Review by xenodolf
"The Dead Factory."
I'm glad that Capcom and its affiliated companies are finally catching onto the fact that zombies have a dedicated fanbase in the gaming community and easily attract newcomers with the allure of splattering lumbering, undead flesh. In the years since Resident Evil (aside from two Wii-only spin-offs and a lukewarm CGI movie) abandoned Zeds, the industry has more than made up for the loss of the aforementioned zombie-centric pillar. There have been over two dozen virtual outbreaks in all sorts of gaming genres on the Xbox 360 and the other modern consoles. FPS (Call of Duty's Nazi Zombies, Shellshock 2, Left 4 Dead), TPS (Dead Nation, Zombie Apocalypse), Strategy (Plants vs. Zombies), Car-Combat (Blood Drive), Beat 'em up (Onechanbara), Rail-Shooter (House of the Dead: Overkill), and more Indie Games than I have room to write about. After testing the waters with Case Zero (which seems to have sold quite well), and respectable sales with their entree Dead Rising 2 - Capcom (with the help of Blue Castle) seems committed to restoring their rein on a solid zombie-related franchise. How many other games on XBL have two separate Arcade spin-offs? Well, I'm going off on a tangent here, so let me return to the matter at hand - Dead Rising: Case West. This stand-alone Arcade title serves as a both an epilogue to the events of Dead Rising 2 and perhaps as another gate-way for gamers not yet invested into the series to have a taste of what the past three games are all about.
Following the conclusion of Dead Rising 2 (which you should play before this, as the game's opening cut-scene reveals the fate of a major character), Chuck Greene seems back at square one. He lacks the evidence he needed for clearing his name of accusations of initiating the zombie outbreak, and his daughter is still on a do-or-die regiment of Zombrex for her condition. Luckily for him, Chuck runs into one of the only people on the planet with experience of such undead drama - Dead Rising 1 protagonist Frank West. The two don't exactly hit it off, as neither fully trusts the other - and that friction serves as the high-light of the game's plot. While I won't spoil the details - the game does end on a bit of a cliff-hanger and the antagonist this time around seems shuttled in at the last second (although you have a couple of clues as to their identity and motive along the way). The best part of Case Zero's storyline was the relationship between the desperate but dedicated Chuck and his naive and loving daughter Katey. She isn't featured in this installment at all - which makes for less babysitting and Zombrex hunting, but erases most of what separated Chuck from Frank aside from the latter's smart-aleck attitude. The game is less down-beat and bleak than both Case Zero and Dead Rising 2, settling on more of a revenge and exposure type of conquest that simply staying alive. While it manages to pop in a few doses of decent humor, I would have preferred the route of despair - as all the best zombie movies reach the credit screen with any kind of victory that manages to occur being bittersweet in the best scenario. I should also mention that the survivors here are the least interesting of the entire franchise, further compounded by that you don't really see much of their personality other than their brief dialogue with Chuck and Frank and them calling out for help when surrounding my zombies.
The visuals are the same quality as they were in Case Zero and Dead Rising 2, although I decided to rate it lower here than in the aforementioned titles. The reason being is that the Phenotrans facility doesn't have the atmosphere of the backwater town or the casino-city from the previous games - with little sign of chaos and much of it looking the same. It is a larger environment than what you dealt with during Case Zero, but the majority of the place seems to be composed of metal laboratory set-pieces, branching catwalks, generic warehouse settings - all of which can be a bit disorienting for a hour or two until you gradually memorize the game's layout. On the plus side, Case West features a larger variety of enemies than Case Zero - even including new human opponents not found in Dead Rising 2. I do wish you could damage the human foes in the same manner as zombies, but no matter if you toss a grenade-football at them or slice them with a sickle, they only slump onto the ground when defeated. Chuck looks just like he did in the past two games, but Frank has had a bit of a make-over and he now kind of resembles that aging uncle everyone has who is desperate to cling onto his youth. There are about a half-dozen or so new costumes to piece together (I'm fond of the security outfit myself), and at least ten new interactive objects to test out on zombified subjects for their effect. The bottom line is that even with a hike in the price, you're still getting an attractive XBLA game.
Music-wise, there isn't a whole lot that stands out from the soundtrack (except for an amusing techno song played during the game's solitary boss fight). The sounds effects are roughly the same as in Case Zero and Dead Rising 2, only now with heavier doses of gunfire. Chuck's voice is as it was in the previous two games, although Frank sounds a little more weathered (perhaps from aging or having gone through such ordeals in the past number of years).
The game stuttered a few times during a few extremely busy moments, but not enough that it threw me off my momentum. I also noticed that some bullets didn't register on enemies if they were in a certain frame of animation, which can be slightly annoying if you're trying to conserve ammo or deal with an immediate threat.
Case West offers a similar bite-sized zombie warfare experience that you previous came across in Case Zero, although there are a number of changes to the formula. For starters, Chuck now has Frank as a partner - which means either a competent A.I. bodyguard (who gets knocked around but doesn't seem to ever die) or an online buddy that employs the same co-op principals as featured in Dead Rising 2. You start out at level 40 instead of 1 (as you did in Case Zero), with the ability to level up to 50 - and it makes a pretty big different in game-play. Zombies aren't that big of a risk anymore (I only took the occasional swipe or bear-hug from them when I got sloppy running through a cluster), and having a beefed up character to fight through the mobs means that you'll rarely find yourself at the mercy of the undead. Instead, the primary threat this time around are the multiple variants of human security forces. There are three different types: gun-toting commandos who will waste no time firing at you from a distance or surrounding you if you try to rush their position, zombie herders who like to use their electric prod to put a buzzing hurt on our heroes, and the most dangerous of them all - heavily-armored shock troopers who have powerful shockwave-producing melee attacks and will require your absolute attention even if you never fight more than two at once. While you've battles humans before in the previous Dead Risings, its a bit different this time around because the zombies are always around and will attack both you and the security forces - which is both an interesting and entertaining experience. The priority of the guards means that the combat is switched up too - I found myself using firearms more often than melee weapons for the first time in the entire series. While there are plenty of cool new short-ranged weapons, there is enough ammo lying around from defeated commandos or weapon lockers that you could only reserve one or two inventory slots for an electro-prod or shovel and still clear most of the game. Although I do enjoy the beat 'em up experience the previous Dead Rising games emphasized over using guns - it is nice to finally be able to carry around long-ranged weapons with a real sense of purpose. Also new to the equation is how you interact with survivors - who are trapped in the facility and often reward you with big chunks of PP or keycards or weapon schematics to make your life easier. Every Dead Rising until now has made you escort the survivors back to the safe-room, and depending on who the survivor was - assist you in battling the undead or be a whiny, crying burden. I wasn't the biggest fan of how Capcom programmed the survivors in Dead Rising 1 - but Blue Castle did a great job making even the most pathetic person you come across able enough to venture alongside you without my television set getting hit by a controller. In an effort to makes things easier or possibly less cluttered now that there are so many human enemies - the survivors will simply escape the facility once you have saved them or given them any items they were hanging around for. I'm not too sure if I like this new method, as the game feels less organic and more arcadey having the people you rescue build no kind of rapport or dependency on Chuck and Frank. On the plus side, Case West does offer more trimmings than Case Zero - as you can drive a few vehicles, mix drinks, and explore an environment that can't be run-through in a few minutes like the town in Case Zero. As it stands, this new Dead Rising episode offers a kind of encore performance that fans will be yearning for but I would like to see the next installment blend in the successful features of Case Zero with the co-op and expanded variables of Case West.
The addition of co-op to the formula means that you and your A.I or human buddy can fool around longer than allowed in the previous XBLA Dead Rising outing. Whether that means playing dress-up, tormenting zombies with novelty items, or enjoying the freshest batch of combo weapons - there's enough here to keep you entertained for a few days. The downside is that with the survivors no longer needing escorts - you won't see what kind of trouble you can get into dragging half-a-dozen hooligans around with katanas and shotguns into zombie clusters. Some of the achievements fall into the dreaded "collect-a-thon" category, meaning you may end up playing Case West longer than you want to get the coveted 200/200 Gamerscore. The lack of a store to buy items and weapons might make things more realistic in terms of a zombie outbreak - but that often means having to remember which room features what object you're looking for - and sometimes I had to spend 5 or so minutes searching before happening upon what I need. Lastly, while this game is at least 30% larger than Case Zero - the setting is less interesting (as I mentioned before), and transversing all the sterile corridors wasn't as fun as running around a town in a state of disaster.
While it would be simple enough to copy-and-paste the design of Case Zero into a second package for XBLA, Capcom and Blue Castle have crafted a product that is different from their previous Arcade outing but not so much that it breaks the successful core design. The addition of co-op makes for a longer and more interactive experience, although the loss of survivor escorting may be a turn-off to veterans of the series (especially since it was no longer the burdening task that it had been in the original Dead Rising). Comparing the larger variety of game-play elements versus the aesthetics of the first installment, I would say that Case West is a great investment of your time and money even if I like Case Zero slightly more because of the atmosphere and running around with a bunch of self-sufficient townspeople. It's the best $10 I've spent in over a week on Xbox Live (and its been an expensive holiday for me due to all the discounted DLC), and I look forward to the next case file with an whet appetite for zombie destruction.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/11, Updated 01/04/11
Game Release: Dead Rising 2: Case West (US, 12/27/10)
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