Archive for October 14, 2010

Dead Rising 2 Review

Finally, after four long years of waiting, after all the teasing videos and images, after that excellent taster in the shape of Case Zero, the sequel to one of the greatest launch games of all time is here. To say that Dead Rising 2 has a hell of lot of expectation on its shoulders is a bit of an understatement. Dead Rising 2 has so much expectation on its shoulders that anything less than a solid gold slice of zombie-based sandbox mayhem will be a complete waste of those four years. Happily, Capcom have risen to the challenge and delivered what might be the best game of the year.

It’s been a couple of years since Frank West and Isabella Keyes escaped the Willamette mall with the truth of what happened there. Zombie outbreaks have occurred in isolated pockets and have been more or less contained. The world has moved on and zombies have become a part of it.

Former Motocross champion Chuck Green managed to escape the Las Vegas outbreak with his daughter Katey and went on the run to Fortune City. Unfortunately, Katey managed to receive a bite on her arm. In order to keep the infection at bay, Chuck must give her regular injections of Zombrex every twenty four hours. To pay these expensive medical bills, he takes part in the extreme sports game show ‘Terror Is Reality, where zombies are brutally slaughtered for entertainment. After another victory, Chuck is knocked unconscious in an elevator shaft. When he wakes, he finds that the zombies have gotten free and taken over Fortune City. To make matters worse, a tape has been leaked to the press showing someone in his bike outfit releasing the zombies. With a military rescue arriving in seventy two hours, Chuck’s time is short: can he survive for long enough to prove his innocence?

If that plot summary sounds a little bit familiar, that’s because it is. In truth, Dead Rising 2 is so similar to its predecessor that you could be forgiven for thinking that Capcom accidentally released the same game twice. You still have a tight time limit. You still get around via a vent shaft. You still rescue survivors. You still defeat psychopaths. Items still break after a while. You still have to manage your time efficiently to survive. Even most of the achievements are identical! Half of this review could easily be a cut-and-paste job and there wouldn’t be a problem.

But where the game really comes alive is in those tiny differences, those few new features and adjustments that were sorely lacking from the unrefined first game. The most obvious new addition is the much-discussed ability to create new weapons out of old ones. It’s a fantastic idea that is introduced brilliantly, too – you’re shown the maintenance room, which has a bat and a box of nails. Everything that can be combined with something else has a tell-tale blue icon above it to help you. Not only are the new weapons far more durable than normal, many of them turn useless items into hysterical ways to make the dead deader.

Take the humble plate. Pathetic on its own, but mix it with a cement spinner and you have a destructive plate launcher, capable of clearing a room at a hundred paces. A bag of gems turns into a shotgun when combined with a leaf blower. The comedy hat becomes a death mask with a little battery power. The list is simply staggering.

Backing up the new weapons are the ‘combo cards’, special items that double the amount of experience points (PP) you get with each kill. They can be found anywhere – by levelling up Chuck, rescuing survivors, defeating psychopaths, even by looking at film posters around the mall. You’re rewarded for creativity and for trying out ridiculous ideas by levelling up faster, although you probably won’t want to use any other weapons after you create a new item called the ‘Defiler’.

Perhaps the biggest difference between this game and the first one is the amount of extra breathing room you’re given. There are only seven ‘cases’ (story missions) on offer, with breaks between every two to let you give Katey her Zombrex. With good time management, it’s possible to save over fifty survivors and complete the entire story in your first run – compared to the frantic dashes that occurred in the first game, the pace is nearly relaxing.

The best – and most subtle – difference between the two games is the notable improvements to the NPC survivor’s AI. Where before a perfect run could be scuppered by a lone plant pot, this time survivors can move, climb, navigate and dodge with Chuck. They also no longer go sprinting into a horde of zombies while unarmed. There’s even a new symbol that flashes to let you know when a survivor is close enough to travel to the next area with you. It actually turns the rescue operation into a fun activity, as opposed to a chore, although some of the survivor’s demands before they’ll come with are absurd – one semi-naked woman asks that your be in your pants too, while another forces you to take part in her painfully boring button-matching mini-game.

Being in a city just outside of Vegas, there’s also an obsession with money. It can be found littering the floor inside casinos, won from slot machines, gained from rescuing survivors, beaten out of ATMs (or withdrawn, with the correct tool) and the cash goes a long way to helping you. It can buy vital doses of Zombrex for people who need it, be given to survivor as a bribe, or buy a variety of colourful weapons from the rip-off merchants (sorry, looters) who set up shop in key locations around the city. While it’s initially a worry, you’ll soon have more than you know what to do with.

The save system has also been vastly improved, allowing you to recover from accidentally wrecking your run with ease. You can also port over any progress made in Case Zero and begin the game with a level five Chuck and several valuable combo cards. Of all the new features, the improved save system is the one that is the most vital and it should not be underestimated.

The other major differences to the single-player experience are small, subtle, and completely brilliant. Vital items (money, keys, etc) come with you when you restart the game (not Zombrex, unfortunately), you can kick while carrying people and deliver wrestling moves to a downed zombie. The visuals have been given a shot of adrenaline and the game looks like a proper next-gen game, with crisp textures, facial expressions and some excellent attention to detail throughout. There’s also more music pumped out through the many casinos, making the experience much less quiet than before. There’s also a last-minute plot twist that transforms this gory comedy into a genuinely terrifying horror game. Even Fortune City feels somehow more alive – despite being dead – than the mall in Willamette, heaving with things to do, see and explore. The scope of the place is staggering, easily housing a space at least three times the size of the first game.

The other new features added to the game are all online. Two players can now team up and take on the dead together in a co-op game, although, weirdly, you’ll both be playing as Chuck. While it’s a great new feature that adds to the variety of the experience, it is perhaps a bit disappointing that you both have to be doing the same thing at the same time – you can’t split up to seek out different objectives. Bizarrely, if one player is experiencing lag, the cutscenes seem to play out without the character models in them, which somewhat damages the experience.

You can also take part in the Terror Is Reality games and go head-to-head against three other players for the prize money. It’s a great way of earning extra cash – anything you make can be put into your save file immediately – but the games themselves veer wildly between fun and dull. Target shooting game Bounty Hunter can be fairly entertaining, as is the excellent finale SliceCycles, but most of them are incredibly boring. Zomboni, for instance, sees you all squirting crushed zombies into a container, while Master Shafter has a multiplayer quick time event sequence that is almost painful to endure. Terror Is Reality also suffers from the same flaws as the Resident Evil 5 multiplayer, in that it can take ages to set up a game, leaving you forced to watch the same cutscene over and over every single time you want to play. There’s no option for playing again with the same group either, while the lack of computer-controlled bots mean that you simply have to wait or other humans to join your game.

While there are some flaws with the multiplayer aspects of the game, the single-player experience is practically flawless. It actually feels more like a true ‘go anywhere, do anything’ title than any other sandbox game. You could spend your run attempting to use the myriad of new weapons, seeking out the survivors or just sticking to the main plot – it’s entirely up to you and the game will constantly put a smile on your face with the sheer lunacy of the design. From the hilarity of the electric wheelchair to the sight of a fat virgin in dominatrix gear, you definitely won’t forget your short stay in Fortune City.

What is there left to say about Dead Rising 2? If you didn’t like the first game, you won’t like this one either. However, the many fans will be more than satisfied by the improvements, no matter how small and subtle they are. Were the four years worth the wait? Absolutely. No doubt about it, Dead Rising 2 is the ultimate zombie game.

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