Dead Rising 2 is good. Very good, in fact. I felt like I needed to get that out right away. See, a few weeks ago I previewed the first two days of the game, and I found a title that was chugging in spots, suffering from really long loads, and generally not performing like a game that was about to come out. I reported that Capcom said it was aware of the issues and working to fix them, but even I rolled my eyes at the idea of the company getting everything in line for launch day. Well, it's not perfect and it is rough around the edges here and there, but Dead Rising 2 is definitely a winner.
Of course, it's also a lot like the last game, so if you thought that one was a loser, you should probably proceed with caution – zombies ahead.
Dead Rising 2, the sequel to 2006's breakout Xbox 360 hit, puts you in the leather jacket of one Chuck Greene. Once a motocross superstar, Chuck's now a dude whose wife was gobbled up by zombies years ago. His daughter is infected from the same incident, but a daily dose of Zombrex keeps the virus at bay. To makes ends meet, Chuck is a contestant on Terror is Reality, a TV show where players knock off the undead for bucks. Well, after a show, there's a mini-zombie uprising, Chuck's framed for it, and a bunch of survivors hole-up in the Fortune City safe house to await rescue in three days. Chuck needs to clear his name, get his daughter meds, save survivors from the area and slay psychopaths before the military rolls in to clean up the mess.
If it sounds familiar, it's probably because you played the original Dead Rising. If you were a fan of Frank West's exploits on the 360, you really shouldn't miss a beat transitioning into this game. You leave the safe house via an air duct, pop out in the mall, and a woman in the security room radios missions to you. You have a set amount of time before these missions expire, and as you polish off these quests and wail on zombies with the items you find around the mall/casino/hotel hybrid, you earn experience points. Leveling up means more health, more inventory slots and more moves.
Yes, that's Dead Rising 2 in a nutshell and is pretty much the original Dead Rising in a nutshell as well, but the sequel takes that familiarity and adds just enough to make it feel fresh. Sure, the survivors have different stories and the mini-bosses are even more effed up than the last batch, but there's more to it than that. Zombies now seem to focus entirely on Chuck so you don't have to babysit a group of survivors as you escort them back to the safe house. The game asks if you want to save after big moments, there are multiple save slots this time around, and it seems like there are more bathrooms to save in than ever. These complaints from the first game have been addressed.
Still, the biggest addition is the ability to create combo weapons. Dead Rising has always been about picking up whatever you could – an umbrella, a sword, a sandwich board – and using it to beat the undead back to death. That's still here, but now you'll collect combo card by leveling up and keeping your eyes peeled for posters. In turn, these cards will show you how to take two items (a fire extinguisher and a watergun, for example) and combine them at a maintenance work bench to make a super weapon (a gun that freezes zombies solid). Aside from being rad, these weapons take longer to break -- as every weapon eventually does -- and earn you lots of experience points.
Leveling up is one of the best things the Dead Rising franchise has going for itself. The game really is an RPG in a way. You'll start off slow and unable to do a simple jump kick, but as you whack zombies and watch "25 PP" appear on the screen, you'll get to the point that you can literally tear the limbs off the undead with your bare hands. During my first playthrough I struggled with bosses and found fights that I just couldn't win. I skipped these battles, and when I came back on my second run, I was in hog heaven as I stood toe-to-toewith the foe that once gave me so much grief.
Dead Rising 2's strict game clock might seem like a burden to some as they rush from place to place balancing the story and the side missions, but to me, it just inspires dreams of my next playthrough. I can't tell you the number of times I thought "Well, next time I'm going to…" or "I wonder what would happen if I didn't give him that…" The game is screaming to be played again and again.
Part of that is thanks to the story Blue Castle is telling here. I was genuinely interested in trying to save Chuck's daughter and figuring out who framed the man. Yes, some of the voice acting is pretty stiff in cutscenes and the tale isn't a trailblazer, but the slow moments just make the shocking ones that much more outrageous – the same can be said for the sometime funny, most of the time batcrap insane psychopaths you run into.
Still, I did say that the game was rough here and there and I wasn't just talking about the female reporter's voice acting. While it's running and looking way better than it did a few weeks ago, Dead Rising 2 still suffers on the performance side. The framerate can be sluggish and the models can look blocky. The loads are also a bit lengthy as you have to sit through them every time you change areas. Everything's sharper and the game does shove a bunch of zombies on the screen, but it is at the sacrifice of super-smooth ride. Animations can also be an issue as they looks stiff on nonplayable characters and little stuff like cards aren't even animated in the poker mini-game.
Similar to the original, the guide arrow at the top of the screen can be finicky and certain boss battles did have me on the verge of hurling my controller. The main enemies you're facing have patterned, often times annoying attacks that led to me spouting curse words and using cheap tactics (standing on a ledge and hurling spiked baseball bats at a motorcycle-riding bad guy) to win fights in a less than epic way. Again, these get better as your Chuck gets stronger, but sometimes it's an uphill climb.
If you want another downer, the photography system of the last game has been completely removed. Bummer, but there are still drinks to mix and magazines to discover that will augment Chuck's abilities.
However, an interesting addition this time around is that of both competitive and cooperative online multiplayer. Now, having multiplayer isn't that interesting in this day and age, but what catches my attention is that neither of these modes are things you have to do to get the full Dead Rising 2 experience. I beat the game twice before playing these, and looking back, I don't feel like I missed anything. These are simply garnish -- something to fool around with if you like.
Competitive multiplayer is a set of mini-games for four players. Set on the Terror is Reality stage, you and three opponents square off in zombie mini-games that have you using antlers to flick the undead onto a scale or run them over in those big American Gladiator rolling balls. You go at it in three randomly chosen rounds and then face off in the finals where whoever chops up the most zombies with his chainsaw/motorcycle wins. The four-round battles are quick, and the money you earn is carried over to your single-player game. The money portion is neat, and the games can be all right, but they're nothing amazing.
Meanwhile, co-op takes place in the host's single-player story. Basically, another Chuck – I mean, we're talking about identical twins here – is dropped into the game and you two run around killing zombies and fighting bosses. You're just playing the game with another player. For me, there's no way I'd want to have someone dropping in while I was actually invested in the story as it kind of breaks the narrative, but I did have fun helping friends who were just getting their bearings and leveling up with my buds as I chased the Trophy/Achievement for hitting Level 50.
This mode is fun for those looking to fool around in a zombie playground. You share the rewards of your progress, although the guest can only save his or her level progression and money; that's to say the guest won't save the story progress. The only real catch with co-op is that the framerate and graphical issues seem to get a tad worse when playing with someone else. They're not unbearable (although I did have a few moments where zombies were spawning from the sky and falling to earth), but it is worth pointing out.
Both multiplayer modes are fun for a lark, but they're not the meat and potatoes of the game -- that's the story, and there's nothing wrong with that. Although I don't think multiplayer is awesome, I like that it's here to help make single-player a richer experience.