Though videogames are a decades-old medium, there's still more than a little fumbling around in the dark when it comes to value propositions - especially with digital downloads changing how games are published.
Invariably, as developers and publishers seek to find the sweet spot of not only content but how it's delivered, there are bound to be a few missteps, and tragically, Rock of the Dead is one of them. Simultaneously demonstrating why a great concept should be given a chance to shine while saddling it with a price point and delivery mechanism that almost instantly makes it feel like a rip off, there can be no better example of how not to release a game on modern consoles.
Don't get us wrong; we completely understand the various pitfalls and blockades that make up the landscape of releasing a game as a download versus burning it to disc, but there's simply no escaping one very obvious reality: Rock of the Dead should not have been a retail release. It simply doesn't take advantage of the medium and when coupled with a seriously lackluster presentation, the whole package smacks of something that was priced too high for what's offered.
It doesn't help that this is obviously a Wii game first and foremost and an HD consideration way, way down the list. Built on developer/middleware provider Vicious Cycle's Vicious Engine, the apparent ease of porting the game to multiple consoles meant the HD consoles could enjoy the game as well, but make no mistake, this is a Wii game - and not a particularly pretty one at that.
Yes, we're harping on the presentation, but it's simply unavoidable. The lighting, textures and animations reek of something ripped from the PS2 era, and while the tongue-in-cheek tone of everything does a little to scrub the low-budget feel, there's a sense that this is a B-game by necessity rather than design. Having a music game that dips heavily into public license music tracks and barfs them out with extremely low fidelity means everything feels cheap. Again, were this a $20 download, it would go a long, long way toward justifying things, but at twice that price, the feeling of getting ripped off is unavoidable.
That's not to say there wasn't a clear effort to deliver something substantial here. Unlockable concept art, extra modes and levels, multiple difficulty levels and endings; Epicenter's blend of genres is a clear labor of love, and it's likely those that find the combination of a guitar-powered rail shooter too irresistible to avoid will be absolutely stunned by just how lengthy a "shooting" experience this is.
That length, which chronicles a backwater wannabe rocker's rise from trailer trash to savior of the planet when aliens invade his quiet town and begin mutating/re-animating everything that crawls, flies and enjoys long dirt naps, is... significant. Too significant, in fact, leading to an endgame that drags on so painfully and with literal instances of copying and pasting the exact same sequences so often that it destroys all the fun in the hours of clicky plastic action that preceded it.
Clearly enamored with the gumption of Sherman Oaks-based developer, Neal Patrick Harris and Felicia Day rekindle their Dr. Horrible relationship with the aid of one Rob Zombie, who provides his voice and a generous smattering of classic music tracks - the only actual licensed music in the game. And honestly, it works. The sheer number of "duuuuuude!" comments that were dropped quickly made it obvious this game wasn't taking itself seriously, and aside from the few quips that are recycled ad nauseum by NPH after gunning (rocking?) down a wave of enemies, there's actually a ton of dialogue here - most of it internal monologue.