Very few “sandbox” games in this generation give you the option to wear dresses and dye your hair while mixing pie and whiskey into a drink. In fact, only one game in memory allows this, and that is Dead Rising. While Capcom’s zombie-slaughtering game’s claim to fame is both the number of walking dead on the screen and the impossible save system, I liked the game because of the freedom it afforded you. Sure, you could screw yourself pretty bad in the main campaign with the save system, but if you wanted to spend your time in the mall rescuing survivors or killing zombies or even just trying on clothes, then you could do that.
Dead Rising offered a lot of re-playability, but it was still fairly broken. Besides the save system, gamers also had to contend with the sluggish controls, terribly friendly AI and the damn guy from the safe room whose phone calls would somehow paralyze you on the spot in a mall full of zombies. As much as I loved the game, there were some problems with it. Now that we have a sequel, have these issues been addressed? With a new developer, Canada’s Blue Castle Games, jumping on board, is it even going to feel like a Dead Rising game?
Turns out that Blue Castle Games has a perfect grasp on what made Dead Rising special because this game feels like Dead Rising 1.5 in the best way possible. It takes all the grievances that people had with the first game and tunes them up just enough that small things like saving at any time (provided you can find a washroom) and being able to move while talking on the phone will be welcomed with open arms by fans of the first. If you’ve been on the fence about Dead Rising, the second game is a great place to start, even if it does have some mechanics that intentionally feel very last-gen.
When I say last gen, I’m referring specifically to the game’s controls. While a game like Resident Evil 5 forces constraints on you to heighten the tension, Dead Rising’s controls are meant to hold you back in a way. At early levels Chuck Greene, the game’s protagonist, moves very, very slowly, and even doing simple things like opening doors or jumping over low walls can necessitate more than one attempt. Once you’ve committed Chuck to an action, the game will see it through to completion; there’s no stopping an attack mid-way in order to avoid a zombie approaching from behind. This gets really irritating later in the game where a new zombie type appears than can paralyze you momentarily by vomiting blood on you. Even if you’re doing an evasive roll, coming into contact with the bile will cause you to freeze for a moment after you’ve finished the animation.
The other problem with these little sticking points is that Chuck, especially low-level Chuck, is severely handicapped when fighting Psychopaths, human survivors who have either gone insane or are using the zombie outbreak to fulfill their own twisted desires. All of the human bosses are faster, stronger, and can take hits better than you. While a hard fought victory is rewarding in its own way, be prepared for several frustrating fights while you level up.
If you skipped out on the last Dead Rising, you may be wondering why I’ve mentioned levels if this game is a sandbox zombie title. Well, the reason for this is that Dead Rising also contains some RPG elements to go along with the open-world gameplay. As you kill zombies, complete missions and rescue survivors, you can gain Prestige Points, or PP. This is essentially Dead Rising’s version of experience points, and you have 50 levels to climb in this game. You’re going to be hard pressed to hit level 30 in one sitting, but there are definitely benefits to starting a new game carrying over a more powerful Chuck. Gaining levels increases all your stats and also gives you a bigger inventory space, something that you will come to appreciate greatly when you’re trying to stock yourself up with weapons and enough food items to keep you healthy.
Another way to build up your PP is to use the new weapon combination system to construct makeshift weaponry out of various objects. Some are obvious, like nails in a baseball bat, but you can get very creative. Some of my favorite ones include the Laser Sword, gems and a flashlight taped together to make a lightsaber, and the Paddle Saw, two chainsaws on either end of a canoe paddle. Other novelties include a wheelchair mounted with machine guns and boxing gloves taped with knives, Wolverine-style. While not all of the combo weapons are super useful, using them will net you double the PP that a plain weapon will, so it’s worth leveling up and looking around the environment to find the Combo Cards, the recipes from which these tools are built.
Just like the first game, Dead Rising 2 centers around one man in the zombie apocalypse, this time a former motocross champion named Chuck Greene. If you played Case: 0, the XBox LIVE Arcade exclusive preview, then you’ll know that Chuck’s daughter Katey was bitten during an outbreak in Las Vegas and needs daily doses of the anti-zombification drug Zombrex to stay healthy. Chuck travels to Fortune City to compete in Terror is Reality, a zombie-slaying gameshow, to accrue enough money to purchase the expensive medication. Naturally, things quickly go to hell and Chuck is framed for the outbreak. Since the game takes place a few years after Dead Rising, the military has a standard operating procedure for zombie attacks, which is wait three days then roll in with a rescue column. As such, you’ve got a short amount of time to clear your name before the Army shows up. Adding to this is fact that Chuck’s daughter needs daily shots, and you’ve got to keep that in mind while searching Fortune City for clues. Juggling all the Cases, as the main missions are called, side-quests and Zombrex shots can be quite the challenge in three days, and the game is designed so that you can’t do all of it in one playthrough.
Thankfully, it’s not as hard to get a perfect run-through of at least the Cases in this game, which is doubly beneficial since all of the cut scenes are pretty terrible. The first Dead Rising was passable, but this one just takes it way too far into the campy territory. The Psychopaths from the first game were very disturbing in that they weren’t too far over the top to be unrealistic, but this time around all of the human enemies are just giant caricatures, topped off with uncomfortable writing and voice acting. All the videos can be skipped, but this is definitely one place where Dead Rising 2 falls flat.
One aspect where this sequel stands head and shoulders above the original is online co-op, where two Chucks can run around Fortune City during the campaign. Having a buddy at your side makes things significantly easier for your first playthrough, but only the host will actually be recording story progress. While you friend can earn PP and money and carry that over to their game, they won’t get any story or mission related achievements or trophies. I think this can be forgiven because of how awesome it is to be slaughtering zombies with a friend, something I constantly wished the first game had. Joining random public games is an option, too, but you’re better off playing with someone you know.
There is also online competitive model based off the games in Terror is Reality, American Gladiator-type competitions where the cash you earn will be carried back to your single player game. I tried to find a game, but after a few minutes of waiting in the lobby, no one joined me, so I promptly gave up on this mode.
While Dead Rising 2 is mostly a solid game, there was one particular game-ending bug I feel like I should mention. During the very final boss fight, I was struck down and my friend was left to fight the end boss on his own. Now, in co-op mode, when one player goes down, a health bar starts depleting. If the player gets a healing item in the time, they’re back on their feet and everything is fine. The only thing is, the game didn’t register the fact that I was knocked down, so my friend wasn’t able to revive me. When the boss killed him, this set both of us back at least an hour.
If you’ve yet to check out Dead Rising for whatever reason, I encourage you to try out the sequel. It’s a very unique kind of game, and nothing quite like it has ever been done. While Dead Rising 2 does do a fair bit to modernize the gameplay and adds the essential co-op mode, there was a sort of magic about the first game that it couldn’t quite capture. While newcomers may not feel this way, Dead Rising 2 was sort of a flat experience for me only because it couldn’t replicate the feeling of the first. Despite a few misgivings, there is enough content here for several playthroughs, so at the very least you’re getting some serious bang for your buck. Find a dedicated co-op buddy, or some spare time to play by yourself, and you’re all set.
Alright, that’s my Dead Rising 2 review! While it didn’t come close to matching the original for me, I want to know how you guys feel. Has anyone tried this, and what’s your opinion? If you’ve played the first, how do you feel this stacks up?
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