Developer: Blue Castle Games
System requirements: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 2.2 GHz or better CPU, 2 GB RAM, 8.5 GB hard-drive space, NVidia GeForce 8800 GTS or Radeon HD 3850 or better graphics card
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
It has been five years since the zombie outbreak in Las Vegas. Chuck Greene’s wife died and his daughter, Katey, was bitten and infected during the outbreak. Now, Chuck, a former motocross champion, is in Fortune City participating in a gameshow called “Terror Is Reality,” in which contestants kill zombies for money and fame. Chuck’s only reason for competing is so he can afford a drug called “Zombrex” for Katey, who must have a dose of the expensive drug daily. Then things get worse: there’s a new zombie outbreak, and Chuck gets framed for it. Now he has just 72 hours to rescue survivors, find evidence that proves his innocence, and find enough doses of Zombrex to keep Katey alive until the military arrives.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. The single-player game actually takes place in four days, not three, but you have to play the game to find out what happens. Just like the original Dead Rising, almost anything and everything can be used as a weapon, ranging from powerful (the chainsaw) to nearly useless (the spitball gun). In addition, there are approximately 50 combo weapons that Chuck can make, such as the Paddlesaw, which consists of two chainsaws duct-taped to a kayak paddle; you might have seen the Paddlesaw in some of the trailers for Dead Rising 2. You can discover some of these combo weapons by examining movie posters, some of them are given to you as rewards for completing side-quests, and the others are level-up unlocks. Every weapon eventually breaks down or runs out of ammo, requiring you to find or make a new one. I have to give Chuck Greene credit, though; he’s got a leg up on Chuck Norris. I don’t think Walker: Texas Ranger ever made a laser sword out of a flashlight and a handful of gems from a jewelry store. The game calls it a laser sword, but let’s face it…it’s a lightsaber that cuts through zombies like butter. Oddly, the Spiked Bat is a wooden bat with nails hammered through it, but when you combine a bat with a box of nails, you hear the ominous sound of…tape. Just how the heck do you drive nails through a baseball bat with tape?
Fortune City is comprised mostly of casinos and shopping malls, and there are more than 90 stores to visit. Some stores have magazines that have various effects, like improving the durability of weapons or increasing the effectiveness of healing items. Others have clothing that you can wear, and every store has plenty of stuff lying around that you can use as a weapon. You gain Prestige Points (PP) for killing lots of zombies…and there are lots of them. The maximum number of zombies onscreen at one time can be as high as 7,000 or more. You also gain PP for killing looters, for completing mission goals, for rescuing survivors, for bringing gifts (such as giant stuffed animals) back to Katey, or for using Combo Weapons to kill zombies. When you earn enough PP, you gain another level (up to level 50). You are often awarded with a Combo Card, or an increase in one or more of Chuck’s attributes (attack power, throwing range, maximum health, number of inventory slots, etc.)
The newest addition to Dead Rising 2 is multiplayer mode. Two players can play the storyline in co-op mode. Both players earn experience and keep the items they collect throughout the game, but only the host can save the game’s progress. Non-host players can drop out of the game at any time without penalty. In addition, there is a four-player mode in which the players are contestants in the “Terror Is Reality” gameshow. There are four game modes, including “Zomboni,” in which you drive a car that makes zombie juice and you have to shoot the juice at a target to earn points; and “Bounty Hunter,” in which you snipe zombies and earn extra points by killing the jackpot target. But the major game mode is “Slicecycle,” in which you drive motorcycles with chainsaws sticking out from the handlebars to slice up zombies for points.
The graphics and sounds are up to expectations, and the AI of the survivors has been improved since the original Dead Rising. There are two things that particularly impressed me, though. First is the care the designers took to make sure that, in any cinematic that shows Chuck, that Chuck is shown in the clothes you put him in. In my mind, it kind of defeats the point if a game allows you to change costumes, but the cinematics always show you wearing the original costume, and they avoided that here.
The other thing that surprised me was the insight the designers had into the human psyche, particularly gambling addiction and psychosis. In one side-quest, you have to play Texas Hold ‘Em against three survivors and defeat them before they’ll agree to let you escort them to the shelter. In another, a survivor won’t stop playing slots until he wins back his money (or until you give him $25,000). Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were in a casino and I saw zombies munching on the people around me, I would stop gambling and try to get to safety. But this is actually “truth in television,” so to speak; in real life, in Las Vegas after a casino fire, dead bodies have been found with their hands fused to the levers of the slot machines. There really are some people who are so addicted to gambling, that they wouldn’t leave, even for a zombie apocalypse.
I wanted to like this game, but there are too many serious flaws. First and foremost, the game is hindered by “Loads and Loads of Loading,” as TV Tropes calls it. Moving from one area of Fortune City to another? Load screen. Oh, found one of the psychos? Load screen, followed by a cinematic, followed by a load screen. Then you kill the psycho (followed by another load screen), rescue the survivor that the psycho was about to kill, and escort them back to the shelter (requiring at least two more load screens). Speaking of the survivors, you’re limited to escorting eight at any one time; if you’re already at the limit, more survivors won’t even appear until you’ve dropped some off at the shelter, or until some of your party dies. Because of this, you can miss some side-quests entirely because the side-trip to the shelter took too long. Most of the survivor dialogue is delivered entirely in subtitles. The only reason I can think of in this day and age for not having their lines recorded by voice actors is to keep the game from requiring two DVDs instead of just one. Finally, some of the combo weapons were pointless, especially the ones that could only be used once or the ones that needed a particularly hard-to-find item, because it required too much effort for too little reward. A one-shot weapon that might kill a dozen zombies (but won’t even put a dent in the other hundred milling about the entrance to the casino) for which it takes 10 to 20 minutes to find the parts? Really? The game could have been so much better if there was some sort of storage area for hard-to-find combo items at the shelter, where you could stash stuff you might need later. (Or even better, a storage area in each maintenance room, though you’d then be forced to keep track of what you stored where.)
Dead Rising 2 ends up being firmly average at best, despite the obvious effort put into making the game fun, which unfortunately fell flat because of the flaws. The sheer number of zombies on-screen turned out to be more annoying than fun; the biggest joy about combo weapons was in making them and finding new combos; and quite frankly, there was way too much time spent loading. (Here’s a hint: data streaming. Crystal Dynamics pulled this off with Soul Reaver 12 years ago. There were no load screens at all except when you first started the game or loaded a save.) Maybe the design for Dead Rising 2 was simply overambitious; I just don’t know how it could have gone so wrong. I can’t recommend this game to anyone unless they’re a fan of the original Dead Rising, or they just love zombie games in general.