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559 - Dead Connection

Best Games - Dead Connection

The attract mode for Dead Connection opens with a screen that says Taito Film Presents. So far as I can tell there was never an official division of Taito called Taito Film. That fictional declaration helps to set the tone. This won’t be the usual arcade action fare. Aliens, zombies, monsters, you aren’t going to find any of those here. Dead Connection borrows from a lot of sources, not the least of which are the historical crime dramas Untouchables and the Godfather. Gesturing toward film makes sense. This is a game that oozes cinematic style. That is far from being the most interesting thing about Dead Connection.
Dead Connection is set in 1953 in a big city somewhere. It says so in the opening titles. The game drapes itself in a film noir, gangster pastiche. Nothing about it is realistic or properly historical. It is, at times, anachronistic and overly cliche. But that’s okay. This is a fanciful take on the crime and revenge genres. More than that though, more than any of the trappings, Dead Connection is a game. The way it plays matters more than the way it presents itself. And it plays like no other game I know.
There are plenty of games where you direct a character to walk toward enemies and punch them. There are even more where you use some sort of weapon to shoot at enemies. There are games where you can interact with the background, and there are games where you can dodge and dive for cover. Dead Connection combines all of these, and it did so at a time when that didn’t happen. Games did one or two things very well. Or at least they tried to. Games didn’t try to incorporate multiple overlapping systems. Dead Connection is a piece of gaming history that is both obvious, and well ahead of its time.
I’ll attempt to explain why.
There were a few run and gun character shooting games made previous to Dead Connection’s release in 1992. Okay, more than a few. Literally hundreds of games had you controlling a character who runs around the screen and shoots at enemies. There were even a couple of games like Cabal, and Blood Bros. where you can dive and dodge enemy fire. It’s possible that Dead Connection took some inspiration from those games. There are a handful of games where they will give the player a certain amount to auto aim, inferring your intentions from simple directional and button inputs. Maybe Dead Connection is aping those games. There are even games that offer a variety of interactions with background elements in the levels using the same simple, context-sensitive, controls. It could be that Dead Connection is trying to be like one of those games. 
Maybe. But Dead Connection is all of those things. All at once. The wild amount of potential interactions is staggering. You can set parts of each stage on fire. You can destroy almost everything in various ways, and they will display different levels of destruction depending on what happens to them. Cover comes and goes dynamically. You can hit the deck and enter buildings to hide behind walls. You can climb stairs and ladders to take the high ground, and you can lay prone behind a vehicle until it blows up. There are switches and doors. Glass that shatters. Chandeliers that can come crashing to the ground.
In 1992, arcade games simply did not have this level of interactivity. They just didn’t. And, as it turns out, they never would. Games like Dead Connection would never be the norm until they were developed specifically for powerful consoles and home computers. 
There is a fairly minor tradeoff for all of that interactivity. Every level in Dead Connection takes place on only one screen. I said it was a tradeoff, but it may be a strength. Keeping the action on one screen means the player has some time with each level. They have time to investigate each of the interactive elements. They can try to use the level in different ways. If the levels were long, scrolling affairs, it would be likely that you would miss a stairway or switch in all the gunfire, and just walk right on by.
Dead Connection is an anomaly. A unicorn. The action arcade game that tried to do a lot with a little and succeeded.
At the end of the day, it’s still an arcade game. Relatively short, borderline impossible without spending a mountain in quarters. But that shouldn’t be too surprising. What is surprising is that this game wasn’t copied a million times. There are no home console ports. There isn’t a genre based around the Dead Connection framework. It is really one of a kind.
When you look into the resume of the team who worked on Dead Connection, it all starts to come into focus. They worked on several games that I have either covered in a Best Games or have on my list. Dead Connection was made by people who know how to push the envelope. Try new innovative game design solutions. They made sure that Dead Connection is one of the Best Games. 
This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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