There are multiple ways to play Dead Rising 2. Some of them are simply amazing, giving you tons of time to wander around malls and casinos, busting up zombies with a variety of weapons that are incredibly satisfying to use. At the other end of the spectrum, Dead Rising 2 can also be a tight, time-focused game that's more about running from one place to the next and ensuring that you're in the right place at the right time, with the right weapons to defeat whatever boss-style encounter the game has lined up for you. Dead Rising 2 runs the full range from frustration to fun, but there's more good than bad to be had here.
The bulk of the bad parts in Dead Rising 2 comes at you when you're trying to play through the story or complete side missions. That's when you'll be dealing with survivors--the other humans that have somehow made it through the initial wave of the zombie attack without being bitten. If you played the first Dead Rising, you'll remember the survivors as ineffective dopes that were hard to save since they weren't good enough to keep the zombies at bay and follow you to safety. In Dead Rising 2, the survivors are more resilient and occasionally they're better fighters, too. Still, you'll run into cases where two armed survivors get caught in each others' crossfire or spots where they just sort of don't seem to keep up as well as they were five seconds before. They're still annoying... but they're way less of a game-breaker this time around.
The other type of human you encounter while running around beautiful Fortune City is the psychopath. These guys are usually regular humans that have snapped under the strain of the zombie outbreak, and these can vary from a children's television star wearing a giant mask, roller skates, and homemade flamethrowers to a military man who's lost his team and his mind. After stumbling into one or two of these fights while taking on side missions, I did my best to just avoid them, because I didn't enjoy any of them at all. These battles don't feel like you're actually taking on a new and unique foe. Instead, they feel like barely functional combat puzzles where the main solution is to exploit the AI in one way or another. Facing an armed opponent? Run around a pillar as he gives chase, and then club him with a spiked bat when you "catch up" to him. Facing a guy on roller skates with two homemade flamethrowers? Well, in that case you... actually, I never beat that guy. It just didn't seem worth it, so I found a different side mission.
So, you might be asking, if that's the worst of Dead Rising 2, why are you still semi-positive about the overall experience? It's the setting, some of the characters, and the open nature of your trek through the story that makes Dead Rising 2 work. If you essentially abandon the "facts" of the story missions, you can spend all of your game time building ridiculous combo weapons and taking out your aggressions on a shambling horde of slow-moving zombies or the occasional looter. Since Fortune City is a casino town, you can even gamble to earn a little extra cash, and that money can be used to unlock vehicles. This is a great use of money, since the vehicles stay unlocked for multiple playthroughs.
Again, if you've played Dead Rising, this won't be a surprise, but Dead Rising 2 is built to be played numerous times. So much so, in fact, that every time you die or fail a case, the game gives you the option to simply restart the entire game with your bankroll and character level intact. This means that you'll become more powerful over time, and that power can be used to make the early parts of the game even easier. It also gives you another option when dealing with the game's tougher moments--you can always just start over and grind out more levels to get more inventory slots, health blocks, and attack strength.
If all of this sounds a bit weird, that's OK. Dead Rising 2 is a pretty weird game. But at the heart of it is a relatively normal guy named Chuck Greene. Chuck's an ex-motorcross racer with a daughter who needs a shot of Zombrex every 24 hours or else she'll turn into a zombie. To get money for the constant supply of drugs, Chuck gets on a pay-per-view cross of The Running Man and American Gladiators called Terror Is Reality. In it, contestants kill zombies for sport. But after his winning performance, there's a huge explosion and zombies flood the arena and the nearby malls and casinos that surround it. The military will show up in three days, but that's not exactly a good thing, as someone's released a tape to the media showing Chuck Greene (or a man in his TIR outfit) planting the bomb that let all the zombies in. This gives Chuck three days to clear his name by figuring out what's really going on in Fortune City, while saving additional survivors and procuring more of the increasingly scarce Zombrex to keep his daughter human. In other words, you've got a lot of time pressure to deal with.
Dead Rising 2 eases up some of that pressure by offering you multiple save slots--the first game only had one--which gives you a way to avoid situations where you save your game in an impossible-to-fix situation, such as right before time expires on a critical mission. While some might bemoan the mission timers, it feels like a vital part of the game, and that tension drives all of the action. Getting around and killing the average zombies that attempt to block your path is a breeze, especially if you stop by one of the many maintenance rooms to do a little crafting.
Crafting weapons and using them is, by far, the coolest part of Dead Rising 2. You'll find all sorts of different things lying around the world that you can pick up and use, from assault rifles to rolled-up newspapers. But some items are marked with a wrench, noting that they can be combined with another item to form something that's usually more deadly. Some of these combos are basic and logical--taking a baseball bat and combining it with a box of nails gets you a spiked baseball bat, for example. But the weapons get weirder and weirder from there, such as the Freedom Bear, which is a machine gun duct-taped to a toy robot bear that normally lights up and smiles when he sees you. After the process is complete, you can set the bear out like a sentry and he'll fire at enemies that enter his sight line. Then there's absolutely devastating stuff like a fire axe strapped to a sledge hammer, making for an extremely heavy, slow-moving weapon that murders any zombie it comes into contact with with a great mix of blunt force and sharp death. And what happens when you combine a flashlight with gems? You get a laser sword, of course. Figuring out these combinations and using them is more entertaining than just about anything the story missions have to offer. As you level up and scour the world, you'll acquire combo cards that tell you what things can be combined and, if you have the card, you'll get twice as many prestige points, which is the game's equivalent to experience points.
The PC version of Dead Rising 2 looks the best and has the most resolution options. It also has Games For Windows Live support, which is nice for fans of Microsoft's achievement system. The Xbox 360 version of the game has some fairly noticeable drops in frame rate, but still looks just fine most of the time. The 360 version also lets you import your level (up to level five) from the downloadable prequel, Case Zero. This will give you a bit of a head start in the 360 version, but getting through those first five levels doesn't take very long at all. So PS3 and PC owners that can't import characters aren't really missing out on much.
Money isn't really much of an object in Dead Rising 2, anyway. The game has a multiplayer mode based on the reality violence show that opens the single-player. It's essentially a four-player minigame collection that involves various ways to murder zombies. Money earned in ranked games can be funneled back into your single-player saves, but beyond that, the minigames aren't much fun and shouldn't be considered a primary draw. The game also has online co-op, letting players jump into your single-player game and assist. This is a fun option, especially for the joining player, since it isn't your playthrough. Time has less of a meaning when you're not messing up your own save, so you can just freely follow the host player and bust heads at will. But the design of the co-op feels like it fell out of a PlayStation 2 game. Joining players also play as Chuck Greene, and the story's cutscenes don't evolve to account for the second player, either. It makes the whole thing feel a little thrown together.
The groans of the zombie horde and the sound effects when you clobber them with your various items are all very well done. Splattering zombies with a blunt object sounds appropriately wet and disgusting. The cutscenes usually have pretty good dialogue, though for a game set in Nevada, it's easy to hear Canadian speech mannerisms coming out of the characters here and there. That's not inherently bad, but it sure serves as a constant reminder that most of the heavy lifting for Dead Rising 2's development was done in Vancouver, not Osaka.
Dead Rising 2's kooky structure and occasionally open nature gives it a lot of appeal across many different types of players, but the people who truly love Dead Rising 2 will all have a few things in common. They'll appreciate a challenge, even when it seems like you're occasionally fighting the game mechanics, rather than the boss fight. They'll enjoy playing through a game multiple times, each with a slightly different objective. And they'll probably enjoy running through thousands upon thousands of easy-to-kill zombies. It's also very divisive. Plenty of people will hate the way the game uses time to force a layer of tension onto everything they do. Others will hate the lack of an autosave system, even though adding one of those would inherently change the entire game. Me, I wish the game had better inventory control and an item storage system to allow you to really explore all of your weapon options. But it's the other stuff--the still messy survivor AI and poorly built boss battles--that really mars the Dead Rising 2 experience. It's not an impossible game to love, but as with the first game, you'll have to look past a lot of blemishes to find happiness.