Review by horror_spooky

"Combo breaker"

One of the main reasons why I chose to go with the Xbox 360 this gen instead of the PlayStation 3, despite owning a PlayStation every year since their inception, was because of Dead Rising. The game seemed to be catered to me. It was made by Capcom, it featured zombies, and it was displaying true seventh-gen prowess, unlike many other early 360 games. Four years later, the franchise has been dormant (save for a poorly-received Wii port of the original and a short XBLA prequel to this game entitled Case Zero), but finally, Capcom and Blue Castle Games have crafted the sequel. Was it worth the wait?

If anyone is unfamiliar with the developer, Blue Castle Games, allow me to give a brief description of who they are, and what the heck they are doing developing the sequel to Capcom's big seller, Dead Rising. Blue Castle Games is the developer behind The Bigs arcade-like baseball series. I have actually enjoyed these games, and was intrigued when Blue Castle was announced to be the developers for Dead Rising 2. Granted, Capcom has since absorbed Blue Castle Games into its family, but at the time, Capcom was outsourcing one of its infant, huge-potential franchises to another company. Risky.

Dead Rising 2 is very, very similar to the original game. Players take control of Chuck Greene, a motorcross superstar trying to earn enough cash to keep buying his infected daughter Zombrex. Zombrex is a drug that was developed by Isabella Keyes and Frank West in the first game, and the only problem with it is that it has to be injected every 24 hours to remain effective.

Chuck is a part of a ultra-violent pay-per-view show where contestants murder zombies in a variety of unique ways. All of this is going down in the Las Vegas-like Fortune City, which was probably hard for Chuck, considering he lost his wife in the zombie outbreak that occured in Las Vegas before the events of this game. Regardless, the zombies get loose, and Chuck is framed for the incident. As a result, Chuck goes on a zombie killing spree in an attempt to clear his name and rescue as many survivors as he can from Fortune City.

He has 72 hours. The city is swarming with zombies. Tape it or die. Just like in the first Dead Rising, Chuck is running on a clock. The entire game is basically timed, trying to maintain a "realistic" vibe, and a sense of urgency. A lot of people complained about this mechanic the first time around, and I'm sure there are plenty of gamers belly-aching about it this time, too. I really have a problem understanding that. Sure, it can become frustrating sometimes when you fail to give Katey her dose of Zombrex or if you have to get from one end of the city to the other in a minute, but the thrill that this mechanic provides is hard to find anywhere else. Sure, it sucks when you don't make it to Katey in time with that damn medicine, but the feeling of relief one experiences after pushing through gobs and gobs of zombies from one end of the city to the other, racing against the clock...it's worth it.

Time is of the utmost importance in this game, if my last paragraph didn't tip that one off to you. So, what is there to do while Chuck is waiting for the next case to occur or the next Zombrex dose to be needed? Well, anyone familiar with the first game knows the answer. Saving survivors and defeating psychopaths are two things also on his check list.

While roaming around the city, Chuck's radio will go off, and he will be informed of survivors and psychopaths hanging out around the city. By confronting the survivors, and sometimes completing specific tasks for them, Chuck can lead them to the safehouse. There is a lot more variety when it comes to rescuing survivors in this game. There are occasionally mini-games that go along with certain survivors, and other things that come up.

A big issue that plagued the original Dead Rising was the horrible ally AI. This has been fixed. Thank God. The first game demanded players babysit the survivors as they led them all the way back to the safehouse, killing practically every zombie in the way. This was frustrating and asking way too much from the player. In short, it was a chore. Dead Rising 2 fixes these issues. There are a couple of survivors that will need help fighting through the swarms, and others that have to be carried, but all the others will battle their way to the safehouse with Chuck. There is no babysitting. Another feature added that makes escorting survivors across the city a lot less headache-inducing is the fact that when survivors are close enough to the players to come with them to the next section of the mall through the loading screen, there will be a green door icon by their name. No more guessing.

Psychopaths are actually worse. The first game didn't have a huge focus on psychopaths, and they were actually almost pathetically easy to kill. The second game is far less forgiving. The psychopaths seem to demand a strategy from the player, instead of the tried-and-true method of running up with a katana and slicing them to ribbons. The Dead Rising controls and simply the way the game handles doesn't mesh well with this approach to boss fights, unfortunately. Not to mention that many of the psychopaths have an unholy set of attacks that constantly stop Chuck's attack animations and take away huge chunks of health. If that weren't enough, any sense of "strategy" is immediately done away with when you factor in that leaving the boss fight is always an option. Always. Even the final boss can be fled from. What does this mean, exactly? Well, it means that no matter how hard a boss is, players can simply leave, find food, more weapons, and return to keep fighting. If their health gets low again, they can just keep repeating the process, effectively eliminating any "strategy" and challenge that was there before.

A new system that wasn't present at all in the first game is a currency system. Dead Rising 2, set in the Vegas-centric Fortune City, has cash that can be taken from ATMs, cash registers, found on the ground, awarded to the player for rescues, and won in the online multiplayer modes. The cash can be spent in pawn shops set in key locations throughout the city, where there are a variety of items to choose from. Each pawn shop has a key item available though, ranging from the mysterious knight boots to a helicopter key for purchase.

Earning money can also be done by gambling. Is it just me, or are a lot of video games exploring the route of gambling and card games? Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas, and even Call of Duty: Black Ops is featuring a currency and betting system for its new multiplayer functionality. Interesting. Regardless, Dead Rising 2 has jumped on the bandwagon as well. There are slot machines that money can be dumped into, a computerized version of blackjack, and poker can be played with survivors at certain times in the game to earn the really big bucks.

All this time I have forgot to mention what is probably the biggest addition to the Dead Rising formula, and the most advertised feature. I am talking about the combo system. Nearly every weapon and item in the game can be combined with a different weapon or item at workbenches to create new, more powerful concoctions. A baseball bat can be combined with a box of nails to create a spiked bat; a sledgehammer can be combined with an axe; a machinegun can be combined with a giant teddy bear to create a sentry gun. Catch my drift? While the first game focused on players' ability to be able to use virtually anything and everything to fend off the zombie hordes, this sequel focuses on players' ability to not only use virtually anything and everything, but to also combine virtually anything and everything to create more powerful and durable weapons.

And that about covers the gist of the game. Let's review what we've learned so far. Dead Rising 2 is almost exactly like the first game. However, saving survivors is better, fighting psychopaths sucks more, and the new currency and combo creation systems are pretty cool. Now it's time to dive into the RPG elements.

Just like good 'ole war-covering Frank West in the first game, Chuck Greene can earn experience points, level up, and increase his stats and attributes. There are a variety of professional wrestling-inspired attacks for Chuck to learn, and combo cards (cards that tell players what they can combine to create new weapons) to collect. There are also stat-increasing magazines to find. Here is where I have an issue. Chuck can read the magazines, and it will either permanently increase his abilities, or he has to lug the magazine around to keep the stat boosts. That's all fine and good, except the game does a poor job of letting players know which magazines to keep and which magazines to read and then throw to the ground. I think that after players read a magazine that permanently increases stats, it should simply disappear from their inventory. Does that not make sense? It also saves players the hassle of having to discard the magazine when they may be in a swarm of zombies, which could then lead to all sorts of inventory managament issues.

I mentioned an online multiplayer mode earlier in this review. After playing with the online for a decent chunk of time, there is only one way I can describe it: it's like Pokemon Stadium, but with zombies. Players compete in events that feel like mini-games, and the cash they earn is transferred to Chuck in their single-player games. Basically all of the mini-games focus around killing zombies in one way or another, and it gets old fairly fast. Playing online with this mode just feels kind of pointless. Sure, you're playing against real players, but it's not a deathmatch or a team deathmatch type of game when that actually matters. The developers could have placed bots in the game instead for the same experience.

Which takes me to my next gripe. No single-console multiplayer. This is an outrage. The multiplayer mode is just RIPE for a group of friends to gather around the TV, laugh, and kill some zombies in mini-games in a way they haven't experienced since they were collecting eggs with Chauncy on the Nintendo 64. There is also no reason that the developers couldn't have pulled off the multiplayer. They have bragged about increasing the zombie count from 800 to 6,000, with 800 unique zombies in the game. They DEFINITELY could have pulled off split-screen, or hell, even same-screen multiplayer would have made sense, and would have been welcome. They just didn't go that extra mile. It's disappointing how lazy developers have gotten, and I'm sorry to report that Capcom seems to be going down this path as well.

The co-op is the same story. Playing in co-op can be fun, but there is no matchmaking, meaning that in order to play in co-op, players have to know someone who has an Xbox 360, an Xbox Live Gold Account, and Dead Rising 2. Many players will opt not to play in co-op because of spoilers in the main storyline, and also because they will be playing other games like Halo: Reach instead of Dead Rising 2. There is no offline co-op, which is also overwhelmingly disappointing. I really don't understand the logic behind this. Not only are games that have both online and offline multiplayer and co-op functionality simply better, they sell more. Look it up. Players are more inclined to buy games that meet all their needs, and reviewers are more likely to give games with these features higher scores to earn that sought-after 90% aggregate on GameRankings or MetaCritic or whatever.

I digress. Hopefully Capcom learns from its mistakes. I suppose I should probably talk about the visuals now. Dead Rising 2 is better looking than the first game, for sure. There were times in the original when the cut-scenes were just laughably bad. Not this time around. The character models and animations have been greatly improved. There are also more zombies on the screen, like I said, and they won't ever seem to be repeating in design, unless there is a truly gigantic swarm gunning for Chuck.

Dead Rising 2 is visually impressive, but it's not without its bugs and technical mishaps. I was watching my brother play, and at one moment, he jumped through a wall. He then just kept falling, with nothing but blue surrounding him. If he panned the camera up, he could make out an outline of what looked like the Fortune City map. Eventually, he just teleported back to the doors in front of Royal Flush Plaza leading to Fortune Park. It was strange, and potentially game-breaking. There are game-breaking glitches, though, but I will get into them a little bit later when I talk about the achievements.

The voice-acting is on par with the first game. There is still corny, lame dialogue that is fun to laugh at, and thank god there is. It's just part of the Dead Rising formula to have hilarious lines. While nothing in this game quite matches up with the awesomeness of "I've covered wars y'know," there are some lines that will inspire laughter. One of my favorites is, "It's okay. I've got Zombrex." I almost spit out my Sunkist when Chuck said that line so very seriously and with a hint of badass in his tone of voice.

I really enjoyed the music. There are soothing tunes in the stores around Fortune City, and also nice little musical bits that sound like they were lifted from Capcom's own Ace Attorney series. The hard rock music that accompanies many of the scenes in the game is blood-pumping, and really gets the adrenaline flowing.

Unfortunately, there is a pretty noticeable problem when it comes to the sound. When survivors are yelling for help, they will sometimes sound far away when you're right next to them, and they will sometimes sound really close when you're far away. This is obviously very, very confusing, and takes up a lot of time. Time that Chuck doesn't exactly have considering he's surrounding by flesh-eating zombies. This problem is even more noticeable during cut-scenes. A lot of the time when the camera isn't fixated on a character, they sound extraordinarily far away, despite the fact that they are standing in the same room as Chuck, probably just a couple of steps from him.

Dead Rising 2 runs roughly 10 hours. After that, there's the multiplayer modes to try out and achievements to unlock. Unfortunately, the multiplayer is restricted to online play only, including the co-op. This significantly hurts the replayability. What makes the replayability even lower is the fact that the achievements are glitched. There were times when I never got achievements for something I did, and got achievements too early as well (I got the achievement for killing 500 zombies at in the 400s, and I never got the achievement for making a combo weapon). For a lot of games, this really wouldn't be a big deal. However, Dead Rising uses achievements to support the gameplay. The achievements in the first Dead Rising really inspired players to keep playing over and over and over again. That was the appeal. The original Dead Rising was famous for successfully blending in the achievements with the gameplay, and really making them fun to strive for. Not this time around. Oh, no. Not only are the achievements glitched, the majority of the achievements are COPIED from the first game! There is an achievement for eating all the food in the mall, killing 1,000 zombies with your bare hands, and trying on all the clothes in Fortune City. Instead of creating new and inventive achievements, Dead Rising 2 relies too much on the past and doesn't even do it right. Oh, and instead of improving the unlockable modes that were available in the last game, they have been scrapped completely. Boo.

Despite its very apparent flaws, the gameplay is still solid in Dead Rising 2. Hardcore fans of the original will find something to love here, and it's nice that Capcom didn't sell out and get rid of the awesome time mechanic. The multiplayer, while fun, is restricted to online-only play, which is hugely disappointing, and an excellent example of "missed opportunities." The audio has issues and the achievements are glitched, and as a result, it's hard to recommend the game as a full-price purchase. If you didn't like the first one, you're not going to like this one, so avoid it. However, if you're a huge fan of the first game, you should definitely pick this one up...when the price goes down a little bit. Tape it or die.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/22/10

Game Release: Dead Rising 2 (US, 09/28/10)


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