Killing zombies, one roll of duct tape at a time
Apparently we can’t get enough of the living dead. Whether it’s the traditional slow-moving kind, the terrifying speed-merchants, the plant-fighting variant or even those of Nazi descent, we just love killing zombies in a multitude of increasingly brutal and inventive ways. Even after all these years, Capcom’s Dead Rising is perhaps the prime example of this. Many were put-off and dumbfounded by its unconventional and baffling game design at the time, but the mass zombie destruction was always a crowd pleaser as an entire mall full of weapons became available to the player. From your more traditional axes and chainsaws right through to the comical water pistols and shampoo, Dead Rising was as much about the massacre as it was about the hilarity and off-beat comments on American society and consumerism. Dead Rising 2 doesn’t really change that formula too much, despite its shift in developer, and cultures, from Capcom’s Japan studio to one situated in Vancouver, Canada. But the subtle differences actually improve upon the original game to a fairly substantial degree, even though it still won’t appeal to everyone.
The story moves events from the rural town of Willamette, Colorado to a sleazy off-set of Las Vegas called Fortune City; a glitzy, adults-only hell-hole filled with casinos, strip clubs, various shops and an outrageous game show known as Terror is Reality. Set a few years after the first game, the zombie outbreak has been contained and the living dead have become commonplace in regular, every-day life. Apparently the best use of the horde is this sadistic game show which revolves around contestants killing zombies to earn points and subsequently money. Our protagonist, Chuck Greene, is one of these contestants; a former motocross star who’s broken up about his wife’s death – in the Willamette tragedy, no less – and his young daughter’s zombie infection. She’ll be fine so long as she receives a constant supply of a specialist medication called Zombrex, but it’s pricey stuff and the reason Chuck is competing in Terror is Reality in the first place. If things weren’t bad enough for him already, Fortune City soon suffers its own zombie outbreak and he’s been framed for letting them loose. With only 72 hours until a military evacuation, the clock is ticking for Chuck to clear his name and keep his daughter alive.
It’s an interesting concept but the constantly ticking clock affects the gameplay more than the narrative. The story is a fairly simple tale, but it’s filled to the brim with some fantastic characters that prey on Western culture in a very tongue-in-cheek and comical way. The various psychos you come across are a real treat and they, along with the fairly predictable plot twists and obstacles Chuck comes up against, help to propel the story forward towards its conclusion.
On the gameplay side the timer will always be your biggest obstacle despite the menacing presence of the countless hordes of the undead. Much like the first game, Dead Rising 2 is always against the clock, both with the story missions and the plethora of distractions and side missions. It creates an unparalleled sense of urgency along with a unique balancing act as you weigh up which missions to tackle at any given time. Knowing that too much time spent rescuing survivors or killing zombies could result in a game over won’t suit a lot of people, but if you can wrap your head around its unconventional design Dead Rising 2 can be a very enjoyable experience, especially once you figure out its nuances and begin to restart the game over and over again.
It sounds odd, yes, but restarting anew becomes a key tactic to making it through to the end credits. At any moment you can decide to start from the beginning of the game, allowing your Chuck Greene to carry over into each subsequent playthrough. This is often key to completing particular missions, especially the psychos, since you won’t always be powerful enough to beat them the first, or even second, time through. So you can gradually grind your way to higher levels, much like an RPG, collecting Prestige Points (PP) from killing zombies, rescuing the abundance of survivors and completing story missions or just exploring the raunchy city. All of this PP will continuously upgrade Chuck until he learns more advanced moves – including some comically over-the-top wrestling moves – his attack power increases, his health raises and so on. It’s not always a noticeable change against the living dead, but against the psychos you’ll notice a substantial increase in the damage you can inflict and sustain, so it’s fairly rewarding – and that dodge move comes in extremely handy.
It’s still quite baffling why the first game was designed in such a way, even more so when it’s carried over into this sequel despite raised eyebrows from many corners. But it’s quirky and surprisingly enduring because of it. Dead Rising 2 might feel fairly dated by today’s standards, but it’s so different to any other mainstream game on the market, despite its conventional and seemingly broad appeal; once you boot it up it’s anything but.
Of course, once you get past the idiosyncratic game design, Dead Rising 2 essentially boils down to killing a whole load of zombies. In that respect it’s very similar to the first game, much like everything else. You’ll find a vast array of miscellaneous weapons in each of the sprawling city’s shops, underground tunnels and every nook and cranny in between. These can range from anything from sledgehammers, MMA gloves and Katana swords through to fire extinguishers, giant teddy bears and Blanka masks. The one vital difference this time is that Chuck Greene is no photographer; instead he happens to be quite useful in the stick-items-together-with-duct-tape department. Find two items that combine, find a workbench, and you can create all manner of ridiculous contraptions. There are a few obvious choices like a baseball bat and a box of nails, or a bottle of whiskey and some newspaper to create a Molotov cocktail, but eventually you start making lightsabers out of gems and flashlights, a rocket launcher with a lead pipe and some fireworks, and the self-explanatory drill bucket. Experimenting with different combinations is extremely gratifying, and using each weapon increases the fun tenfold, especially once you start earning more and more PP from each kill.
If you so choose you can always buy the weapons from any number of the hoodlum-run shops scattered around the city as well. Being an off-shoot of Vegas, Fortune City has plenty of opportunities to earn money, whether it be playing a round of blackjack or trying to stay on a rocking-bull. The mini-games are a nice distraction from the chaos and an easy way to earn some money, though you’ll soon find that the multiplayer is the only sure way to get a ton of money, and fast, as you compete against three other people in Terror is Reality. Much like the short, single player section, Terror is Reality is a farcical gameshow consisting of four rounds and a superfluous amount of zombie killing. You’ll go from sticking clothes on zombies, to drop-kicking them into a crusher and running them down on a motorbike fitted with chainsaws. It can be a lot of fun and you’re always competing against your fellow man to not only win the game but also transfer all of your winnings into the single player campaign. There aren’t a whole lot of round types so it does get repetitive fairly quickly, but the incentive to earn more money is always there and it’s hard to complain about the manner in which you unlock it.
Sadly, the framerate does often struggle to keep up with all the mayhem, and the visuals look vastly outdated in both the single player and multiplayer. There are plenty of low-res textures and rough edges, but it can be forgiven when you consider the amount of zombies on screen at any one time. The numbers they reach are often staggering, and blowing through them with two chainsaws stuck on the end of a paddle is immensely enjoyable, gratuitous and downright silly. Even rescuing survivors is less of a chore since they can survive multiple attacks and even do a decent job of fending off the hordes themselves. And, unlike the first game, there are now three save slots instead of one, so one mistake doesn’t signal a restart. It may only be subtle streamlining, but it makes Dead Rising 2 much more accessible than the original even though they’re still incredibly similar to one another.
But the similarities are never an issue if you can handle its whimsical game design, because the core Dead Rising experience is still fantastic. Racking up thousands of kills against the undead is a joy, and when you throw in multiple variations of unconventional weapon combinations it only improves the experience. There are still some issues with hideously long loading times and certain impracticalities, particularly when putting survivors into the safe room, but the game design presents an oddly satisfying change from the norm that can be easy to love and hate at the same time. If you can coincide with it then Dead Rising 2 is a joyous zombie slaughter.