Narrative Momentum, Dead Rising and You

Everyone knows that Frank West was anything but an intellectual, but he made do in a situation that he had no idea he was getting himself in to.

Sadly, Chuck Greene makes Frank look like a genius worthy of a Pulitzer. At the start of Case Zero, Chuck is already embroiled in a zombie outbreak, yet he leaves his truck unattended and, apparently, with the keys in the ignition. Is it any surprise that it is almost instantly stolen?

It’s hard to get a grasp on Chuck from Case Zero alone because it boils down to approximately three cut scenes where he says anything – which is very different to Dead Rising where it’s not very long before Frank says “Zombies, huh? Thought I might run into you …”

It’s DLC. But where Frank was a loveable and incredulous idiot who got himself in way over his head and was then expected to take care of everything almost singlehandedly, Chuck’s situation in Case Zero is at least partly of his own device.

As Case Zero progresses, we are very slowly drip-fed reasons to care about Chuck’s plight, at least the parts he isn’t responsible for. I know a lot of people don’t care for the Dead Rising story, but one of my video game specialities is ludo-narratology (let’s pretend this is a term) and I think that a story should give you the impetus to keep going.

Killing zombies isn’t enough for me. There has to be a reason for killing them. What lofty goal am I achieving on the backs of the innocent undead?

Dead Rising had its overarching story of Santa Cabeza, government conspiracy and thinly veiled “insatiable consumerism is the true villain” moral, but it also backed that up with nestled stories in the form of the optional survivor rescues, each of which had its own backstory: from Leah, the woman who watched, paralysed, as the zombies ate her baby; to Cliff, the man so traumatised by events that he began to relive Vietnam; to Dave, attacked by a crazed supermarket manager; and the truly out-there raincoat cult that operated out of the cinema.

One of the biggest problems with the survivor system was always that the characters don’t exist in the mall until their story is cued. It’s not like, say Majora’s Mask, where everyone follows a schedule and can be found at x place at y time every day.

Case Zero works the same way: Darcie Blackrock doesn’t exist until 7pm, a mere two game hours before you have to get the hell out of Still Creek. The town is so small (only three separate loading areas) that it’s inconceivable that any of these characters are actually hiding somewhere that you can’t see. Sharon, in particular, should have been in the Quarantine Area from the very first rather than materializing in a tent when the time is right.

Still, while in a perfect world all survivors would exist somewhere, it is understandable that the format of the Dead Rising franchise renders this impossible. You can only ever walk in on a story at a set point in the narrative. You were somewhere else when the rest of it was playing out, that has to be it!

The little stories in Case Zero are good enough: greedy pawnbroker stuck atop a car, a “stagette” gone horribly awry, a couple of motorcyclists whose bikes have apparently been eaten, and venal newlyweds, but none of them are particularly hard hitting and they singularly lack in pathos.

The theory of in media res story exposure works well enough until the token psychopath shows up, because where the hell was he while you were running around his office? If I’m going to be using your place as my safe house for twelve hours, show your damn face or attack me from the go, man. I understand the need for Case Zero to have a climax, but there is nothing I like more than logical story developments. Narrative expectation should only be met when it’s well set up, and the presence of Jed is the weakest aspect of the otherwise strong-enough Case Zero.

What you’re playing Case Zero for, apart from a quick fix of zombie whacking, is to find out what Chuck Greene is all about. Case Zero hints at the bigger themes of the story and the nobler motivations of Chuck, but this is not the time for me to go into them.

Case Zero was fun enough to play, but it wasn’t until one of the last exchanges between Katey and Chuck that I was totally sold on the project. Chuck has something worth fighting for in Katey, even if she looks really weird. I’m going to be more than happy to pilot Chuck to victory in Dead Rising 2, just so long as he’s acting out of necessity and not suffering the consequences of being a moron.

Fingers crossed.

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