Ever since I first played the demo for Crackdown earlier this year I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on the game. It’s as fun as I remember it, mixing a “free” GTA style environment with over the top environmental gymnastics that make the player feel like a superhero.

There’s also no doubt the game is violent as hell, and as you’re driving around accidentally mowing down civilians the game is telling you “no no no”, but what it really means is “yes yes yes”. Even if you do go over the limit and kill enough civilians that the security forces get mad at you they don’t stay mad for long. After all who can stay mad at an armored killing machine who can leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Ultimately it’s hard not feel like a nihilist when you’re ignoring the copious amounts of killing that you’re responsible for while trying to “free the city from the criminal gangs”, which is this game’s particularly thin layer of metaphorical good that covers an almost infinite number of sins committed while trying to reach your goal.

But death itself is almost comical in the world of this game, and the instant the anima leaves the body, so too does the animator. Rag doll physics take over and the dead flops around ridiculously. In the end they looking like nothing so much as a puppet with its strings cut.

It definitely lightens up the proceedings, revealing that whole thing is just a joke, as does the semi flat-shaded art style. And you have to wonder if making the dead more realistic wouldn’t have made this game much harder to take. Either way it’s a good thing.

On thing it does show clearly is that with the current generation of software we have two competing dynamics: One is making characters more realistic and dynamic. They’re starting to respond in interesting and engaging ways. On the other hand is the ability to render these realistic characters by the dozen and mow them down with abandon. It’s a dichotomy that smart people are using well, and Dead Rising takes full advantage of it. After all, what’s the problem with killing zombies by the hundreds? In fact, they give you a meter and keep track of the body count.

Like the victims of far-away wars we can understand the death of the characters in these games in the abstract, but also recognize that the act has little or no bearing on our own lives. We can easily separate the entertainment from the consequences because their aren’t any.

One of the ironies of the recent dust-up around Manhunt 2 is that it’s the visceral nature of the Wii controller and not the sheen of the graphics, that have gotten it into trouble. People can argue all day long whether or not Nintendo’s success story is truly next gen, but it’s obvious that for some people the fact that you’re the one making the stabbing motion is a huge leap forward from execution by button press. One that may force us to begin to reconsider that wanton disregard for human life that has been a hallmark of games ever since Death Race touched off the first round of hand-wringing over thirty years ago.

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