Game Review: Dead Rising 2

Written by Richard Brown

Zombies seem to be “in” for games at the moment. It used be just Resident Evil, but then Left 4 Dead came along, then Plants versus Zombies, and now even Red Dead Redemption is getting a zombie add-on. Into this oddly crowded cult market strides Capcom’s Dead Rising 2, sequel to an Xbox 360 exclusive. Not having ever owned an Xbox, I have no idea what that game was like, so bear that in mind while reading this review. Going in fresh, is Dead Rising 2 any good?  Read on to find out.

The Basic Plot

It’s been several years since the events of the first game, and zombies are just another fact of life, and the stars of pay-per-view TV.  Chuck Greene is a contestant on the game show “Terror is Reality” tying to win money for his daughter’s medication, when the horde of zombies he was meant to kill for the amusement of the audience starts eating the audience. Fleeing to a safe house, Chuck must now rescue survivors and find out exactly how the zombies got loose. But, more importantly, can he find the zombrex drug he needs for his daughter, the one that stops her from turning into a zombie?

Brains!

Forget the plot, its not that important. Dead Rising 2 is best thought of as Resident Evil meets Grand Theft Auto, or Prototype with politically acceptable targets, a sandbox game where you fight off zombies in a small town that really wants to be the new Las Vegas. Technically very impressive, the game features detailed shopping centres and casinos filled with hundreds, thousands of usable items and the same number of zombies trying to eat your brain.  You run about, loot shops for supplies, and assemble weapons from duct tape and random bits. Yes, it’s a captivating experience, and if you ever wished to fulfil a zombie apocalypse fantasy, this is your game. Violent fun and general larking about allowed by this game include:

  • Teddy bear sentry guns
  • Running around with weaponised wheelchairs
  • Using a modified guitar to make heads explode
  • Freeze bombs
  • Finding a kitchen, heating up a frying pan, and using it as a weapon
  • Deadly hats – often with a Capcom reference
  • Using a lawnmower recreate that scene from Brain Dead.
  • Light sabres
  • Running over zombies with a child’s bicycle while cross-dressing
  • Wolverine claws – probably the best weapon in the game
  • Mixing cocktails for power-ups
  • Pretty much everything you do in the online Terror is Reality mini-games
  • The industry standard achievements feature

The potential carnage you can cause in this game is truly epic and largely guilt free.  Flesh eating corpses are about the only remaining foe everyone can happily kill in media, and the game allows you to get pretty creative. It’s a lot of fun, but what about the other aspects of the game? Let’s assume for a second that the whole zombie craze that Shaun of the Dead kicked off passed you by. The nerdish appeal of braining zombies with improvised weapons in a shopping centre has no effect on you, and so the primary draw of the game is negated. Is there still plenty to enjoy? Well, that’s where the problems begin. While the game world is detailed, there’s not much variation in the experience, as a lot of the missions come down to either search & rescue or boss fights. I suspect that online play is meant to make up for this, if you consider that a valid excuse, but I think I’ve been here before with my sandbox game reviews. Guys, if you are going to give us freedom, don’t give us repetition as well. However, DR2 has decent gameplay, with some RPG elements. The missions are time sensitive, meaning that picking a mission is a strategic choice, failing to complete them in time, or ignoring them can have effects down the line. Unfortunately, the game is a harsh taskmaster, as you don’t much information as to what a mission entails, and it can become a chore balancing these demands on your time. The primary reason for completing missions though is to level up Chuck’s abilities, which quickly changes the nature of the game from survival horror to straight up action. While this adds a sense of achievement to the game, it also highlights its big problem, a hugely frustrating lack of balance.

Interesting fact: Insanity makes you immune to Sledgehammers

While the timed missions, long load times, and the absence of an autosave feature can be annoying, the most irritating issue, the really big one, the one that made me swear extensively, the one that made me want to throw this game out of the window, was the assorted lunatics that function as the bosses. As you might expect, these guys are quicker and smarter than zombies, but they are also tougher and better armed than you are as well. There is a massive disconnect between what you can do to zombies and to these loonies. A weapon that would send a zombie flying in three separate pieces won’t cause a clinically insane human to even flinch.  Why is this a problem you ask? Surely, boss fights should be difficult? Well, just let me get on my soapbox…

Nobody likes it when a game breaks its own rules to pose you a challenge you can’t reasonably complete, especially when the rest of the game does not prepare you for said challenge. There is no overlap whatsoever between the skills you need to kill a psychopath and those needed to take on the weak but numerous zombie hoards, and the first time you face one, death is almost certain. A no-win scenario is not fun to play, and at the very least, if you whack someone with a baseball bat with nails through it, they should be knocked down. The psychopaths however give about as much reaction to damage or impact as a T800 series Terminator, whereas Chuck will often be sent flying like a rag doll by their attacks. The resulting sense of unfairness almost ruins the game.

I do realise that’s asking for realism and consistency in a game about zombies, but come on, this is underhand.

…….off the soapbox now. I didn’t have any success against one until I had reached level 22 and received some advice on weapon load out (thanks lads), after which the game got much easier. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact you have no way of knowing this when you first play the game, and its easy to run into one by accident when you are still at level 5 or so, when you haven’t saved in a while. Dead Rising 2 is hugely unbalanced, having less of a difficulty curve, and more of a difficulty pitfall trap. The only effort the designers have made to resolve this is to allow you to restart the story while retaining Chuck’s current level and abilities, which I did have to do more than once, I’ll admit. Level grinding is repetitive enough in full-fledged RPGs, and its even more unwelcome in sandbox games, which are supposed to be about freedom. This is also required if you want to actually start building custom weapons; Chuck’s inventory is very limited at the start so getting the parts together is a pain. A mitigating factor to all this is the online co-op play, and indeed the entire social side of this game. Having a mate help you out in someway, be it with tips or direct action in game, can balance out a lot of negatives in this title. I would however have preferred that the game not repeatedly try to trip me up, and I don’t think I’m unique in that.

Conclusion 

Dead Rising 2 is a good game, a great game, despite my whinging above. Sadly, it is also a game that feels repetitive, simplistic and needlessly unfair. It could have been a classic, but the questionable design quirks really spoil things.  With this in mind, try before you buy, but zombie film fans should love it.

7/10

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