The first Dead Rising came out less than a year after the launch of the Xbox 360 as an exclusive to critical and commercial success. What makes a successful game in 2006 doesn’t necessarily equate to a successful game in late 2010, and Dead Rising 2 doesn’t fix enough of the original’s issues to make for even a good game now.
Dead Rising 2 puts you in the shoes, helmet, and other motocross gear of Chuck Greene, who is pretty much Frank West with a different skin and voice actor. He is a former motocross champion who now competes on a TV show called “Terror is Reality,” an American Gladiators-type reality program focused on competitively annihilating zombies. Just like the original’s Frank West, Chuck’s daughter needs a dose of Zombrex daily so she doesn’t eat his face.
Then – predictably – all hell breaks loose. The zombies break through some nicely built barriers, infest Fortune City, and Chuck is being framed for the outbreak. Like the original, the game then delves right into a steady stream of timed quests. Standing in your way are thousands upon thousands of zombies who want nothing more than to dine on your liver, no fava beans or chianti required.
Dead Rising 2 was regaled by Capcom before release for having thousands of zombies on the screen at once, a big upgrade from the numbers allowed by its predecessor. While this is true and sometimes impressive, the drawbacks are thousands of zombie photocopies as well as frequent and long loading times. It seems there are maybe a dozen different zombies, just replicated over and over again. There are the fat guys, the skinny girls, the fast guys, etc. Later in the game you face some super-zombies to shake it up, but all of them act exactly the same. Then every time you move between zones, as well as on either side of every cutscene, are the lengthy loading screens.
While the game has no problems keeping up with all the zombies on screen, it’s obvious all the effort and horsepower was put into the zombie horde and loads of interactive objects rather than the looks of the game. While some effort was put into the design of the central characters, all the survivors and zombies look like they’re barely above previous gen games and all characters pale in comparison to some of the higher-end current-gen games. Underneath the skin, all the characters are flat stereotypes and the story is thin at best. The only real characters in the game are the psychopaths, with carefully constructed and dynamically different motivations for their derangements.
Sound design is good if repetitive. There seem to be only a limited number of zombie groans the game cycles through, but the voice acting is decent if not notable. The soundtrack does a good job, flipping between elevator music in the malls and driving metal guitars when dealing with psychopaths. The game makes good use of surround sound as well, allowing you to hear zombies all around when you’re surrounded.
In most ways, the gameplay is the same as the original Dead Rising. Dead Rising 2 has a series of cases which drive the timed story, as well as numerous quests that are also timed. These include fetch quests, saving survivors, and battling psychopaths. The game has an experience points system that allows characters to level up and increase their abilities, as well as unlock skills like the dodge roll. The most noticeable innovation from the last game is the introduction of ‘combo cards.’ These allow Chuck to create new, insane weapons by combining two weapons found in Fortune City. Boxing gloves combined with a bowie knife create ‘Knife Gloves’ or Wolverine Hands as I like call them. A machete can be stuck on the end of a broom handle, chainsaws can be duct-taped on the ends of a kayak paddle, and a machine gun can be combined with an oversized robot bear to create a sentry gun.
The other big addition to Dead Rising 2 is the ability to play with your friends or enemies. The game features an online cooperative mode, though the party leader dictates where you both go. You can never turn off friendly fire, and only the host can save. You can revive a fallen comrade with food or drink, however, making some of those psychopath battles significantly easier with a buddy. The competitive online portion is the meta-TV show, “Terror is Reality.” There are three rounds randomly selected from eight different games. One puts giant elk horns on your head so you can bulldoze zombies into a container. Another puts you in the driver’s seat of a Zamboni so you can grind up zombies and deposit their liquid remnants in collection bins. Each competition ends with all the players on chainsaw-enhanced motocross bikes, mowing down zombies in a fishbowl arena. Money earned online can then be imported into the single-player campaign, a big boost for Mr. Green.
While all these additions sound great, what ruins the game is time. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption have done incredibly well due to both intriguing stories and play-as-you-like sandbox systems. The point of Dead Rising 2 should be creating ridiculous weapons and pulverizing zombies by the thousands. The multitudes of timed quests get in the way of that. I spent far more time dodging zombies in my efforts to get to the next quest than actually killing zombies. The small descriptions you get of quests often don’t tell you enough to know if you’re heading into a simple save-the-damsel-in-distress quest or a difficult psychopath battle, so you need to be prepared for each one. Being prepared also takes time and any psychopath will generally deplete your healing items and destroy a good weapon or two.
Mix all this with a game that never autosaves, but instead leads you to believe Chuck has a bad case of the squirts because you are constantly searching for bathrooms to save in, and you have a game that is more frustrating than fun. You will constantly find yourself dying after just finishing a tough battle, or walking into a psychopath you weren’t anticipating armed only with a 2x4 and a lawn dart, forcing you to re-play sections of the game you just finished. The lack of an autosave doesn’t really bother me except in combination with this ridiculous timer system. This system cost me a good ending because I finished one portion of the case which prompted a save, and then had literally no time to finish the last part of the case. This forced me to either revert to a MUCH earlier save, restart the story with all my upgrades, or finish the game with Chuck still framed.
Dead Rising 2 offers lots of replay value if you can stomach the gameplay. Even after beating the game, you can restart the story with your current level and all your unlocks, skills, and combo cards. The trophy and achievement lists create challenges that will require some dedicated replay to accomplish. Co-op allows a different method of play as well as the online competitive, though the selection of only nine games means the competitive mode gets old fast.
Dead Rising could be a great franchise. Sometimes developers focus so much on making a challenging game that they forget their own identity. When you think of Dead Rising, you think of a guy using everything at his disposal to become to zombies what "Little Boy" was to Hiroshima: apocalyptic. Taking away the timers – what seems like a simple change – would take this franchise from frustrating, frantic taskmaster to brilliant sandbox title instantly. Unfortunately Capcom didn’t do this, making Chuck’s adventure a chore to finish rather than a joy.