By Marty Mulrooney
Dead Rising 2 is the long-awaited follow-up to the 2006 Xbox 360 exclusive Dead Rising, once again pitting players against flesh-eating hordes of zombies with whatever make-shift weapons may come to hand. The sequel requires no knowledge of the previous game and is an entirely standalone experience. Exclusivity seemingly forgotten, Dead Rising 2 was recently released on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. A PC port soon followed, which is the version being reviewed here on AMO today. Happy Halloween 2010!
As the game begins, players take control of former motocross champion Chuck Greene, a reluctant participant in the controversial game show Terror Is Reality. Here, players must use Chuck’s bike to mow down as many zombies as possible before the timer runs out. Why is Chuck doing this? He needs money for Zombrex, a drug that stops his young daughter – who was bitten in the past – turning into a zombie.
Of course, not everything goes to plan and before long somebody sets the trapped zombies free outside the arena, framing Chuck in the process. Fleeing with his daughter to an underground bunker, Chuck has 72 hours to venture back up to the surface and clear his name. This upper area consists of a huge American shopping mall, complete with retail outlets, casinos and restaurants.
They would never brag about it on the back of the box, but Dead Rising 2 is ultimately one great big time-management simulator. Players are constantly against a ticking clock: Chuck’s daughter Katie needs Zombrex every 24 hours, and it’s rare. Also, missions are only available for a limited amount of time. Miss a side-mission and you will lose out on some valuable PP (experience points). Miss a story mission and it’s gone forever: you will need to reload or the mystery can never be solved and once the 72 hours are up, so are you.
This creates some pretty interesting situations: players may very well find themselves planning several missions ahead so they can fit everything in. Even then, it is undoubtedly impossible to see everything Dead Rising 2 has to offer in a single playthrough. There are multiple endings and you can even let Katie die. I initially found these limitations frustrating, in large part due to the huge amount of fun to be had in the expansive sandbox environment, but later came to appreciate these unique design choices.
Players can go wild in the world of Dead Rising 2. There are an overwhelming amount of options available. You can dress up however you want, no matter how stupid you may look. Practically any item can be used as a weapon too: it didn’t do any damage, but I found it pretty hilarious when I was overwhelmed by zombies in a BBQ Shack and squirted the un-dead with streams of ketchup and mustard. Take that!
Players can earn Combo Cards as they progress, allowing two different weapons to be merged together. For a long time, my weapon of choice was a baseball bat studded with nails, although things got a bit crazier later on. For example, a drill/bucket combo made a pretty gruesome hat for my enemies…
The good thing about creating your own weapons is that they give you PP with every kill. Regular weapons don’t, although you do receive PP after slaying a certain number of enemies, as well as when you rescue survivors and return them to the underground safe house. PP = levelling up, which increases Chuck’s abilities. Oh, and there can be up to 7,000 zombies on screen at once!
Fighting the zombies is huge fun and although the game isn’t scary in the least, things can get rather intense when trying to do several different things at once, time continually slipping away. In the end the time limit comes across as a good thing: it forces the player to run away where possible and also adds immense replay value. Weapons don’t last forever either and will eventually wear out.
Sadly, the boss battles are ridiculously hard and will push new players to the limit. Eating food restores health and players would be wise to always carry some orange juice and a burger on their person for emergencies. Even then, the difficulty is often erratic and it doesn’t help that the game lacks checkpoints.
There are three save slots and the game can only be saved at the end of a chapter or when entering a toilet. Coupled with notable load times between areas, it can become very annoying when Chuck dies, losing all progress since the last save point. Many players will no doubt choose to restart from the beginning when this happens: stats are carried over to each new game regardless of where you were up to, allowing Chuck to progress at a faster pace. This is a great idea that takes some of the sting out of the high difficulty level.
The storyline is mostly throwaway, with Chuck a likeable enough protagonist but the surrounding plot mostly coming across as background noise. It almost seems like the story was included as a necessity, with NPC’s largely unvoiced, speaking instead via short text snippets along the bottom of the screen. It feels cheaper than it should and makes saving people feel less involving than it could have been.
It is also pretty annoying that Chuck is supposed to be a badass motocross champion yet the tacked-on motorcycle sections control terribly. To be fair the controls are never very tight anyway, although this does add to the tension when fighting zombies on foot. Timing the speed of each attack is essential and it becomes a fine art navigating the un-dead crowds, looking for gaps and creating them when there aren’t any.
Sadly, the PC version isn’t without its faults. My PC isn’t a powerhouse, but I found the framerate somewhat unstable. Even with all of the settings on low, the game would often dip below 20fps. What is odd about this is that some areas would be packed with zombies and the framerate would be in the mid 40’s on medium settings. This may be a sign of bad optimisation more than anything else, although it has been reported that the framerate isn’t exactly stable on the console versions either. Please note: my Wireless Xbox 360 controller didn’t work upon release, but this issue has now been patched.
The cutscenes have some problems too. It seems that regardless of settings, they employ the full graphical options available regardless of user preference, meaning that even if the gameplay runs smoothly, the cinematics may not do so. Again, I do not have a particularly powerful PC, but it is decent enough and I was disappointed that even the lowest settings seemed unable to alleviate these frequent niggles.
Players must also sign in to Windows LIVE to save their progress/achievements, another example of somewhat intrusive DRM. Still, the PC port is better than most, although players will want to ensure that their rigs are powerful enough to handle the vast amounts of zombies potentially on screen at any one time. Otherwise, pick it up on your console of choice.
Overall, Dead Rising 2 decides to be light rather than dark, fun rather than deep. The result is a gaming treasure trove of constant surprises. Discovering a metal baseball bat with projectile baseballs may well induce manic laughter, dead zombies and missions lost. There is so much to see and do in this world, that it doesn’t matter when things become slightly repetitive. Players will get as much out of Dead Rising 2 as they put in. Co-op is fun – if not fairly pointless for the guest player – and Terror Is Reality can be played online against 4 other players to earn some extra money – although it becomes boring fast. Dead Rising 2 is a predominantly single player game that forgoes strong storytelling in favour of cheap sandbox thrills… and largely succeeds.
8 OUT OF 10