Dead Rising 2 is set a few years after the Willamette incident from the original Dead Rising. Frank West and Isabella have successfully escaped and revealed the truth of the zombie outbreak to the world. That was only the beginning.
Small-scale zombie outbreaks occurred around the country, culminating in the loss of Las Vegas to the undead horde. Chuck Greene, a motocross champion, lost his wife in the Las Vegas outbreak, and his daughter, Katie, was bitten and infected by the zombie plague. The only way to keep her from turning into a monster is by buying Zombrex, an expensive medication that prevents zombification for 24 hours.
Desperate for money and without anywhere else to turn, Chuck signs up for "Terror is Reality," a zombie-killing-themed game show hosted in Fortune City, a city similar to the now-destroyed Las Vegas. Unfortunately, someone releases the zombies for the "Terror is Reality" show into Fortune City, and the town is quarantined until the military arrives. Chuck is being framed for the outbreak, so he has 72 hours to clear his name before the military arrives to wipe out the zombies and take him into custody. His daughter is also stuck with him in the city, and the supply of Zombrex has run dry. What's a father to do?
The original Dead Rising wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch, but it felt like a zombie movie. Chuck is a great protagonist, and his relationship with Katie is endearing. The story is interesting, and I wish more time had been spent on it. When the actual villain behind the outbreak was revealed, it took me a moment to realize who it was because so little time had been devoted to that character.
The side characters are rather bland, and not even in a cheesy B-movie way. Whereas Dead Rising's psychopaths were an odd mix of Japanese humor and sad zombie movie tropes, the bosses in DR2 feel like something from Las Vegas but with a violent spin. In many ways, it feels like it's trying too hard to capture the weird Japanese vibe of the original game instead of being its own thing.
On the surface, DR2 hasn't changed much from the original game. The controls and basic mechanics are also identical, although Chuck seems to move around more smoothly than Frank West. There are some nice twists, but they're relatively minor. You can move and shoot at the same time now, making guns more effective and comfortable to use.
Almost all of the basics are still here, both good and bad. Perhaps the most controversial is the game's leveling mechanic. As you progress, you'll earn prestige points (PP) for rescuing people, finding presents for Katie, and killing zombies and psychopaths. Earn enough points, and Chuck levels up and earns a semirandom new ability such as a new move, new weapon, additional health, more inventory space, or a boost to damage or speed. The more powerful Chuck gets, the more capable he is of dealing with threats.
The problem with the leveling system is that Dead Rising is less of a sandbox game and more of a zombie-themed roguelike. Death is not only anticipated but expected. If you die, you're offered the chance to restart the game but retain all the levels that you've earned. If you can't handle a challenge, the game gives you the option to avoid doing it or come back later when you're more powerful. This is a mixed blessing because it allows the game to create situations where the player can fail since the game is designed to be replayed. On the other hand, since there is no randomization, you'll be playing the same missions and areas again and again.
How fun this is depends on your tolerance for repetition and how much you enjoy replaying game sections. If you don't mind starting over, then it's a well-designed mechanic that encourages replay and allows a player who is having a tough time to get a boost. If you do mind starting over, then it's just annoying. The good news is that DR2 is rather liberal with the experience points, and it's not difficult to finish the game on a single playthrough. I was around level 30 (of a maximum of 50) when I finished the game for the first time, and that was without abusing some of the best ways to earn lots of extra PP. This is a game where the answer to a tough battle may be "start over from the beginning," and that's not going to be OK for everyone.
Like the original title, DR2 has a time limit, but it's much more forgiving than its predecessor. You begin the game with 72 hours to clear Chuck's name and escape Fortune City before the military arrives. There is no way to stop the clock, and time will pass at an accelerated rate as you explore the town. Each of the main story line missions is predetermined to occur at a certain time. If you don't complete the mission by then, you lose the ability to continue the main story. (You don't lose the ability to continue playing the game; you're just locked into a lower-ranked ending.) It's easy to stick to the game's timetable, though. There is a ton of free time between story missions, and the game will always warn you when a new mission is coming up. There are other people in the city who need your help, and you'll receive radio calls about them from time to time with side missions. A few of these pop up from time to time, and there are some surprise visits by psychopaths, but they don't cut into your time limit very much.
In addition to the time limit, DR2 adds a new wrinkle to the game. Katie, Chuck's daughter, is infected with the zombie virus, and she needs a shot of Zombrex every 24 hours to avoid turning into a bloodthirsty ghoul. The first shot of Zombrex is easy to find, but you'll need to search around the mall to find extras — and that's not as easy as it sounds during a zombie apocalypse. All the stores have been looted, so you'll have to figure out other ways of getting the rare medicine. Failing to find Zombrex doesn't end the game, but you can't get the best ending if your daughter turns into a monster. The good news is that there are lots of ways to get Zombrex. There are hidden stashes around the mall that contain doses, and certain survivors will give it to you as a reward. You can also buy some from looters who have set up shop around the mall.
The twist is that Katie isn't the only person who needs Zombrex. Other survivors will also request the rare medicine, and you'll need to give it to them to bring them back to the safe room. Fortunately, there's an abundance of Zombrex in the mall. As long as you poke around and investigate carefully, you should never run low. I had something four Zombrex doses by the end of the first day, and I didn't even have to buy any from the looters.
As a former motocross champion, Chuck is really good at fixing things, and he can do some magical things with duct tape. Throughout Fortune City, you'll find various items, ranging from guns and swords to boxing gloves and children's toys, to defending yourself against zombies. Effective weapons are in fairly short supply, and every weapon breaks after a limited number of uses, so you can't just find a good sword and call it a day. Chuck can use his magical duct tape powers to turn seemingly useless items into tools of destruction. Many items in the mall are marked with a wrench symbol. If he collects two items with wrench symbols, he can take them to one of the maintenance rooms and try to combine them to create a new and more powerful weapon. Some of these are pretty obvious, but others are more unusual. A box of nails and a pair of MMA gloves will yield a pair of MMA gloves covered in nails, but taping together some gems and a flashlight will create a functional lightsaber. There are a ridiculous number of combinations, and they create some hilarious weapons. Playing an electric guitar that rocks so hard it makes a zombie's head explode is something that will never get old.
All of the best weapons in the game are created by Chuck, not found around the mall. When used in combat, every created weapon gives Chuck additional PP. This means that you'll level up much faster if you fight with custom weapons instead of regular weapons. There are some downsides, though. When Chuck creates a weapon, he'll get its scratch card. This means that he created the weapon but hasn't mastered its use yet. At this point, you can't use the weapon's strong attack, and the earned PP is halved. To get the most out of the weapon, you need a combo card, which can be earned in a few ways. Chuck automatically receives some as he levels up, but you'll find others by searching the mall for clues. Once you have a combo card, the weapon's full power is unlocked, and the PP gain doubles.
The weapon creation feature tones back the problem from the original Dead Rising where there was little reason to use anything but the actual weapons. It was fun to beat up zombies with a Nerf bat or bag of marbles, but why bother when there's a fully functional chainsaw right next door? The ability to combine and customize weapons encourages variety, but there is the slight problem with some of the created weapons outshining others. Located right outside the safe room is a bowie knife and pair of boxing gloves. Combining these items gives you blade gloves, which are arguably the best weapon in the game. You can make a new pair of those gloves every time you go into the area, and since you stop by the safe room often, the odds are pretty slim that you'll break the weapon before you get a new one. It is difficult to try different weapons when the game gives you unlimited access to powerful stuff right off the bat.
One of the biggest problems in the original Dead Rising was that the survivors were not the brightest bulbs in the box. They got stuck on walls, had to be babysat, and were a pain in the rear. The ones you had to pick up and carry were among the least annoying because you could directly control where they went.
DR2 goes in the opposite direction. Once you've recruited survivors, they're pretty much unstoppable. The survivor AI has improved dramatically, so once they're in your party, you can almost forget about them. Giving them weapons lets them slaughter all zombies in their paths, and they never seem to get grabbed or caught up. Aside from occasionally having to wait for them to catch up, they never get in your way. Bringing along a squad of gun-wielding survivors to boss battles can make your life a lot easier. Even survivors who need to be carried are not an issue. They're usually located close to the safe room, so it's a short trip. You can also find a leadership magazine, which makes them run and walk as if they were uninjured, thus solving that minor problem.
One of the biggest problems in the original Dead Rising — the somewhat-awkward psychopath battles — has not been resolved in DR2. Every so often, you'll encounter an unfriendly human survivor. Some of them are unhinged by the zombie outbreak, and others blame Chuck for unleashing them. Regardless of the reason, this leads to an awkward boss battle. They're pattern-based fights with various gimmicks, like a chef who eats food to restore his health, or a guy in a mascot suit who roller-skates around and must be knocked over. The bosses are very powerful and rather cheap, so they're capable of stunning you and are very difficult to dodge. These tend to be long, boring fights where you slowly whittle down their health.
The proper way to fight these bosses is to be cheesy. Instead of playing along with the intended mechanics, cheat. Bring along a pair of blade gloves and a Painkiller drink, and punch them until they fall over. Have an armed group of survivors along for the ride, and sit back as they shoot the boss with submachine guns. It's possible to abuse your way around the lame boss battles, but to the game's credit, you're rarely locked into the fights. You can leave the arena and go outside to get more weapons or food, and just ignore the boss if you want. There are only a few cases where you're truly forced into a fight. Considering that a good portion of the game is dedicated to rescuing survivors and defeating psychopaths, "ignore them" isn't a fun solution.
DR2 has one of the more unusual online multiplayer concepts. At any time, someone can drop into the game to help you out. He will also play as Chuck Greene, so you'll have two Chucks running around the city. The second player enters the game without any of his weapons or items, but he retains his level. The second player can run around the area and help (or hinder). In order to move on to a new area, both players need to be together. Any experience or money earned by the host will also be shared by the second player and transferred back to their own game. If the second player completes a mission in co-op, it won't be completed in his own story mode. The exception, oddly enough, is finishing the game. If a player finishes the game in co-op, it counts as if he had finished the story, complete with unlocked Achievements and Trophies. The co-op mode is a boatload of fun. Being able to call in a friend for help really alleviates the frustration of some of the psychopath fights. Just make sure it's someone you trust. A mischievous player can intentionally kill survivors or force Chuck to fail missions.
Less fun is the competitive multiplayer mode Terror is Reality. Based on the game show that Chuck competed in, Terror is Reality is a series of randomly chosen four-player minigames. Some of these minigames are fun, such as the Master Shafter mission, where players compete to spear zombies for points. Others, like the often-glitchy Ramsterball, come down far too much to random chance and awkward controls to be enjoyable. At the end of each minigame, the players are graded on how many points they earned. The final game, Slicecycles, challenges players to ride their motorcycles into a crowd of zombies for points. Whoever is in the lead prior to Slicecycles gets to start a few moments before the other players. The point values involved in Slicecycles are ridiculous, so whoever wins Slicecycles probably wins the game. Once the game is over, all the point values are added up and converted into cash, which is then transferred back to your single-player DR2 game.
DR2 isn't a bad-looking game, but it doesn't look that much better than the original. The major difference is in the number of zombies on-screen. DR2 throws more of the undead on-screen at once, and it can be intimidating, even if the zombies aren't that deadly on their own. There were a few instances with some slowdown, but not very many. Far more of a problem was the game's ridiculously long load times. Going from area to area, even with the game installed to the hard drive, took forever. I would have preferred fewer zombies and faster load times, but I eventually got used to it. The voice acting was usually of a cheesy B-movie quality, but it did the job. Chuck's goofy one-liners never failed to make me smile, and most of the voice work was solid. I wish there was more variety to the survivors' voice clips, but you won't have a particular group of survivors for too long.
Dead Rising 2 is as straightforward a sequel to Dead Rising as you can get. There are no drastic changes to the formula, for all the good and bad that implies. Some of the more frustrating aspects of the first game have been resolved, such as the brain-dead survivors, but the psychopath boss fights are just as bad, if not worse. If you enjoyed the first Dead Rising despite its various shortcomings, you'll most likely enjoy Dead Rising 2. If you couldn't get into the first game, Dead Rising 2 doesn't do a lot to change that. It's more streamlined and forgiving, but it's still very similar to the original.
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