Played over the course of a reclusive, hermetic weekend, Dead Rising 2 was a frantic, stressful and joyous experience for me. Isolating myself and creating a fortress free of distractions was a good mirror for the events of the game where you spend most of your time moving between the safe and claustrophobic backroom corridors and the terrifying, zombie-filled shopping mall.
If any of this sounds familiar then it should. The arena may be a loose facsimile of Las Vegas but it still feels and looks far more like a shopping mall. The gameplay meanwhile; escorting survivors back and forward to a safe area where you take a breath before embarking out into the wilderness again, is beat for beat identical to the original Dead Rising. Right down to the boss-type psychos, double crosses, helicopter rescue and overtime mode, this is a game modelled on an original that the developer obviously considers an unmitigated success.
The problem is that many did not enjoy the original Dead Rising. Released at the start of the 360’s lifespan, people loved the humour and were amazed by the next gen ability to put such a huge number of zombies on screen at once. The game captured the mood of George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead so much that it required a legal disclaimer at the start distancing it from the movies. The heady thrill of consumerism gone wrong was key to the game, stealing, eating and slaying zombies with whatever weapons were available to swipe tapped into primal urges. Combined with the gore filled kills of weapons like chainsaws and upturned lawnmowers, the game was as popular for its ridiculous dress up options and ludicrous weapon choices. While movies like Shawn of the Dead had LP’s being thrown as weapons, Dead Rising had you squirting cooking oil to make zombies fall comically or giving them traffic cones for hats. The demo for Dead Rising was so popular that it was key in cementing demos as a feature of Xbox live and a way for developers to market their titles.
Four years later Capcom are again leading the way by releasing the demo/DLC title Dead Rising: Case Zero. Once again something on Xbox live is making people try a Dead Rising game. There’s a problem though. This is not a game for everyone.
The criticisms of the original game remain for Dead Rising 2, although some in reduced forms. The game has brutal difficulty spikes, particularly in the battles with the psychos. The system to restart with existing health and levels is either a crutch to prop up the broken difficulty level or a clever way of keeping you playing depending on your amount of good will you are prepared to show the game. The developers are unabashed in letting you know that you cannot do everything in one play through. Save people, defeat psychos, finish the main game, build weapons and dress up; you will have to pick three of the four at most each time through. On top of all this, the customisability and variety of weapons means that few of them are balanced and it’s never clear how useful your drill/bucket or nail/bat will be. These customisable weapons are a key component of the gameplay that you will have little time for if you are attempting to complete most of the missions, in my fist play through I had little time for many such entertaining tasks like dressing up or customising my bike.
All of these side tasks make the game a rich playground, and the few moments of downtime are a huge reward as the ticking clock is your biggest enemy. Playing mini golf or finding the keys to the car are all activities I had no time for, but still look forward to in future playthroughs.
While your character increases in health and ability, it’s your own knowledge of the map and where to find weapons and food that make the game easier. Knowledge of the shortcut between Brand New U clothes and The Royal Flush Mall toilets and learning how to make a pair of wolverine-like claws were key moments in my development as a confident zombie slayer. Once these clicked into place for me I found that I was making steady progress for much of the first half of the game with the occasional tough boss as the only exception. It’s only during the final third that the difficulty ramps up unacceptably and little issues become major problems. Trying to pick up orange juice for health but instead picking up the table it’s lying on is one of the most frustrating parts of any game I’ve ever played, especially when it happens in a boss fight.
Once you finish the campaign there’s a lot of replay value, and the campaign itself is long. Just killing zombies or colleting weapon combo cards is enough fun to kill hours, levelling and unlocking new abilities is great and he base gameplay is so ludicrously satisfying that the whole package offers tremendous value. There’s even rudimentary co-op, which while basic is a lot of fun. The multiplayer mode meanwhile is a bizarre cross between Mario Party and The Running Man. The presentation is great and while it’s probably only worth a few goes, it rounds the package out nicely.
It’s a shame that all these extra reasons to keep playing Dead Rising 2 don’t include the achievements, which are terrible. Most are of the, “collect every …” variety. Sitting with a checklist of every piece of clothing or food item and checking them off is negative-fun.
Dead Rising 2 is a heady thrill for fans of zombies, grindhouse movies and ridiculous comic values. It bravely chooses to ignore modern gameplay conventions; autosaves and recharging health are not to be found here. It’s taken for granted that you can stomach the gore, violence and leering sexuality. If you can also stomach the uncompromising adherence to the originals faults then this could be your favourite zombie experience of the year, in any media.
9 zombrex’s out of 10