the boss easy, or just kept attacking them and healing until either the boss or I die. Neither solution gave me much satisfaction, as having to use brute force was the wrong kind of challenge.

If the fight is difficult due to the design of the game and not testing the player, this leads to a frustrating time. Beating the bosses in Dead Rising 2 is like trying to win a sword fight with a fork, it’s difficult, but for the wrong reasons, with the final boss being the worse example.

(Spoiler warning for final fight)

The final battle takes place on a roof with no ranged weapons nearby. The boss is on an elevated platform that requires the player to climb up to reach, while the boss shoots at the player with its gun. Once the player gets to the boss, they find that it is an expert on hand to hand fighting, with punch combos that do a lot of damage to the player. Like previous bosses, it can’t be stunned by attacks and it can also knock the weapons out of the player’s hands. Almost every attack the boss uses will knock the player back, with a good chance of knocking them off the platform, doing more damage. The player’s dodge roll requires careful aiming, as the platform is so small that you can easily roll off it. The boss also has a dodge roll that gives it a few extra frames of invincibility, preventing players from attacking as it comes out of the roll.

As the fight goes on the roof will get hit by bombs, leaving random holes in the floor. Falling down one will take the player one story down requiring them to climb back up while dealing with zombies again. This battle is similar to the final boss in Dead Rising one, however in that fight, the enemy didn’t have moments of invincibility and the player couldn’t be knocked out of the boss area.

(End spoiler)

After about ten tries, I finally beat it by exploiting the AI by repeating the same attack until it died. The final boss brought back memories of The Suffering 2, which also had a poorly designed final boss that I couldn’t finish. An important lesson for designers is that there is a difference between designing a challenge that tests the player, and a challenge that goes against the design of the game.

This kind of thinking goes back to a concept I came up with for action games, which was developing a “base-line,” or the maximum amount or type of enemies that the player can deal with using a basic skill set. The purpose is that it will help the designer understand what kind of gameplay the design is built from and not to create something needlessly frustrating.

Overall, I liked Dead Rising 2, but the issues with the boss design left a black mark on the design. I know that things aren’t supposed to be realistic, but I expect someone to do more than just flinch when I hit them with two chainsaws attached to a paddle.


  • Pretty similar to my own thoughts on DR2, except I didn't finish it or really come close. Alas, an RROD interruped my play time and I never really got back to it.

    I can't *stand* the boss designs in the game. And the controls, while better, were starting to grate. It's just not fun knowing I'm deliberately crippled when it comes to mobility, only to discover I have to fight a boss (and/or a cohort) that moves like Speedy Gonzales or the Road Runner.

    It's not a pure sandbox game, perhaps, but the best sandbox games make moving through the world an absolute treat. And no game has really done it better than Crackdown. I understnad not wanting to give the player super jumping in a game like this. But I wish the developers would keep this in mind even when talking about the basic movement mechanics.

  • Crackdown is still one of the best sandbox titles I've played, with a tie with Just Cause 2. I just started replaying JC 2 again and loving it. The only problem I have with JC 2, is that there is not a huge amount of depth to the game, so I can only play it for a little bit at a time before I get bored.

  • I feel the same way about JC2. Excellent, but it can't quite hold me the way Crackdown can. Crackdown is one of the only games I have ever played that I could while a Saturday afternoon away beating. . . and then get up Sunday and want to do it all again from scratch.

    Of course, it's not *just* the movement, but also the simple but powerful advancement mechanics. Something JC2 lacks. I don't mind the the movement in JC2 isn't really gated. That is, you can do almost everything from the get go. But the movement never quite grabbed me as much as Crackdown. But it's my favorite “driving sandbox game”.

    Interestingly, I don't think other games that have tried to tie movement to advancement have ever really worked. I thought Infamous and Infamous 2 were decent but they gated things not organically but rather by a weird combination of gaining xp and hard-points that are wired into the story. The result is always getting all the fun movement powers too late. In Infamous 2 has a couple of big movement power ups you'll get hours after you needed them (the second is much worse than the first in this respect).

    Prototype was even worse in this regard (also, I never could get comfortable with the movement controls there).

    In Crackdown, Most people will be close to maxed out on everything before they're halfway done with the third island in Crackdown. That last Agility level mostly only really matters on the last island and then it's not 100% required. And it's possible to hit it well before you hit the last island. I still don't understand why more people haven't tried to emulate this aspect of Crackdown.