Dead Rising was one of the first titles to mark the arrival of the Xbox 360 back in 2006. The sheer number of zombies on-screen was beyond the realm of possibility and it was unlike anything we’d ever played before. The idea of being trapped in a shopping mall amidst an outbreak of zombies and using anything and everything around you to fight them off was a dream come true for many; although it was not without fault. The sequel looks to expand on that with combo weapons and an entirely new story, but at its core, it’s very much the same game where it counts.
Three years after the events of Case Zero, the prologue DLC, Dead Rising 2 continues the story of former motocross champion Chuck Greene as he battles not only for his survival but for the wellbeing of his daughter, Katey. Chuck lost his wife in a zombie outbreak several years ago, where his daughter was also infected. Fortunately, the Zombrex drug has a new and improved formula and keeps the virus at bay as long a Katey receives a shot between 7-8am everyday. If that wasn’t enough, Chuck is framed for causing an outbreak in Fortune City, forcing it into lock-down for three days until the military arrives. Working with the leader of CURE, a zombie rights organisation, Chuck has to protect his daughter, rescue survivors and clear his name before it’s too late.
First impressions suggest Dead Rising 2 is a lot like Frank West’s original adventure, and they’d be right. Using a safe house as base, Chuck enters and exists through an air vent that takes him into a mall. The map is much bigger this time, but the core setting of a mall is essential to the gameplay. Where else can you find a chainsaw, baseball bat and guitar in close proximity to each other? In the three days he has, Chuck has to complete a series of quests, some of which are optional and will expire if he’s too slow.
The biggest addition is the ability to combine weapons with Chuck’s trusty duct tape. Ranging from something simple like a baseball bat with a box of nails to the paddlesaw – double chainsaws with a paddle – the array of possibilities is impressive. Combined weapons not only last longer, they earn more points for every zombie you decapitate or impale. As he earns more experience, Chuck unlocks new combo cards which allow him to create even more ingenious weapons.
Leveling up is a key component to the success of Dead Rising. It’s achieved by killing zombies with ambitious makeshift weapons and rescuing survivors by escorting them back to the safe house. As well as more combos, increasing his level teaches Chuck new skills, including the all important dodge move, increases his stats and gives him precious inventory spaces. They’re all fairly basic RPG elements, but they go a long way to the success of the overall experience. A major complaint from the original game was that survivors were too much of a hassle as they needed babysitting every step of the way. That’s been rectified here, as zombies will focus on Chuck, and besides the old or drunk broads that need carrying, will make it back to the safe house under their own steam. Some of them are even quite useful in a fight and well worth taking to a boss battle.
Boss fights are presented through running into one of many psychopaths. They’re exactly what they sound like, and are generally human under an insane exterior as a result of the outbreak. Unfortunately, they’re rubbish and some of the worst boss battles we’ve been dealt this generation. Caught off guard, most of them can easily dispose of Chuck in rather awkward battles filed with uninspired cheap attacks that’ll have you cursing profanities into a controller.
The path the narrative takes is where Dead Rising 2 really becomes its own game. The player is encouraged to make their own choices which ultimately lead to one of many different endings. It’s hard to get your hands on the in-demand Zombrex, but besides the quest being activated, there’s no safety net if you forget to give it to Katey. If you choose to ignore her in favour of a psychopath battle or to rescue more survivors, the resulting ending mightn’t be all that joyful. If you let the hapless little girl die, a distort Chuck will never get to the bottom of the outbreak or who is setting him up.
For all of its charm and the excitement of bashing zombies with impromptu weaponry, Dead Rising 2 suffers from a few key flaws. Talking to oblivious survivors whilst trying to convince them to go with you to safety is down right annoying, as is trying to pick up the right weapon or being eaten alive in the wasted seconds after trying on comedic clothing. Worse than all of that are the loading times which border on catastrophic. I thought they were bad in Case Zero, but if anything, they’ve been made worse. Granted, the sheer number of zombies on-screen is impressive and make the load times somewhat understandable, but they ruin the rhythm of play and interrupt what is otherwise an adrenaline fueled bloodbath.
The save system has been significantly improved, but will still be at the center of frustration for many players. There are now three save slots, instead of the pathetic one, and you’re promoted to save after key moments. At all other times you have to find a restroom to save. They’re certainly easier to find and more common this time around, but it’s still very easy to play for 40 minutes, passing 6 hours of in-game time, and then die only to lose it all.
The addition of multiplayer is easy to overlook in the overall scheme of things and in the end, not all that important. Competitive matches pit you against three mates in a series of mini-games, while co-op drops you, as an identical Chuck, into the host’s single player game. It’s good fun for a secondary play through, but ruins the story and the flow of the gameplay if you’re seriously investing yourself for the first time. Multiplayer modes have come to be expected as standard these days, and while they’re fun enough, you’re almost better off ignoring them in Dead Rising 2 in favour of a more compete experience, at least until the second run.
Dead Rising 2 has had a significant visual upgrade compared to the original game, but it’s still lacking in overall polish. Most of the zombies look good and Chuck’s hilarious outfits are great for a laugh, but everything else comes off a little rushed. Some character movement is very stiff and hardly what we’d expect from a 2010 HD game. The framerate suffers too often, which we’d be more lenient towards if we didn’t have a 30 second wait every time there’s a cut-scene or change of area.
Dead Rising 2 isn’t without its problems. It needed another layer of polish, character movement is stiff and the bosses are a disgrace. However, it’s still awesome fun and something nearly everyone will enjoy. Most of the issues become negligible if you limit your play times by keeping them to fun-sized sessions. It’s an improvement on the first game and the new weapon combo system is like a kid in a candy store for any anti-zombie gamer. In a genre that’s all about guns and limited resources, injecting humour and outrageous weapons is a stroke of genius and why everyone needs to experience Dead Rising 2.