Dead Rising 2
Developer: Capcom Vancouver (formerly Blue Castle Games)
Systems it’s available on: Xbox 360, PS3
ESRB rating: M for Mature
System reviewed on: Xbox 360
The thing you need to know about Dead Rising 2 is that the Blue Castle-developed game will remind you of nachos. In the game as in the dish, lots of ingredients get stacked up on top of each other. Of those ingredients, the shredded cheese may be the most important, as it holds everything together. Dead Rising 2 delivers the cheese early and often, but what kind of cheese is it and how does the whole thing taste?
The game opens with the first of many zombie killfests, this one at a taping of Terror is Reality. “America’s Deadliest Game Show” pits contestants against each other t see who can kill the most zombies in a series of bizarre contests. (It’s also the bulk of DR2‘s competitive online component, which had issues preventing me from getting any time in before the game’s launch.) As protagonist Chuck Greene guns a motorbike with chainsaws bolted to the front through a swath of the undead, you can’t help but smile at the depravity of it all. And the B-movie vibe–the cheese, if you will–really does bind everything together. After the snuff-film reality show, the game introduces a zombie-rights protest group, a safehouse bunker run by a stereotypically no-nonsense sheriff and instructs you to visit the bathroom to save. Character dialogue is cheeky throughout, and no double entendre goes unmined in DR2.
The locale of Fortune City is meant to stand in for Vegas and that only cheeses it up more. There may be some annoying things wrong with Dead Rising 2 (more on those in a minute), but it gives you undead showgirls and zombie croupiers. There’s something unapologetically farcical about Dead Rising 2 and the self-awareness around that makes it kind of charming.
But, for all the farce, DR2 uses genuine emotion for one of its key gameplay pillars. Chuck’s daughter Katey got bit by a zombie (it’s detailed a bit more in the Case Zero DLC) and he needs to give her a dose of the Zombrex medication once a day so she doesn’t change to a permanent diet of human flesh. This means that, no matter how much fun you’re having or what other mission you’re doing, you’ll have to steer Chuck back to the safehouse and give Katie her dose. It may sound like just another rule to keep you on the main quest but sometimes, when you’re chopping through waves of zombies, the fact that Katey could join their ranks does chill you to the bone.
So that’s the reason that Chuck goes to compete in Terror Is Reality, but a power outage lets zombies loose and he runs to find Katey. He then has to shepherd her to safety and finds a safehouse with other survivors. They tell him that the military is supposed to come and quarantine the city and pull out survivors. His plan then is to forage for some Zombrex and wait out the horror until a news report airs that accuses him of causing the latest outbreak. The rest of the game then becomes a hunt for clues to find out who framed Chuck and why.
Staples of zombie fiction are well-served in Dead Rising 2: scattered human survivors who let their ids run free as society crumbles, loopy action set pieces, the fragile security of a safe haven getting breached and the conspiracy/mystery of what caused all of this undead-ness. The story doesn’t break much in the way of new ground, but the tone’s so knowing that you don’t mind that.
No, what’s bound to get on your nerves is the architecture of the game. Load interrupts in DR2 are stunningly frequent. There will be times when the action stops once every two minutes or so to load up a scene or a new environment. It’s apparent that Blue Castle’s built a huge gameworld filled with interactive objects, zombies of all types and gaits. As amazng as that accomplishment is, there’s no way to create any kind of continuity of experience when a play session is chopped up so much. And the loads aren’t just frequent, they’re pretty long, too. It doesn’t help that Chuck is slow, either. He’s got one of the slowest runs I can rmember in any video game. Yes, he shouldn’t be able to easily outpace the zombies. I get that. But, having him so sluggish makes the game feel lugubrious and makes getting around a real chore.
DR2’s a game with a ton of real estate but it’s not quite an open-world game. There’s no way to set a waypoint, which sucks. Fortune City’s divided into sections and you’ll pick up side missions involving other survivors in each. You can toggle between side missions and the guide arrow resets to tell you where the objectives of each are. You’ll have to hustle to complete multiple side quests at the same time, and the fact that you likely won’t isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In terms of gameplay, DR2 takes a kitchen sink approach. Lots of different systems knitted together stamp Dead Rising 2 with a heavy RPG feeling. There’s weapons-based melee combat, there’s guns, there’s vehicle chases and there’s leveling-up. The killer mechanic is the combo weapon system. You can combine different objects into deadly, jerry-rigged weapons, so a propane tank + nails = I.E.D. Or, chainsaw + paddles = paddle saw. Chuck can also carry around magazines that buff various attributes and even combine different juices to make power-ups that let you run faster. So, the game encourages experimentation but limits it, too.
You can’t make a combo weapon until you’ve earned its combo card and you’ll be limited to a certain number of items until you level up and earn a new slot. The game gives you a lot of info and options to keep track of and it’s easy to get confused or overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all.
The save system of the first Dead Rising game was controversial, since it bumped you back to the beginning if you didn’t finish the game in time. DR2 solves that, partially by giving you save points and partially by giving you a Sophie’s Choice when you die: either you restart the story and keep your stats or you load the story and have to start the level all over again. Like its predecessor, the whole game’s on a clock. But the new tweaks seem like they’re meant to encourage replay and not glaring flaws. Another significant improvement from DR1 is the improved survivor AI, meaning that the other non-infected humans can protect themselves a lot better. The psychopaths–surviving humans who are the game’s boss characters–are a lot tougher than in DR1 and you’ll need to manage your health and inventory.
Dead Rising 2 delivers a crazy level of inventiveness, semi-serious characters and a well-populated gameworld spilling over with shambling denizens and interactive objects. You can lose yourself for hours by trying to piece together satisfying and LOL-worthy ways to slaughter zombies. Still, you do feel sometimes that you being forced to choose between improvisatory fun and the demands of game progression. You’ll be having a ball freezing and shattering zombie tourists and then check Chuck’s watch and realize that someone somewhere needs medicine or some other kind of saving. With smoother, more discreet loading and design elements that fit together better, Dead Rising 2 could’ve been a dark horse Game of the Year candidate. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of fun and a great step forward for the franchise.
Official Techland Score: 8.4 out of 10