Dead Rising 2? More like Dead Loading 2! Seriously, for all the fun I’ve been having in Capcom and Blue Castle Games’ zombie toybox, the loading is just absolutely atrocious. If you were to make a drinking game out of Dead Rising 2 where you took a swig every time the game goes to a loading screen, you’d be loaded
in no time.
I’m told be a few of my peers you can reduce this by installing the game on your console’s hardware, or on PC, there’s a lot less, but having played from the disc on Xbox 360, it’s very much one of the game’s most major shortcomings.
Then there’s the issue with saving. In some archaic design decision, checkpoints have again been left on the cutting room floor in favour of having to save in bathrooms, which not only creates issues because of the constant rush against the clock in the game’s over-the-top fetch-questing (so you often don’t have time to seek out bathrooms), but leaves you frustrated and drained if you bite the dust and succumb to zombie flesh cravings. There’s a point to this design feature, but it’s still poorly handled and essentially the same as in the first game.
In fact, there’s not a great deal that’s different about Dead Rising 2. The combo weapons don’t really add a great deal except another way to earn PP (instead of taking photos), and offer a bit of a shock laugh here and there. There’re more vehicles this time around, which is kind of cool, and a good way to rack up high zombie kill-counts, but nothing game-changing. Essentially the formula is exactly the same; you play errand boy for a safe house, bringing hapless survivors in or helping them out with whatever it is they need, while sometimes running into the game’s real enemies, Psychopaths, or uncovering the truth about the main plot.
For any of the uninitiated out there, you play as Chuck Greene, a motocross rider who lost his wife to zombieitis, and now takes part in a cruel game show called Terror is Reality to pay for the Zombrex he needs to fend off the same zombieitis trying to take over his young daughter, who it turns out was bitten by her mother. Ridiculous as that sounds, it’s a good way to humanise Chuck and his need to slaughter hundreds, nay, thousands of the undead.
You begin the game at a TIR event; chainsaws roaring at each side of your bike in a small velodrome filled with hordes of zombies. The idea is wade through and kill as many as possible. The person with the most killed at the end wins. I won, yet it somehow didn’t register, as two of TIR’s sassy showgirls showed nothing but contempt for me not wanting to win big, despsite winning nonetheless. In fact their whole hatred of the Chuck character is very odd, and completely out-of-place - it never really manifests into anything other than a reason to not feel bad when you have to kill them later on (small spoiler, but nothing you probably won’t guess on your own in the first 10 minutes of the game).
For reasons as yet unknown, after wondering around backstage for a while, it turns out the zombies at bay have escaped and thus a new outbreak has occurred. The only thing on Chuck’s mind then, is to find his daughter, Katey, and get to safety. This scene is very much like the first scene in the first game where the stupid old lady, trying to save her dog, inadvertently lets zombies into the mall Frank West is hiding in, though I’d be remiss to not mention that it’s definitely amplified here. You see people’s HP bars depleting rapidly as they’re swarmed upon by the undead, of which there are much, much more this time around. In fact, it is pretty intense and bloody, and sets the stage for the sort of gore fest that’s definitely going to follow.
Eventually, Chuck makes it to a safe house with a few other survivors where he decides to lend a hand and brave the outside to find more. This is all just training though, the story kicks off proper when it appears a leaked video from the TIR event shows Chuck blowing up a cage holding back the zombies to set them free - clearly he’s been framed, and so the actual narrative backbone reveals itself as you’re charged with clearing his name by investigating oddities happening around the game’s main sandbox environment, Fortune City.
There are a few ways to play Dead Rising 2, and how you play is going to vastly affect how you feel about the game. The main point to realise though, is Dead Rising 2 is a multiple play-through title; it’s designed for you to fail in the early goings on, but you progress, regardless, provided you’ve saved.
That might sound odd, but as mentioned earlier, you’re tasked with three basic gameplay options - build combo weapons and plain slaughter zombies for PP, run around and save/help survivors for PP, or follow the main arching story and progress the game forward. If you choose any of the former, you’re levelling up your character as you go, and can choose to restart the main game at any time. This means, technically, you can go out and grind as hard as you want for the first few hours of play (or more), and when you’re comfortable with your PP level, restart and tackle the game’s story mission, while cramming as much side-questing in as possible. The end-game result is to be so powerful, you can essentially save every possible person and complete every possible quest in a single play-through.
This is all possible through the game’s unique time mode, which sees a full three days of in-game time available for you to do what you can. Your only main hang-up is to make sure you can secure Zombrex for your daughter every 12 hours, and launch the next story event (to elongate your time to do other things), but the key thing, it’s entirely manageable. If, like me, you prefer to try and save everyone you can and do it all in one go, you’re going to have some trouble, as you’re going to essentially be on the move the whole game; missing out on exploration and toying around the combo weapons and zombies. So it’s probably recommended you play the game in bite-sizes until you’re confident enough you can marathon the whole thing at a decent level.
On paper all of this sounds good, but there are some serious issues here as well. For one, the character Chuck is supposed to be an all-round good guy doing everything for his daughter and trying to save lives. But beyond the zombies in the game, there are some crazy characters out there. In Dead Rising the NPC human baddies were cultists - nothing wrong with killing them, but in Dead Rising 2 he kills looters. It’s the zombie apocalypse - what does he care about law and order, and if he does care about law and order, then surely he can just knock them out, or lock them up?! I found this one of the most disturbing aspects of the game.
Secondly, the game puts a massive emphasis on needing to secure Zombrex for Katey, but after securing the first one, it’s super easy to get a hold of, because you can buy it at any of the pawnshops around town, and earning money isn’t all that hard. It ends up becoming an annoying chore over a compelling, nail-biting bit of gameplay.
Then there are the zombies, who for the most part are just toys for you to play with, however, they can be pretty annoying in a crunch. It’s not that they’re not supposed to be, it’s that little things, like balky animations don’t prepare you for being ensnared, or even using the jump mechanic to ‘avoid’ them, which actually enrages them so they grab you faster (often with a “what, how the fu...?” exclamation from the player.
Escorting survivors back to the safe house is a lot easier this time around, but they can take forever to keep up with as the AI just isn’t that great. A handy tool would have been to utilise a click of the right analogue stick to snap the camera in front of you so you could see behind, similar to racing games. But alas, you’re only left with a small window showing basic animations of them either running, or being hung up by zombie hands.
Also, trying on various clothes instigates a quirky pose animation from Chuck, but you can’t speed this up, so he’s easily attacked if there are zombies nearby, which just feel annoying. They’re minor flaws that should have been addressed from the first game but haven’t, which feels like a missed opportunity on Blue Castle Games’ front, but you can live with them.
My final gripe with the game is it just doesn’t look as good as it should for this late in this current generation of hardware. Animation trees are bare at best, and there’s copious amounts of pop-up or slow texture load-ins. The gore is cool, but half the time severed limbs just disappear before your very eyes and blood wears off Chuck within seconds. These aren’t game-changers, but it really did need another solid coat of polish in my opinion.
Despite all of this though, I can’t stop playing it. And that’s a testament to some of the strongest elements of the game; story being one of them, for just how B-Gradely awesome it can be. I also really like Chuck a lot more than I did Frank West. He seems to have more confidence and is more of an action-hero type of character, which in this type of game is far more relatable. Then of course, there are the ladies, and Capcom always knows how to do ladies.
A lot of how you feel about the game will boil down to how you decide to play from the outset though. I chose to go after all of the game’s elements in my first play through, which has lead to a lot of frustration, but again, it’s difficult to put down so it’s definitely doing something right. There are a lot of niggling, archaic things going on in the design department, but a lot of great things overall, but ultimately, anyone who likes killing zombies is going to get something out of this - just remember to save your game as often as you can.