The Dead Rise (Again) – A Review

There’s a lot to love in Dead Rising 2. That being said, it suffers from a lot of the same…quirks as the first game. In Capcom’s Blue Castle Games have produced the first true sequel to the 2006 zombie-killing romp that took the 360 by storm, ex-motocross father Chuck Greene is stranded in Fortune City (a new gambling haven built on the ruins of Las Vegas) with his infected daughter. The game begins with Chuck participating in the delightfully gory game show, Terror is Reality, where contestants compete to murder zombies in some of the most brutal ways possible. Shortly after Chuck completes the show. the captive zombies are set loose upon the city, and Chuck flees with his daughter, Katey, to a nearby safehouse. However, Chuck’s daughter is infected with the zombie virus, and needs the miracle drug Zombrex to keep from turning into a walking undead herself. So, Chuck finds himself scouring the mall for Zombrex until the military arrive in, you guessed it, 72 hours. Along the way, Chuck discovers that he’s being framed for the zombie outbreak, and sets out to clear his good name. Of course, there are other survivors holed up around Fortune City, and Chuck takes it upon himself to help them get back to the safehouse. But, naturally there are those who either want to kill Chuck for unleashing the shambling hordes upon the city, or are just plain crazy. These are the psychopaths, and they’re back with a vengeance.

The gameplay is very similar to the first game. You travel around the city (essentially a big circle with a strip of outdoor area in the center), picking up anything and everything lying around to cut a swath through the droves of zombies, and get where you’re going. The time mechanic is back, and still just as unforgiving. There are times when you’re rushing around, gathering survivors and hoping you’ll have time to get to the next mission. The psychopaths are just as difficult if you’re unprepared to do battle, and almost as tough if you are. While most bosses have a strategy to beating them, it may take a couple of tries to discover what works for you. This is where the game’s save system comes in. It’s still fairly brutal, but much less so than the first game. You now have multiple save slots, so you can revert to an older save if you decide that you don’t like how things panned out in your current file. There are also auto-saves after many main missions, which is a welcome relief. There also seem to be more save areas (read: restrooms) around Fortune City, but you’ll still find yourself retracing old ground if you die at an inopportune time.

Gone is the picture-taking that wartime photojournalist Frank West loved so dearly. Chuck is no photographer, he’s a handyman! As a result, the main distinguishing mechanic of this game over its predecessor is the idea of combo weapons. All over fortune city (much more frequent than restrooms), are maintenance rooms. Here, you can combine certain items (indicated by a wrench by the item’s name) to create the premium zombie-murder devices. Got some boxing gloves and a bowie knife? Throw ’em together, and go all Freddy Kruger on those zombies. Got a car battery and an electric guitar? Blow some minds (literally) with your own brand of rock. What’s that? You have a servbot mask and a lawnmower? Make the deadliest beanie cap of all time! There are a total of 50 combinations to be found in the game world. They range from the obvious (nails and a baseball bat) to the delightfully insane (Vacuum cleaner and saw blades). You can make these weapon combos whenever you have the parts, but they become far superior when you have that particular item’s combo card. Not only do you gain more experience when you use a combo card weapon, but on many weapons you also gain a devastating heavy attack that often brutalizes the zombies in a separate animation. These cards can be acquired by levelling up, killing psychopaths, saving survivors, or just by examining certain posters throughout Fortune City.

Muzac makes a return for the mall areas, and Blue Castle draws heavily on the Celldweller discography for a lot of the psychopath music. There’s also a lot of great sound effects in the game. Weapons sound appropriately gruesome when they strike the zombies, and little touches like paint sloshing around in the can when you run with it are much appreciated. The characters are well-voiced, even if some Canadian pronunciations bleed through now and again (Blue Castle being a Canadian developer n’ all). A lot of the messages and survivors are still communicated via text on the screen, but the text is a lot easier to read this time around, and that choice is largely based on the timing of the game. If every survivor communicated their plights through speech, it would take much longer than you’d like. While we’re on the topic of survivors, know that the AI is vastly improved over the first game. Now, survivors can easily push through the zombie masses and follow you to where you’re going, instead of getting stuck on every other zombie along the way. This was really my main gripe with the first game, and now that it’s gone I couldn’t be happier.

Two multiplayer modes have also been added to Dead Rising this time around. Dead Rising 2’s co-op allows a second player to jump into your game. The “guest” player retains no story progress or items, but he does keep any money and experience earned. To me, this is almost a better way of playing Dead Rising. You don’t have to worry about who you’re going to save or where you’re going to go, you’re just tagging along with the guy making all the decisions, killing zombies as you please. It also goes without saying that defeating psychopaths is much easier with two players than with one. The co-op is unexplained, just throwing another Chuck Greene into the mix. Plenty of fun can be had with the costumes (yes, the ridiculous outfits in the shops have made a comeback), and racing to activate cutscenes before your friend, so it’s your Chuck wearing a Blanka mask administering Zombrex to Katey, instead of your friend’s coonskin cap-sporting, long john-wearing Chuck that completes the next cinematic event.

The other multiplayer mode that’s been added is Terror is Reality. As I mentioned before, TIR is a zombie-killing game show. This mode is essentially a mini-game collection. There are eight possible events that will be featured in the first three rounds, ranging from grinding zombies with zambonis and firing their blood into score zones to competing to see who can put the flip the most zombies onto a scale using only the bull horn helmets strapped to their heads. After these first three events, a game of Slicecycles starts, where players ride around an arena on a motorcycle with chainsaws strapped to the handlebars, killing as many zombies as possible in the alotted times. The player with the highest score at the end of the first three rounds gets a head start, and everyone follows out in order of score, with different time delays based on how well you did. At the end of the final round, scores are tallied, and a winner is determined. Each player gets money based on their score, which can then be carried over to a single player save of their choosing. It’s an interesting mode, but it’s plagued with connection issues at the moment. Hopefully that will be patched in the near future. It’s also worth noting that I’ve had some issues with the co-op as well, dropping whenever the host saves his game. I’ve heard this is only an issue if you have multiple save devices in your 360 (i.e. memory card and hard drive), so this may not even be an issue on the PS3 or PC versions. It’s also worth noting that the PC version is only $40 on Steam, so if you’re not jonesing for some co-op with friends on the 360 or PS3, then that may be the best route to take.

All in all, there’s a lot to love in Dead Rising 2. Killing zombies is just as fun as it was 4 years ago, and rescuing survivors is no longer the chore that it used to be. However, the brutal difficulty of some psychopaths, the stringent save system, and the unforgiving time mechanic may be more than enough to put some people off. I’d recommend doing your best to find a way to try Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, especially if you already have a 360. You can get to level 5 in this arcade prequel, and you can transfer the over to Dead Rising 2 proper, if you choose to check out the full game. It’s a nice little $5 experience that will tell you if you want to see more of that gameplay or not. But to me, Dead Rising 2 is a fantastic game. You get genuine satisfaction in senselessly murdering these zombies in creative ways, and playing with friends will take quite a while to get old, at least for me.