Review by xenodolf
"Welcome to Fortune City - where the floors are overflowing with slot-machine tokens and putrified zombie intestines."
I have a complicated relationship with the original Dead Rising. I love zombie games, and when they are so few and far between I have a tendency to sometimes over-praise them to compensate for the coming void of similar games months or even years later. The first Dead Rising may be the final zombie game made internally by Capcom, who propelled the creatures from a minor notch in gaming to the backbone of the survival-horror genre during the golden years of Resident Evil. After RE4 came out and shifted the game-play toward action and the monsters into mind-controlled humanoids and piles of indiscernible tentacles - I had to seek elsewhere for my undead fix.. usually in smaller games (Zombie Apocalypse), low-budget titles (Zombie vs Ambulance, Shellshock 2) or as an alternate mode in an otherwise zombie-free game (COD: World at War's Nazi Zombies). Since the first Dead Rising was an early 360 title, I was zoned into the impressive amount of enemies on-screen, the large environment loaded with weapons, and the task of rescuing lesser-able survivors from their doom. Despite all its perks, Dead Rising 1 suffered from weak artificial intelligence, often cumbersome controls, a single save slot, and some seriously annoying achievements. I admit my opinion of the game may have been influenced by my desperate need for another solid zombie title, and I think I went a bit too easy on the flaws of the first game in my review here on GameFAQs. Now with two Left 4 Dead games, another zombie concept in the upcoming Call of Duty, and a bunch of miscellaneous zed-themed projects in the works, I believe I can take off my blinders and judge more impartially. Like many company's these days, Capcom is outsourcing their franchises to other development teams, and Dead Rising 2 was given over to a rather unheard-of group called Blue Castle. This was a risky move - considering the criticism of Resident Evil 4 & 5 by survival-horror purists (soiling their reputation of being able to maintain their reign of the genre), and the fact that Dead Rising was a young franchise and may not have been able to deal with the shock of changing hands with almost nothing anchoring it in a historic sense. Thankfully, Blue Castle managed not only to meet the standards set by the previous game, but beat Capcom at their own talent of crafting zombie-themed survival-horror brawling. Onto the review..
As in Case Zero, Dead Rising 2 shifts away from the more humorous viewing of zombie outbreak experienced by earlier protagonist Frank West and instead focuses on a largely bitter daily challenge endured by the new character, Chuck Greene, and his struggle to provide medication to his infected daughter every 24 hours. Chuck is run ragged even before the start of the game - he's being forced to compete in a dangerous game show to earn the money he needs to purchase Zombrex, and has to deal with the unsavory people involved with such a business as well as his daughter's growing fatigue of constant injections. After an unknown person releases the massive zombie horde kept on hand for the show into the city's unexpected populated center - Chuck is accused of being behind it all and must deal with a regular stream of lunatics and uninformed persons who blame him for the outbreak while recovering enough evidence to prove his innocence. Whereas Frank West was either too busy "covering" the first game's outbreak to become overly emotionally involved in the events around him, Chuck is clearly drain with each passing day and has an aura of grim bitterness about him for most of the game. This more serious prism of attachment gives the game a better refined sense of "realism", a welcome departure from the zombie genre's constant bad habit of being too cartoonish to properly immerse into. The supporting characters (survivors and psycopaths) feel much more fleshed out and I could relate to their perspective better, and it is worth mentioning that some of the psychopath battles have quite the creepy vibe (I hardly ever find myself unnerved in horror games these days) and the final boss of the normal campaign has a fantastic final scene. However, there are a couple of sour points in the game's cinematic and narrative presentation. In an awkward attempt to nod to the previous game's sense of humor - Blue Castle works in a couple of hammy one-liners that induced more groans out of me than chuckles. There's also a scene in the middle of the game where two armed assailants allow Chuck to climb up to them - totally exposed and an easy target they have no reason to show mercy to, and when he gets to them he rings off some cheesy dialogue while they retreat despite having assault rifles fixed onto him the entire time. Despite these flubs, the game has better atmosphere than the first installment and is fitting of the dystopian setting of the classic Romero films and features greedy corporate antagonists done right for the first time in any zombie game since Resident Evil Outbreak.
Featuring larger environments filled with even more zeds and interactive items than the first Dead Rising, DR2 impresses me feature with sharp character models in addition to the fore-mentioned traits as well as the ability to have the game render all this for up to two people's perspective at once. Your clothes (over a two dozen outfits ranging from tuxedos and jumpsuits to knight's armor and SWAT gear) will become soaked in blood as you battle, and zombies are pleasantly ground, hacked, and blown into nice-looking chunks of meat as you attack them with over a hundred different weapons. Zombies also seem to rely less on active and inactive types of crowds, resulting in more aggressive and natural-feeling flesh-hungering crowds that get very hectic toward the end of the game. There's over a hundred interactive character in the game, each given a unique look and personality - creating an organic experience like you're really in a churning apocalyptic event and not just escorting generic character # 78 to the safehouse. While the mall from the first Dead Rising had a variety of locations, Fortune City is at least twice the size of it and had several themed casinos in addition to the stores, construction areas, and flora sections that were showcased in the previous installment. It doesn't fully strike you how impressive these visuals are until you ricochet a fireball off half-a-dozen zombies or walk abreast with eight survivors wielding guns along with yourself and a partner - mowing down hundreds of zeds in unison. There are a few hiccups to the formula though: close-ups during some of the cut-scenes show off things like Chuck's gritty polygonal hands and certain canned character animations can look outdated at times and can even lead to you not being able to damage a boss because he's swinging a weapon - even if you land a clean, unobstructed blow upon his body.
With solid voice acting and sound effect quality, Dead Rising 2 clears this area of the review with a respectable rating. There are hundreds of different noises throughout the game (ambient stuff like casino machines bleeping and sputtering out coins to all the whacks, slaps, crunches, and pows associated with the weapons you find or build) and most of these sounds are exclusive to the items they come from instead of the generic blanket of explosion or gunfire sound effects alot of games assign to multiple different objects. Dead Rising 2 lacks a memorable soundtrack for the majority of the experience, however, with only a few noticeable muzak themes throughout the many locations and the bosses mostly announced by uninspired nu-metal rock. I found myself longing from the atmospheric OST of the old Resident Evil games or at least something catchy like "Gone Guru" from the first Dead Rising.
Dead Rising 1 had some iffy combat controls and herding survivors became such a chore that I'm confident I could have done a better job directing people away from convicts riding on a jeep with a machine-gun mount in real life. Using some of the more complicated weapons in Dead Rising 2 can be a pain (some have slow response times and their stopping power doesn't really compensate), but overall I found myself feeling much more fluid in combat than in the earlier game. The issue with survivors, as I noticed in Case Zero, has been entirely overhauled leaving almost every person you rescue able to fend for themselves in dire situations without you babysitting them every step of the way. Driving the scattering of vehicles you find went well (the motorcycle's powerslide is a work of art), and aside from two boss fights (one spams attack animations that deflect hits that for every intent and purpose should have caused damaged, and recharges his health often - while the other one is full of annoying quick-time events and he abuses environmental hazards that are almost unavoidable around where the health and weapon items are located) every psychopath encounter was enjoyable.
With the exception of photo-taking (which aside, from a few chuckles I earned snapping shots of zombies eating my idiot escorts, wasn't that big of a deal to me) Dead Rising 2 offers everything the original game featured and expands upon the formula with the addition of drop-in / drop-pit co-op, weapon combination, a better save system, and the option of visiting stores to purchase weapon if you're too busy/lazy to make one. Your time will be split between unravelling the truth behind the outbreak, saving 65 different survivors over several days, going head to head with an assortment of maniacs roaming the various locations, and keeping an eye out for the rare dose of Zombrex your daughter depends on to stay human. Of course, you could just skip all that and spend 72 in-game hours drinking it up at the numerous bars, padding your wallet at the casinos, dressing up like a woman, and killing zombies in all sorts of fashions. Unless you ported your Case Zero data (which can give you an extra 4 levels of beefed up stats to start with), you begin the game with limited health and abilities.. making the first 20 or so real-life hours a desperate battle to learn your surroundings, go trial-and-error with psychopaths, and balance half-a-dozen different rescue missions at once. If you're not familiar with the history of Dead Rising, it could be overwhelming when you begin your adventure, but the multi-tasking and re-starting the story mode (with all cash and XP kept) is something I had grown to miss with otherwise entertaining zombie games like Left 4 Dead or Nazi Zombies.. which are both much more linear in fashion. Beating through waves of Zacks was fun enough in the first Dead Rising, but the extra oomph that customized weapons (the nail-bat should never leave your inventory) and having capable survivors and a partner to assist you brings the survival-horror / beat 'em up experience to a whole other level of satisfying carnage and pulse-racing deadlines. The only issues I take with the game are the buggy online experience, and that there is no achievement checklist (resulting in me having to do certain things over and over again because I'm not sure if they registered or not.. like the gun-firing one which I swear I've met the requirements of twice). I am certain that at least some of problems I experience with be corrected, so I will eventually come back to this review and alter my take on what's wrong with it what that does occur.
Replay value 7/10
The addition of drop-in / drop-out co-op play enhances the established formula of Dead Rising and balances that delicate lines between feeling too overpowering (see: Resident Evil 5) or becoming a burdening escort mission (too many games to list). Not only do you get to cover twice the distance in supply raids, or have backup against some of the more difficult bosses, but you get show off your threads to another living person (NPCs can't appreciate running around with a Serve-Bot mask on in your boxers). Using matchmaking for a partner is a bad idea though, as it currently takes too long to find a match and you constantly get rejected and have no choice in who's game you want to join. Once you have a partner, you need to make sure he isn't going to slow you down during timed survivor activities (I've had to boot several people out of a game for being half-way across a map building some weapon combination when I have 45 seconds till my mission expires and I'm waiting at the door with the survivors getting swarmed by zombies). Despite all this, I'm glad to have the option of co-op.. even if the current system desperately needs patching. In addition to the main campaign, there's the Overtime Mode.. which is a small series of fetch-quests topped off against a difficult battle against the true boss of the game (you can't bring anything to the fight and its timed). It shouldn't take you too long to beat, especially with a partner. Finally, there is the online-only Terror is Reality showcase.. which is basically a gladiator-style arena game (think The Running Man and Smash TV) where you and three other people kill zombies using chainsaw-cycles and bulldozers in competition for the most points. Sadly, I wasn't able to play this much because if a single person quits the game ends without any benefits, and it takes a while to set up a game, in addition to some glitches (I have had at least one episode of TIR where my character didn't control properly and sometimes wouldn't move when the game starts). If you can get around these problems there are three specific achievements you can earn and all your points are converted into money for your campaign character. Speaking of achievements, Dead Rising 2 follows the pattern of the first game of having 40% of the achievements be easy as pie, another 20 or so percent taking a bit of skill, and the remaining ones requiring someone with extreme patience and a resistance to boring activities. How could a game like this get boring? When you're forced to farm zombie kills for numerous real-life hours without end (or you'll run out of time) or inane activities like dressing up in every outfit in the game or finding out which of the hundreds of random items you haven't yet injured/killed a zombie with yet. These achievements should have been replaced with practical ones serving the interest of zombie fanatics like myself (such as completing an entire day without being hurt by a zombie, completing a mode where zombies can only be killed from damage to their heads, or keeping a group of survivors alive for a certain amount of time while in the throes of constant combat). I've spent roughly 10 hours a day (at least) since Tuesday playing this game - and most of the time it was an addictive adventure - but there will have to be several mistakes corrected via patches and some DLC bringing in fresh ideas to elevate this zombie game to the level of classics like Resident Evil 3 and the Outbreak games.
Like the first Dead Rising, DR2 hasn't yet met my criteria of the ideal zombie game.. but it is several steps closer to realizing that dream than its predecessor. I applaud Blue Castle for being able to expand and improve a series they inherited (the opposite of, say, anyone making Silent Hill games after the 4th one). The room for improvement while likely be noted by the developers and acted upon, and not take the route of the method enacted to "revitalize" Resident Evil when the sales started to slump and end up with a product that is basically a sequel in name only. It is my opinion that Dead Rising 2 falls under a "mandatory rental" status and if you enjoy the game (as I did), you wouldn't be unwise to purchase a copy and reward the efforts of the Blue Castle team.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/05/10, Updated 10/11/10
Game Release: Dead Rising 2 (US, 09/28/10)
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