Dead Rising 2
Irreverent, unabashed and with its tongue firmly in its cheek, Dead Rising 2 honours the principles that framed its predecessor. In today’s money-conscious world, Dead Rising 2 flips the ordinary into the truly extraordinary. A Nevada strip of manicured lawns and concrete flanked by malls and casinos is not simply an excuse to go on a shopping spree. In this strange videogame world, it’s also a chance to mow down the undead.
In a parody of twenty-first century consumerism, Dead Rising 2 takes the staples of our lives and gives them an ironic slant. No longer are handbags cute accessories. Rather, they’re a means of repelling the zombie horde. Casinos and their broken machines spew forth money, while the zombies inside are as bloodthirsty and depraved as anywhere else in the city. Allegorical messages appear to be rife, but the experience is shrouded in such comedy that you can never be sure. That’s the beauty of Dead Rising 2: it’s equal parts satire and equal parts fun. And whether you read into the subtext or not, you’re sure to enjoy the ride just the same.
“In a parody of twenty-first century consumerism, Dead Rising 2 takes the staples of our lives and gives them an ironic slant”Chuck Greene replaces Frank West as the quintessentially American hero with the chiselled jaw to match. While Frank was a photojournalist, Chuck is a former motocross star who has lost his zest for life. During the Willamette crisis that served as a backdrop for the first game, his wife succumbed to the zombie plague. Matrimony over, he’s left with his daughter Katey who was partially bitten during the incident. To survive she needs Zombrex – a cure – every twenty-four hours, between 7 and 8 AM. Such a precise hour is intended, since Dead Rising 2 employs the same system that hallmarked its forebear. All major gameplay and story events are tied in to the clock and Chuck has seventy-two hours to uncover the mystery before the military arrives.
Much like Dead Rising before it, it’s possible and entirely natural to forget about the plot – forget about even Katey (gasp) – and proceed as a casual shopper, looking for different outfits, trying on hats and masks and killing zombies along the way. At times Dead Rising 2 feels like a depraved, third-person version of The Sims. Its world, littered with real-world items, acts as a smorgasbord of death. That shampoo isn’t for Chuck’s hair. It’s for the zombie behind him. Dead Rising 2 is the bastard child of Little Computer People and Chucky. The results are hilarious.
Framed for this new zombie outbreak, Chuck must clear his name and save his daughter in the process. Hindering his progress are the zombies who have been let out of captivity and who colour the mall and alfresco with their blood-smeared faces, but perversely, it’s the humans that seem the most depraved. The zombies are a shambling slideshow who appear in sheer numbers. But they’re acting on instinct. They can be forgiven. And ironically in a game about zombies, the real star is the structure of the game. With various different endings, Dead Rising 2 sets you the challenge of completing all the main missions and administering Katey the cure every twenty-four hours to gain the “real” dénouement.
Like the original Dead Rising, the clock never stops ticking – bar the pause menu of course – and gaining the truth behind the Nevada outbreak is tough work on your first play-through. Yet, the Chuck Greene that starts the game is a far cry from the Chuck Greene you’ll control once fully levelled up, and by retaining the Prestige Point system from the first game, Dead Rising 2 rewards exploration and experimentation. At the start, even venturing into the zombie-infested waters is a challenge and since the game requires much more than simply navigating the undead to properly complete, your first play-through should solely be centred on gaining Prestige Points and improving Chuck’s skills. You gain PP for rescuing survivors (side missions if you will), defeating psychopaths (boss fights), killing zombies and uncovering nonessential asides such as a slippery slide and a peep-show.
Cleverly, there’s some leniency at hand. At any point during the game you can restart the story, retaining your current level. The fact that your PP is carried through each campaign is a real boon, and it’s a feature of Dead Rising that encouraged repeat play. The sequel is no different. In a market saturated by games that satisfy once and are then worthy of being discarded, the Dead Rising series is one of the best examples of gaming that gets better the more times you play it. Don’t approach Dead Rising 2 with the mindset that you’ll finish it once before stowing it away for good. You’ll likely complete an escort mission or two, fail the story mode midway through and never get leverage over the various psychopaths littering the game. On the other hand, Dead Rising 2 shines if you approach it with the view to play it more than once. Psychos that dismantle you with a few blows are frustrating, granted. But safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to replay the game stronger and faster, you should view these encounters as the first round in a much longer bout, one that will ultimately – and much to your enjoyment – end in your favour. Knowing that you can return for revenge is a cause for much sadistic enjoyment.
Everything up to now will be very familiar to players of the first game. What does Dead Rising 2 change exactly? For a start, it comes with three save slots instead of one. By visiting restrooms around the city, Chuck can save his game. Unlike Frank’s adventure you’re not forced to overwrite your previous work and so, thankfully, one wrong turn doesn’t cost you dearly. It’s a tweak that’s certainly to the sequel’s credit.
American Gladiators with an edge
Dead Rising 2 ships with both multiplayer and co-operative play. Multiplayer allows four players to compete against one and takes place in a deathmatch arena named “Terror is Reality”. It’s an obvious rip-off of the American Gladiators series, but poetic lines from the commentators such as, “screw coffee, there’s nothing like the smell of zombie blood to really get you goin’ in the morning” keep proceedings funny. Sadly the controls are fiddly and you’ll likely prefer co-op, which allows a friend to join you as you undertake the singleplayer campaign. The game requires you to stick close at all times, but when a double dose of zombie extermination is so fun, this isn’t a problem.
Then there’s the setting. Willamette, Colarado is now Fortune City, Nevada, and there are casinos and shops aplenty. The overarching scale is impressive but it’s really the little touches that endear. A toy shop offers nostalgic avenues as Chuck experiments with planes and water guns (both of which can be used as weapons) while “In the Closet” makes a sneaky jab at the rap-aspiring youth of today. “Tunemakers” lets Chuck unleash his inner musician and “Leigh’s Fine Liquours” has an assortment of alcoholic beverages on offer. Perhaps the best addition to the franchise is the option to combine weapons through collecting combo cards. A flashlight is a fairly humdrum weapon on its own. But combine it with a computer case and the result is magical. A box of nails and a bat is as sadistic as the image it conjures. Even Chuck, who remains stony-faced for much of the game, manages a slight smirk as he fashions these hybrids of death.
The four year gap between the two games hasn’t solely been focused on the gameplay either. Dead Rising 2 looks and feels excellent. Chuck is unwieldy at slow initially, but the controls improve as he levels up. Moreover, obvious hard work has gone into crafting this veritable zombie playground. Cutscenes are sharp and well directed, animations are crisp and the zombies themselves are rendered in the thousands, a marked step-up from the first game. Sadly Dead Rising 2 is prone to dips in framerate, yet it’s the frequent load-times that grate most. Yes, one of Dead Rising’s biggest afflictions has returned and it makes transition between different areas of the map a real pain. Watching a new section of the game load for the umpteenth time not only kills your immersion but also, more importantly, your enjoyment.
Another odd hangover from the first game is the map. It’s readable, but the sequel still doesn’t allow you to manually assign waypoints. Having a guide arrow point you in the direction of a mission you have no intention of completing is a little bizarre. And for a game that encourages so much freedom, this constraint is odd.
“It takes a swipe at the dollar-bill culture we’ve built our lives around”The beauty of Dead Rising 2 is just that however: its freedom. Whether you choose to take the story seriously and uncover the mystery surrounding the outbreak, or crave combo weapons and an ever-changing outfit, the developers rarely intrude. You’re left to your own devices with the ticking clock reminding you of the game’s eventual conclusion. The timer provides tense and unexpected twists in gameplay too. On one occasion during my first seventy-two hours I opted for a stroll outside, safe in the knowledge that I had the adequate health and means to dispose of the zombies. But, lo and behold, the time of day meant that a cutscene was triggered. Four hick American snipers were at large, and I escaped their clutches vowing vengeance when I was stronger and faster. Moments like this simply don’t crop up in scripted, linear games.
As a whole, Dead Rising 2 is a tuned, tweaked and polished sequel. Some schools of thought suggest that sequels should be a departure from their predecessor, but Dead Rising 2 forgoes this view. Instead, it builds on the strengths of Dead Rising: the story is better, there are more save slots and combo weapons make zombie extermination ever the more enticing. Chuck Greene’s tale is infused with sexual-innuendo, comic tendencies and blood. It takes a swipe at the dollar-bill culture we’ve built our lives around. In Fortune City green and greed once ruled; in Dead Rising 2 the city has been reduced to a primitive, anarchistic state. It won’t win over new followers, but it’ll certainly scratch the itch that existing fans had been harbouring.