Tuesday, December 4, 2012

You Should Probably (?) Play This: Stay Dead

You Should Probably Play This is my positive review column. In it, I'll review a game that I think needs more attention. It may be an obscure oldie, something that was released recently with little fanfare, or something that was badly received on release but has since been made better. This time: I made my own cardboard cut-outs of sound effects to hold up when punches connect.

So you know how hardcore gamers hate long cutscenes?  And you know how hardcore gamers hate QTEs?  Well now there's a game to annoy the insufferable hardcore gamer in your life.  That game is Stay Dead, a somewhat hilarious rhythm fighting game by BRUCEfilm.

To fill time between being terrorized by an evil duplicate and pretending to be Stephen King, Alan Wake has taken up participating in awkwardly choreographed street fighting.
Stay Dead is a cinematic rhythm game.  Its gimmick is, well, you've seen that picture up there, right?  Yeah, it's entirely FMV.  All real people punching each other for your amusement, you cruel monster.  It plays kind of like a PC version of DDR, directional arrow key prompts (as well as A and Z for blocks) show up on the screen and you have to hit them at the right time to make attacks.  Not a bad idea in and of itself, fighting is of course quite rhythmic, and plenty of games have implemented rhythmic elements in their combat (the Arkham games come to mind).

The problem with Stay Dead's combat, though, is in the rhythm.  See, combat in Stay Dead is divided into rounds.  At the beginning of each round the two characters stand around in fighting stances and you choose whether to use a normal attack, a combo (harder to perform but deals more damage), or defend (allowing you to counterattack for extra damage after defending).  You then perform (or fail to) the attack or combo, and the next round starts.  The problem with this is that it murders any sense of constant rhythmic flow.  Each individual attack or combo has rhythm to it, but the combat as a whole doesn't, due to the start-and-stop nature of it, which makes the combat less about the rhythm and more about memorizing the two or three combos in each fight, or just having quick reflexes.  A rhythm game, especially a rhythmic fighting game, should feel like a steady back-and-forth ballet.  Stay Dead is like playing musical chairs with an epileptic organ grinder.
As far as I can tell, there's no real story in Stay Dead other than "Guy punches and stickfights some other guys.  One of them is a Nazi".  Maybe I was just missing the subtle environmental cues, I dunno.  The FMV itself is pretty high quality.  The resolution is good and clear, if a touch grainy, and the cinematographer has a good grasp of his/her craft, with plenty of different angles and close-ups to provide dramatic effect.

The acting and choreography is a big of a mixed bag, though.  For the most part the acting hits various degrees of goofiness.  Really, considering there's no dialog except for one guy going "AAAAAARGH" I wouldn't expect much more than entertainingly goofy combat stances.  The choreography is pretty much the same deal. It's at its best when handling fist fighting, such as in the first and fourth fights.  Although still not particularly believable (there's no blood or anything, and very few punching sounds), it works pretty well.  When the choreography moves into stickfighting and wrestling in the second and third fights, it gets a bit silly.  To be fair, the goofiness of the stickfighting scene is due in large part to the Nazi you're fighting who, well, he just doesn't seem like a natural martial artist.  I guess there's a reason the Nazis didn't challenge people to Judo matches.  The wrestling suffers from the same problem you see in a lot of fake wrestling: All of the throws and such are let down by the fact that the two actors are very obviously trying not to hurt each other, laying each other down more gently than they really should be.  One thing I can say in favor of the choreography (and editing), though, is that they did a good job of making the moves flow into each other naturally, allowing different combos to be built out of the same building blocks.
Hug time!
It's a pretty short game, especially once you get a handle on the combat.  There's only five enemies, and you can get through all of them in a row in about ten minutes, although I suppose there's replay value in the handful of achievements in the game.  Of course, on repeated plays you'll start to see the lack of variety in the moves and it'll become pretty repetitive after a while.  And, well, that's it, really.  I don't have much more to say because that's pretty much all there is to the game, a couple of short fights more based on reflex than rhythm, with pretty good camera work and not entirely convincing choreography.

Despite the negative things I've said about Stay Dead, I don't dislike it.  I can't call it a good game, but it's not really bad either.  It's clear that passion was put into this game, and all its ridiculousness makes it kind of lovable.  It's fun enough while it lasts, even if that's not very long.  And frankly, I appreciate the developers trying to do something new.  There's potential here, and if they work on developing it, I could see it evolving into something good.  I mean, if we're going to see Heavy Rain-style QTE games that try to become interactive movies, might as well use real people, right?

Stay Dead is available for $9.99 from the BRUCEfilm site or Desura.  I wouldn't really recommend it for that price, there's far too little content for it to be really worth it unless you really like the idea or just want to support interesting games.  It is, however, in the current Bundle In A Box as a Beat The Average bonus (the average is, as I write this, $2.48).  Check it out if ya like.

Protip: If you want to beat the game easily, use Defend.  It's by far the easiest way of racking up lots of damage.


  1. Oh, and it's also worth mentioning that BRUCEfilm is probably the best studio name. BRUCE. BRUCE. BRUCE.


  2. Got to the end of the review and I was like "wait... it's a NEW GAME??? FMV lives???"

    Sounds like goofy fun for an evening or so. I don't think I'll be picking it up, though, with all the games I have waiting to be played :P

    1. FMV Lives. Sounds like a terrible horror movie. Although frankly I'm surprised that it didn't come around sooner, since games like Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy might as well be all FMV.

      Yeah, goofy fun for an evening definitely sums it up. It's definitely not worth $10, but it is fairly fun while it lasts. To be honest, I'm surprised it's gotten a fairly large amount of positive reviews. Even if you fall absolutely in love with the gameplay, it's a reeeeally slight experience. Still, it's fun for what it is, and I'm curious where BRUCEfilm will go next. (I love writing that. I love that BRUCE is in capslock.)

    2. Although the stick fight against the censored Nazi is pretty fabulous.