Dead Rising 2 Review

By Bryan Stratton - Posted Sep 28, 2010

Capcom's action-RPG zombie beat-‘em-up whodunit returns for a spectacular second installment. While the original Dead Rising didn't deliver on all of its promises, with more of everything—including weapons, zombies and missions—Dead Rising 2 hits the mark.

The Pros
  • An across-the-board upgrade of the original Dead Rising
  • Improved controls and weapon combination abilities are great
  • Online multiplayer, including cooperative story mode and mini-games
The Cons
  • Time limits are as unforgiving as in the original
  • Too-frequent loading screens hurt the pace of the game
  • Lack of auto-save means a lot of backtracking if you're not careful

Four years ago, the original Dead Rising clawed its way onto game store shelves, introducing gamers to Frank West, a photojournalist at ground zero of the “Willamette Incident.” Frank had to survive 72 hours in the Willamette Mall with a handful of human survivors and a whole lot of zombies as he pursued the story behind what led to the outbreak.

Gamers and reviewers alike loved the simple but compelling premise: a real life Dawn of the Dead, where virtually any object could be picked up and used as a weapon against the endless shambling hordes of undead; however, despite receiving high scores and praise across the board, Dead Rising wasn’t immune to criticism. The one-file save system artificially increased the difficulty. Survivors in the “escort” rescue missions seemed determined to throw themselves into the jaws of the undead, rather than reach the safe house unscathed. And the boss fights against psychopathic surviving humans were made exponentially harder by a flawed control scheme.

There’s no doubt that Capcom (and new development partner Blue Castle Games) paid attention to these criticisms, because they’ve all been addressed in Dead Rising 2. It might feel like DR2 should be something more than a polished second draft of its predecessor after four years of development, but it deserves high praise for bringing action-oriented gamers and hardcore completists through the same adventure and finding ways to appeal to each without alienating the other.



In the Midnight Hour, More, More, More

If you played through the Xbox 360-exclusive Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, which is the gaming value of the decade at five bucks, you’re already familiar with DR2’s protagonist, Chuck Greene. You’re also able to import your Case Zero save data into DR2 and begin the game with a leveled-up Chuck (up to level 5) and all of his unlocked items.

If you’re not an Xbox 360 gamer—the only excuse for not having played through Case Zero—a bit of backstory is in order. Dead Rising 2 takes place five years after the original zombie outbreak in Willamette, Colorado. Chuck Greene is a former motocross star whose young daughter Katey was bitten and infected by her zombified mother just prior to the events of Case Zero.

Fortunately, thanks to the wonder drug Zombrex, Chuck can prevent Katey from turning into a zombie for 24 hours at a time (double the time limit from Case Zero). Katey’s constant need for Zombrex has caused Chuck to take on any job that pays well enough to afford the expensive drug.

At the start of Dead Rising 2, Chuck and Katey are in the southwestern gambler’s paradise known as Fortune City. Chuck is a contestant in a brutal game show called “Terror Is Reality,” where four contestants on motorcycles outfitted with chainsaws swoop through a zombie-filled arena and attempt to mow down as many as possible before the time limit expires. The show is a target of protests from the “zombie rights” group known as CURE, but it remains wildly popular with the general population, which is still reeling from the losses of Willamette and Las Vegas to the shambling hordes.

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Of course, it doesn’t take long for things to go horribly wrong. An explosion tears open the zombie holding pen, unleashing the undead and transforming Fortune City into another Willamette in record time. Chuck and Katey barely make it to a safehouse with a handful of other survivors, but their safety is jeopardized by falsified footage that shows Chuck planting the bomb. Chuck has 72 hours to find proof of his innocence before the military shows up and (literally) executes judgment on him and Katey.

Chuck doesn’t have Frank West’s photographic eye, but he does have a more practical skill for surviving a zombie apocalypse: he can combine certain items (marked with a wrench icon) at maintenance work benches to create combo weapons that inflict significantly greater damage and earn Chuck huge Prestige Points, which level him up and improve his health, carrying capacity and combat skills.

The original Dead Rising offered about 250 different weapons. That’s just a drop in DR2’s bucket (which, by the way, can be combined with electric drills and placed on undead heads for a one-shot kill and 500 PP). Between the plethora of objects and the new combo weapons, Chuck has more ways to wreak havoc on zombies than Frank West could have dreamed of.

And that’s a good thing, because there are a lot more of them. As in Dead Rising, an infinite number of zombies roam Fortune City, but where DR could “only” display several hundred on the screen at once, Dead Rising 2 is capable of rendering thousands at a time.

It seems like this should make your job more difficult, but zombie combat is actually easier, for a couple of reasons: first, zombies render at a distance, which makes them easier to spot from a longer range. And second, the zombies have been generally dumbed-down, which makes it easier to dash past them. In fact, unless you stop to fight them, they don’t generally pose much of a threat to Chuck—or to the survivors that you escort back to the safehouse, who are much smarter and less prone to getting gnawed on this time around.



A Change In Pace Of Fantasy and Taste

Dead Rising 2’s structure is similar to DR’s, with a few small but significant changes. Once again, you have a 72-hour time limit (which passes 12x faster than real-life time) to complete the story, which is divided into three days and seven “cases.” Unlike Dead Rising, you cannot choose to ignore these cases. If you don’t complete one before its time limit expires, you either have to continue from a saved game or start the game over while keeping Chuck’s current level and unlocked items.

In addition to the case files, finding and administering Zombrex to Katey is a second category of must-do mission. Not only does Katey need a dose every 24 hours, it must be given at the same time each day. Failing to give Katey her Zombrex causes her to turn, removing the only reason for Chuck to keep going.

Finally, a third category of time-sensitive optional side-missions appear during the course of the game. Most are survivor escort missions, but some involve beating up on looters, discovering a pawnshop or fighting psychopathic humans. Many of the game’s toughest fights are included in these optional missions, which means that truly hardcore gamers can take them on and prove their prowess, while more easily frustrated players can ignore them and just stick to the easy ones and the main plot.

The pacing of Dead Rising 2’s cases is dramatically improved from DR, but the pacing still suffers from a plethora of loading screens, which appear every time you move between areas of fortune city. DR2 also uses cutscenes to advance the plot, each of which has a loading screen before and after. With more and more games using in-game events instead of cinematics to tell the story and background streaming to load areas of the game world invisibly, this gives DR2 a bit of a last-generation feel.

Dead Rising 2 also offers an online cooperative mode, which more than doubles the fun of playing through the game solo. Co-op seems to work especially well in zombie games (Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil 5), and Dead Rising 2’s co-op mode is no exception. There is one caveat, however: if you’re not the host of the co-op game, your progress does not count towards completion of the campaign. Basically, if you’re jumping into a friend’s game, your character can earn PP that you can take back to your locally saved campaign, but the game won’t let you save your progress. You’re just there to help the other player through the story and to earn PP for you character. If you want to complete the campaign, you’ll either have to do it on your own or play through again with a friend helping you out.

The other online mode is the “Terror Is Reality” game show, which pits four players against each other in a series of zombie killing mini-games. The format is reminiscent of American Gladiators and though the games are short and the controls a little mushy, they’re generally enjoyable. The real reason to play Terror Is Reality, though, is to earn money that you can spend in game … and to slice down zombies while riding a motorcycle.



It’s a Nice Day to Start Again

Between the unforgiving time limit and the save system, which does not autosave at checkpoints, you’re going to wind up having to reload from your last save more than once during the course of your game. Depending on how diligent you’ve been about saving your game, this may set you back 5 minutes, or it might set you back a lot further than that. DR2 does allow for multiple save files, as opposed to DR’s single-save system, but it still has a Groundhog Day feel to it at times. Whether you think this is a good idea or not depends on what sort of gamer you are; some gamers will enjoy the challenge, while others will be frustrated by it, but it is what it is.

The sense of déjà vu isn’t limited to repeating Dead Rising 2’s missions; DR2 recycles a number of story elements from its predecessor. Fortune City is essentially a larger version of the Willamette Mall. Cinematics illustrating how zombies become more aggressive at night and the destructive power of killing a queen insect feel lifted right out of Dead Rising. DR2 has the same 12x real-time, 72-hour time limit as the original. Survivor escort missions are virtually unchanged from the previous game (apart from the aforementioned upgrade to survivor AI). There’s even a psychopathic survivor who drives around the courtyard, killing zombies and humans alike, just like in DR.

That being said, if you enjoyed the original Dead Rising, or even if you wanted to like it but found certain aspects of it too frustrating, you’re almost certain to love DR2. Although it’s essentially just an expanded and polished upgrade of the original, those comparatively small changes make a huge difference in the gameplay. Dead Rising 2 is the perfect game for either Halloween or the holiday mall-shopping season, so don’t let 2010 end without checking it out.