Five by Five – Dead Rising 2

The first Dead Rising was one of the great early titles for the Xbox 360. Three days in a zombie-infested mall was more than enough to sell me on it, and then they go and put a cool story in on top of that. The sequel has a similar formula, tasking you with guiding motocross superstar and expert zombie slayer Chuck Greene with surviving three days in zombie-infested Fortune City (think Fiddler’s Green crossed with Vegas). And now, with hopefully not too many casino puns, let’s ante up. (Oh who am I kidding, casino puns ahoy.)

High Rollers

53 uses for duct tape: One of my favorite parts in the first game was scavenging for weapons. Sometimes I’d skip the strategy of inventory management and just pick up whatever was at hand, pummel zombies with it til it broke, then grab the next nearest item and repeat. Dead Rising 2 improves on the formula with combo weapons, many of which range from kind of ridiculous (knives taped to boxing gloves) to absolutely ridiculous (a car battery taped to a Blanka mask). It’s a hoot to track down new weapons and combos just to see in what over-the-top way it’ll dismember the undead. Granted the bat-with-nails-in-it and the fire-axes-taped-to-sledgehammers are found right by the safehouse and good enough to get you through pretty much the whole game, but having the option to kill zombies by strapping dynamite to lawn darts is good solid wacky fun. Fie and a pox upon all this realism I say; the real world has enough of that.

Double down: Another big addition in this installment is multiplayer. You can drop into a friend’s game, playing through the host player’s storyline and gaining money and prestige points (though only the host player gains zombrex and story progress). You also show up in whatever wacky outfits you’ve accquired. For myself I go with gray hair, swat armor, and snazzy red sunglasses, on the premise that when I join someone else’s game I’m a time-travelling Chuck Greene from the future come back to avert the zombie uprising. Another positive is that you don’t necessarily have to play the game co-op. It makes the boss fights a good deal easier since they’ll have someone else to chase around, but with good weapons you’ll do alright on your own. I do wish however that you didn’t have to stay in the same zone so that you could split up to take on multiple objectives. I also dock mojo points for lacking LAN play. I can understand not doing split-screen because they need the processing power for the horde, but there’s never a good reason not to have LAN play.

Zombie slaying à la carte: There’s a lot of stuff to do, and thankfully this time around you can generally tell from the mission heading whether it’s a psychopath or a survivor. Almost all of the boss fights are optional, and if you do take the time you often get some nice rewards like new combo cards and/or survivors. Likewise it’s made pretty clear which missions will get you the zombrex you need to advance the plot. In short, you can get through the game while playing mostly what you like and a minimum of what you don’t.

City of sin: Capcom did a great job of making Fortune City a new and distinct setting seperate from the Willamette mall, and they did it with a hearty helping of sleaze. The city tempts you to stop and gamble and gorge at every opportunity, surrounding you at all times with lights and glitz and glamour. Also, as the old saying goes, sometimes the real monster is man. Psychopaths aside, even some of the survivors aren’t exactly nice neighbors. I get the feeling these folks were already trying to screw each other over on a regular basis before the zombies came. The apocalypse just gave them an excuse to be upfront about it. The cutscene cameraman seems to be in on the joke as well, missing no opportunities to pan generously over all the things that give this game an M rating. I wouldn’t say you could get totally hammered by doing a shot every time they switch to cleavage-cam, but you could probably get a good buzz going. Even Chuck himself seems a little bit off. Unlike Frank West, caught up in unexpected terror, Chuck Greene is a zombie-killing pay-per-view superstar who is apparently accustomed enough to the violence to spout amusingly cheezy one-liners after every boss fight.

Let it ride: A lot of what’s good about Dead Rising 2 is what was good about Dead Rising 1. Dozens upon dozens of zombies crowd every area. A ticking in-game timer keeps you on the move as you explore a pretty big game world looking for hidden surprises. Rescuing survivors still feels pretty awesome. The option to restart from the beginning with your leveled-up character is still great for replayability. Some improvements have been made, such as allowing three save slots instead of one. It’s not without flaws, though.

Snake Eyes

Zombie games are for zombie killing: Unfortunately, boss fights in Dead Rising 2 still kinda suck. They’re not the epic black holes of suck of the psychopath battles in the first game, but they still vary from industrial vacuum cleaner to small ocean whirlpool. I can’t think of a single boss fight that was really fun. Generally my thought upon completing one wasn’t ‘that was cool’ but rather ‘well I’m glad I’m done with that jerk so I can go do something fun like kill more zombies’. Shooting controls are still kind of weak, and the controls that work great for hacking your way through a ravenous horde don’t quite work right when you’re only fighting one guy. They’re also a little short on flavor when compared to part 1’s cast. Though there’s a modicum of people who are just using the outbreak as an excuse to be jerks, a majority of them are on the theme of ‘guy who went crazy and is trying to do whatever his job was before the outbreak except in a crazy way that involves killing people’.

(Un)death waits for no man: The pacing could be a bit better. If you want to get everything done (and you do want to do everything, because the ending you get if you didn’t do all the missions sucks) you’ll have to stay on the move for pretty much the whole game, taking care of any shopping and exploring in scant moments rushing to and from objectives. It’s good that you’re never sitting around doing nothing waiting for the next objective to pop up, but I would have liked to have been able to explore a little more. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the stuff hidden in Fortune City, but to find anything more I’d have to give up on the story. This also means there’s no real rising and falling action, just constantly rising. I actually put off playing it for a day at one point because I’d just spent all day at work constantly hustling back and forth to get all my errands done and it didn’t seem very relaxing to do the same in a game (even though it’s more fun when zombie slaying is involved).

Self-saving survivors: Survivor A.I. has had a marked improvement over the first game, perhaps too improved. In part 1 you really had to babysit your survivors to keep them alive, which could often be q bit of a pain but it gave a great sense of superheroic accomplishment when you got a big group back home alive. In part 2 as long as you arm your survivors you can just run for it and there’s a pretty good chance they’ll make it to you safe and sound. Leveling up comes easier but it dulls the sense of accomplishment a tad.

Get on with it (again): It would have been rather nice if there was an option to restart a psychopath battle at the start of the fight instead of going back to your last save so you don’t have to spend time running all the way back there and possibly re-gathering supplies. This is especially true of the last boss, whom you have to fight barehanded with no inventory items. If I’m going to be empty-handed when I get in there anyway, why not just let me restart over there instead of jogging fifty yards with a backpack full of gear I won’t get to use?

Overtime underdone: The story is unfortunately not quite as good as what the first outing offered. You go looking for a guy who sends you looking for a guy who sends you looking for a guy or some such thing, and the primary antagonist doesn’t seem to have much motivation beyond being a total dick. Also, as mentioned above ending A is kind of lame. Even if you go for the S ending (for which you’ll need to complete every single objective), the ending to Overtime mode is only kind of okay. I get the sense the third act was a little rushed. DR1’s Overtime had a whole extra leg of the story to explore and a lot of stuff going on. DR2’s Overtime has you running around to get a gaggle of items for no particular reason beyond that this guy says to go get them, followed by the aforementioned unarmed boss fight (in which the boss naturally is quite well armed). Insult to injury, there’s also no Infinite mode to unlock like in DR1. I will say this for them though; the answer to the mystery that kicks off the game is actually pretty logical. I won’t say what it is or isn’t to avoid spoilers, but when they did the big reveal I gave it some thought and yeah it actually does make some sense for once.

The Final Word

There’s a lot to like about Dead Rising 2. Improvements are to be found in old things and new. They also gain some bonus mojo points for listening to the fans and allowing three save slots instead of one, being willing to sacrifice a little bit of their vision to make it more fun for the fans (the first game’s single save slot was intended to force the player to plan and act more carefully). Likewise I dig that this game is no ‘middle child’; it neither expects part 1 to prop it up, nor expects a forthcoming part 3 to wrap it up. If they keep making them this good and better I’ll buy Dead Rising 3 4 5 and onward. Tangentially, one thing I might like to see in future editions is product placement. Not that I specifically want product placement, but rather that it’d be an excellent way to bring the cost of the game down, what with you always being in a mall-like environment. The only reason I can think of to not get it is if you have a big preference for gunplay in your zombie-slaying and/or if you prefer fast zombies. Me, I’m a fan of shamblers and I love scavenging for random melee weapons. Co-op’s always fun too. As for the various platforms, 360 has a bit of an edge in DLC. Dead Rising 2: Case Zero is already out, and at five bucks is a pretty good litmus test for what you’ll think of the full game, and there’s more DLC to come. You might want to give it a rental first, especially if you won’t be playing the online co-op. I managed to play through to the S ending in less than a week, but there’s also a wealth of hidden whatsits and combo weapons I haven’t yet seen and tried out. I’m probably going to get it eventually for the same reason I keep the first game around; it’s never a bad time to go nuts in a free-roaming environment where anything you can pick up and carry can be used for zombie mayhem.

Dead Rising 2 was played on the Xbox 360, and is also available for the Playstation 3 and PC. Initial retail price was $59.99; average retail price at time of review is between $40 and $50. The ESRB has rated this game M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, and Use of Alcohol. Dead Rising 2 is published by Capcom and developed by Capcom and Blue Castle. All copyrights property of their respective owners.

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