Between Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, Crackdown 2 and now Dead Rising 2, 2010 has been a great year for popular cult favorites getting big budget sequels. With four years to mull it over, Capcom has managed to devise a zombie-infested action game that is bigger, better and more exciting than the first game. Unfortunately, gamers who didn't get much out of the 2006 hit will probably want to take a pass on this sequel.
It has been a number of years since the outbreak in Willamette, Colorado. Since then zombies have popped up all around the country, but so far the government has done a good job at keeping them separated from the rest of the population. From the onset you can tell that this is a hot button political issue, one that is dividing the country and forcing people to make tough moral decisions. This outbreak has also led to a 24 hour cure, a drug called Zombrex that made the thought of getting bitten a lot less scary.
Chuck Greene knows this first hand, as he has a daughter who was bitten in a Las Vegas outbreak. To keep her safe, this ex-motocross champ must resort to all kinds of humiliating jobs to earn enough money to keep a steady supply of this drug on-hand. The game opens with Chuck's newest job, a television game show in which men on motorcycles chop up as many zombies as possible before time runs out. It's clear that in this world people have not only accepted the reality of zombies, but actually enjoy being entertained by the undead.
But something goes wrong, as is always the case in these sorts of games. Somebody let the zombies out of their cage to terrorize Fortune City. Worse yet, Chuck is being fingered as the saboteur. He has 72 hours before the military comes and rescues the survivors, that means Chuck is going to need to get busy if he is going to clear his name.
After everybody has been introduced and the introductions are out of the way, it's time to get down to serious business. Much like the first game, the player's job is to help rescue as many survivors as possible before the three days are up. Not only that, but Chuck will be forced to take out a bunch of psychopaths, looters and a few major surprises if he's going to get everybody out alive. And if that's not enough pressure, our hero will need to pay close attention to his watch so that he doesn't miss an import meeting or worse, forget to give his daughter a dose of Zombrex.
You do this by running all over Fortune City picking up weapons and looking for innocent victims hiding from the walking dead. Just like the 2006 original, you'll spend a lot of time guiding computer-controlled morons through a crowd of zombies. The good news is that the escort missions are a little easier this time around, since the computer is better at dodging slow moving baddies. Chuck is also able to pick up the slower characters, which usually keeps these missions from getting too frustrating. I never once lost a computer-controlled character, which is a lot different from the game I played four years ago.One thing that hasn't changed is the leveling up system, perhaps the most controversial element in Dead Rising. You start with a low-leveled Chuck, a slow-moving lug with very little health and a tiny inventory. The idea is to get as far as you can with that character, earning experience for each zombie you kill and survivor you save. And when you eventually die in the most gruesome way possible, the idea is to start the entire game over again.
I know that sounds counterproductive, but that's the gimmick behind Dead Rising. When you start over you retain all of your experience, levels and upgrades. It means that this time around you will have a fighting chance against the hordes of zombies. Plus, you'll already know where people are and where some of the secrets are. The enjoyment of the game depends entirely on how many times you have started over. By the third or fourth time you may have what it takes to discover who framed Chuck and do something about it.
Think of Dead Rising 2 as a job. You know who you have to save, when all of the events are and where you will need to go. How you use the allotted time is up to you, so executing a well thought-out plan is essential. Unexpected surprises will pop up from time to time, but if you are good at time management and keeping balancing escort missions, you shouldn't have too much trouble making it through the 72 hours ... and beyond.
Even though the core mechanics haven't changed in any noticeable way, I feel that the quirks are a bit more accessible this time around. For one thing, Fortune City is significantly more interesting than the Willamette Mall. Also, the story is actually captivating. While the storyline in the first game felt like an afterthought, here it's fully realized and generally exciting. Better still, there are twists and turns around every corner. And just when you think the story is over, there's a whole new case to solve.
The one thing that Dead Rising always had going for it was the diversity in weapons and items. Because the game takes place in a commercially-minded city full of malls and casinos, Chuck has an almost endless supply of wacky items to use against the zombie outbreak. I'm not just talking about guns and baseball bats, but also CDs, marbles, lawnmowers, water guns, giant dice, soccer balls and skateboards. And that's just the beginning of the long list of items free for your taking. You might not think a simple shower head would be effective when fighting a zombie, but shoving it in their soft head will spray blood everywhere. You better stand back.
The biggest change to this sequel involves the way you use and collect items. This time around you can do a lot more than fight off attackers with a baseball bat; you can combine it with another item and create a super weapon. Want to supercharge that bat? Why not hammer some nails into it. Wheel chairs can be combined with a car battery to create an electric chair. Take a pair of boxing gloves and pour on the lighter fluid, sudden you have deadly flaming gloves. That piping and fire cracker sure do look innocent on their own, but put them together and you have a rocket launcher. The game is full of all sorts of crazy combo weapons. I had just as much fun thinking up different ideas as I did actually playing the story. Some of these lead to some humorous (and bloody) kills.While I was happy to see the emphasis placed on creating new weapons, I wish Chuck Greene was a little easier to control. The gameplay is a little chunky and not always well suited for what the game asks of you. This is especially true in boss battles. Often you'll have to make precise hits, but the hand-to-hand combat is atrocious. It's not so bad with a mindless zombie, but the living, thinking humans are another story.
I was happy to see that Capcom added cooperative online play to this sequel. It's fun to hang out in this world with a buddy, even if you're just goofing off. Adding the second player will bring me back long after I max out my characters stats, one of the disappointing omissions from the first game.
Speaking of online multiplayer, Dead Rising 2 features a bunch of interesting game show-related modes built for up to four players. In Ball Buster you throw bowling balls at zombies for points, while in Bounty Hunter players pick off zombies before they make their way to the center of the arena. Headache involves you slapping specially made blender hats on as many zombies as you can. Ramsterball sees players strapped into a giant hamster ball. And the groan-worthy Stand-Up Zomedy has you dressing up the undead for laughs. These modes are a little hit or miss, but I had a reasonably good time playing each and every one of them.
Of course, none of this is going to matter if you can't get past the central premise of the title. The leveling up system and non-stop escort missions are going to turn a lot of gamers off. While I understand that point of view, I had nothing but a great time exploring the themed casinos, finding all of the secrets and assembling bigger and better weaponry. If you can stick through a restart or two, Dead Rising 2 is flush with great content and fun cultural gags.