Dead Rising 2 Review

Dan Webb

If the games industry was some cheesy 1980s high school drama and I was the teacher with the tweed jacket with leather elbow protectors, smoking a pipe thinking I’m still “trendy,” and Blue Castle and Capcom’s Dead Rising 2 was the student, with the ginger hair, freckles and look of sin on his face, my response to him would be simple...

"Oh Chuck, you're so cool. Seriously, you are. Screw Frank!"

“Well done son, you definitely get an A star for effort, but unfortunately, you ran out of time to look over your answers and it really shows.” That right there is Dead Rising 2 in a nutshell. A game that, truth be told, could have done with another 6 months in the oven. A game that reeks of potential, but technically and from a design point, does a few too many things wrong.

We all remember Dead Rising 1, right? Frank West and his intrepid adventure through the zombie infested mall in Willamette, Colorado? Well, forget about all that. It means diddly squat here. You’re now Chuck Greene: beloved father, crazed stunt man and a guy that’s wanted for being the sole cause of a zombie outbreak in the Vegas inspired Fortune City. While tentatively balancing the mystery of the outbreak in Fortune City and the needs of his sick daughter, Chuck has 72 hours to survive – well, actually, this time, he gets a little longer.

This is Dead Rising though and what you do in those initial 72 hours is entirely up to you. It’s freedom at its finest. If you want to hunt down Zombrex and keep your daughter alive, while ignoring the conspiracy that unfolds, then you can. Want to let your daughter die and spend 72 hours placing cones on zombie heads? Sure, why not... you callous bastard! The point is, the time is yours and you can do whatever the hell you feel like. If you do choose to tackle the story, be warned, the last few hours are pretty ridiculous in terms of “plot.” Dear Blue Castle Games, next time, just keep it simple please.

Fortune City as a whole, feels a lot larger and more detail orientated than Willamette did, with plenty of random places throughout to give the feel of a much quirkier Las Vegas style city. With casinos, shopping malls, neon soaked strips, hotels and clubs galore; it’s a great realisation of a fictional sin city if ever there was one. Unfortunately, that does take its toll on things at various points, with the much larger open areas housing far more zombies on screen than the original, which means that the game occasionally suffers from a disappointing drop in frame-rate.

"Dead Rising 2: You too can look this ridiculous!"

Dead Rising 2 for the most part feels like a carbon copy of the original in terms of structure, level design and humour. It’s definitely out of the mould of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which is fine by us, and you’d be hard pressed to say this was a different studio working on the game if you didn’t already know. Outside of the game’s main case missions, you’ll find yourself doing the usual – but more impressive this time around – psycho battles, escort missions (with vastly improved follower AI), dressing up Chuck in some of the most random outfits ever conceived and splattering as much zombie blood on the walls of this fine city as possible. There’s even Dead Rising 1’s progression system, in what seems like its original and unchanged form.

One of the notable additions to this iteration of the franchise is of course the new weapon combination system, allowing you to combine a whole host of weapons – as indicated by the wrench symbol – to make some wacky contraptions; including turreted cuddly toys, lightsabers, electric rakes and so on. By taking two compatible items to one of the city’s many workbenches, you can create some of the most original weapons ever seen in a video game. If originality isn’t your strong point, then you can find combo cards to tell you which items you should be putting together. Even outside the combo weapon space though, there are plenty of wacky – and often pointless – weapons to make use of, and even a few new vehicles.

Dead Rising for the most part, suffers from a few technical issues that really hamper the experience though. With everything from sluggish menus that have you guessing whether the game’s locked up or not, all the way through to the painfully slow loading times, which is made worse by how frequent they crop up. I wish they’d sorted out the issue with canned animations making you vulnerable as well; it’s rather off-putting, but alas, they haven’t.

A lot of people took issue with the original’s save system and anybody who says otherwise is masochistic. While there are a couple of notable improvements in the sequel – like saving after each case and there are now three save slots – it still unfortunately shapes how you play. I dread to think how long I spent throughout the duration of the game just traipsing across the casino floors to get to one of the 9 save points. Yes, it’s meant to make it more of a challenge and should heighten the tension, and yes, it’s not meant to be easy, but the time I spent going to save, is time I should have been spending annihilating zombies and larking around. Any game that makes you retry the last 20+ minutes of gameplay – or the distance travelled to a psycho for instance – is kidding the audience by extending the experience artificially and making out it’s designed that way to be a challenge. I seriously don’t enjoy walking for 10 minutes to attempt to kill a psycho, only to die, and have to re-walk those 10 minutes just to try it again. Not cool, Blue Castle. Not cool at all. Is it so much to ask for a checkpoint here and there; preferably before a psycho battle? If they included that, it’d certainly be the best of both worlds.

Of course, two of the game’s biggest additions are its co-op gameplay and its multiplayer, both of which are fantastic in their own right, but unfortunately the multiplayer lacks the stability online, especially for this day and age of connected gaming.

The co-op is fairly well implemented, leaving players to explore each area of the map of their own and drop in/drop out as they see fit. As you’d expect, the host’s story progress is saved, but co-op players – who play as Chuck Greene as well; a move that seems somewhat lazy – can bring in their own saved character and earn experience points and what not along the way. It’s twice as fun with a friend... and even twice as easy.

The multiplayer on the other hand has the wacky charms you’d expect from a Japanese game show like Takeshi’s castle, but with the added incentive of smashing zombies: this, ladies and gents, is 'Terror is Reality'. Whether you’re in hamster balls fighting for points or you’re sticking hats on zombies looking to bank points, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. It’s definitely a worthwhile addition to the franchise that’s in the true spirit of the game.

"Meet the teddy turret and wheelchair death machine."

There are 9 modes in all, each one vastly different from the next, and Capcom and Blue Castle have proven that you can create a decent multiplayer for a game that’s generally classed as a single-player adventure. Aside from a few issues with connectivity, with players dropping from games and a distinct lack of stability meaning that you might find yourself dropping too, Terror is Reality is a fine addition to the franchise. It does give you money to spend in the single player as well, so what more of an incentive do you need?

As far as the achievement list goes, it’s a tricky one to judge, but you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s no ridiculous console-destroying achievements this time around. It’s a list that not only boasts a fair bit of originality, but one, that in truth, doesn’t boast enough. With the wacky things you can do to zombies and the barmy array of weapons, it’s frustrating to see a whole host of completionist achievements included instead – visit every shop, find every combo card, kill 72,000 zombies, etc. I have to say, Capcom did a much better job the first time around, which is a damn shame for achievement hunters.

For everything that Dead Rising 2 does right – a wacky weapon creation system, 2 player co-op and a hugely original multiplayer – it also unfortunately does a few too many things wrong. While the old save system isn’t really that much of a downer, it’s the ridiculously long load screens, frame-rate issues and lack of stability online that truly hurt Dead Rising 2’s potential. It’s definitely a great game underneath it all and for 80% of your time in-game, you’ll be having some of your best gaming experiences of 2010. However, the rest of the time, you’ll be looking for the nearest oven to shove your head into. At the end of it all though, it’s just one of those titles you need to play. Frustration or no frustration, it’s one of the last truly hardcore games.

A well written script is brought to life by a fairly solid performance from pretty much all the cast – with the exception of a certain reporter. The zombie groans, ambient background noise and madness-inducing mall music is spot on as well. There’s even a few references in the script to the original which will certainly raise a smile or two.

The textures are never spectacular up close, the lip syncing is poor and the frame-rate issues can be frustrating on the odd occasion; other than that, the game is very pretty to look at from afar and they’ve captured the look of this fictional sin city perfectly. The camera angles in the cutscenes are amusingly erotic as well. Proper B-movie stuff. Great!

Dead Rising 2’s pick-up and play exterior could well tempt in a few players, but don’t underestimate how difficult Dead Rising 2 can get if you’re not prepared. No complaints really from a control standpoint, other than that the low-level Chuck is annoyingly slow. Hello! There’s a zombie apocalypse going on!

Whether you like the old save system or not, it’s here, but slightly upgraded – although not enough in our opinion. No infinity mode this time, but with a huge open-world with plenty to do, co-op and a multiplayer mode that is a hell of a lot of fun, this could last you for months. The freedom to do what you want is so refreshing as well.

There’s no better way to sum this up than saying two things... 1. There’s way too much completionist stuff for a game where originality is one of its shining lights; and 2. It’s worse than the original – which was bloody great. They definitely give you an incentive to go back and really explore the city though, which in itself is great.

Dead Rising 2 is everything you’d want from the zombie-smashing, free-roaming sequel and although many were after an upgraded save system, the tweaks it’s seen are relatively minor. Adding co-op and a hugely original multiplayer have definitely made this a must buy for zombie fanatics the world over, but the painfully long load times, the odd frame-rate issues and retreading the same ground after we’ve died umpteen times, really holds the game back from the dizzy 90s. Third time’s a charm, right?

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