I think there's a lot to be said for a game that has zero instructions and makes the player figure out everything for his or her self. Some weeks ago, after reviewing Shadow of the Colossus, I said that more games should emphasize exploration, and Dead Rising embodies a particular aspect of exploration: scientifically discovering the use and application of the game's pickups and weapons rather than just its environments; setting up a row of five melee weapons in your inventory and systematically determining which one is the best at detaching mandibles. It adds a whole extra dimension to gameplay. Lord knows there are enough games that obnoxiously hold your hand for far too long - I'm thinking of the start of the first Red Steel, where you are instructed to look at four different fish in turn to prove you know the difference between up, down, left and right.
Not that leaving out instructions and tutorials would always be preferable. In, say, linear sequential platformers like Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia, the game requires the player to pick up some quite complicated maneuvers just to proceed through the game at its most basic level, so player training is necessary. There's a notorious case in the otherwise quite good 90s step platformer Flashback. For a 2D platformer the controls were overcomplicated at the best of times, but there's a ledge at the start of the second level that can only be accessed by performing a specific kind of running jump quite separate to the standard running jump that wasn't necessary up to that point and never will be again. Yes, the details on the jump were given in the game's manual, but this was back in Amiga days when 90 percent of your game collection was copied from schoolyard chums. And don't even try to deny it, you thieving prick.
More to the point, protagonists like Lara Croft are supposed to be career adventurers with years of training and independent knowledge, so her actions at the hands of an inexperienced player - like continually running into walls and jumping up and down fruitlessly in front of a chest-high wall - would seem out of character. Deliberately giving a player zero or limited instruction would, thinking about it, be more of a thematic benefit than anything else. There was an old C64 game called Hacker, a science fiction-y computer hacking "sim" whose major selling point was that the game came with virtually no instructions, because the player character was supposed to be improvising their way through unknown systems. I didn't play it myself, but apparently the game was memorable enough to warrant a Wikipedia page, which is usually a good sign.
And Dead Rising's lack of instruction also fits well with the theme, because your characters are supposed to be scrappy, unprepared survivors forced to jury-rig spontaneous solutions from whatever comes to hand. That's why DR makes good watercooler conversation, because every player has their own story of how their favorite melee weapon broke while they were in a toy shop holding off the horde, forcing them to grab a nearby cash register or teddy bear and beat a path to the door (Dead Rising is one of the few games where including weapon degradation was a good idea, Silent Hill: Origins, take note).
The major issue I can see with games that base themselves around discovery is that it is, by its very nature, limited. It'll never be the same as that first bleary-eyed playthrough when there was so much to learn. As Dead Rising 2 demonstrates, once you have figured out where to get the best weapons and orange juice then it can become quite routine, and you've just got to hope the gameplay is still entertaining enough to hold up the experience. But then again, am I really so hard to please that I'm now asking games to just continue surprising me infinitely? Well, why shouldn't I? It's because of big dreamers like me that things like motor cars were invented, even though horses did the job perfectly well and didn't emit as many catastrophic farts.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.