It's hard to deny that zombies are getting a little hackneyed. They're everywhere these days. They may be called "Infected" or "Possessed" or just the plain old z-word, and they may be supernatural or scientific, but the brain-munching monsters are in every genre, and it sometimes feels like they're in every other game. Even Popcap got into the action with Plants vs. Zombies, so it's pretty easy to get burned out on killing the undead. Dead Rising for the Xbox 360 was released before the big zombie rush and played off famous zombie tropes, so it managed to feel fresh. The title had its fair share of problems, and they're addressed in the sequel, but this time around, Dead Rising 2 has a harder market to break into, with games featuring everything from space zombies to zombies that you fight with a guitar.
Usually, a zombie story is both brief and self-contained, or a complete zombie apocalypse. Dead Rising 2 assumes that zombie outbreaks have such a common problem in life that the undead are used for brutal and disgusting game shows. A group of protestors finds it inhumane to treat former humans like blood-filled piñatas. There's even a miracle drug that prevents zombification, although it appears far from perfect. Chuck Greene is a former motocross star who lost his wife in a previous outbreak and has since spent his time caring for his daughter. Chuck is caught in town when a zombie outbreak occurs in Las Vegas, but even worse, his daughter is bitten and infected and the media is reporting that he is the one responsible for that particular outbreak. With only 72 hours until the military arrives, Chuck has to find a way to prove his innocence, save his daughter, and escape before he ends up an unintended casualty of the zombie infection.
At first glance, Dead Rising 2 is a lot like the original game. The interface is almost identical, and although Chuck moves around better than good ol' Frank West, he's still not a super-agile action hero. The zombies are weak but appear in great numbers, and many of the animations seem quite familiar, especially when the zombies try to latch on to Chuck and bite him. You can still earn experience points (or PP) by defeating enemies and rescuing survivors, so it's a very similar game. Some other interface elements were cleaned up. Fans will be very glad to hear that the radio system has been much improved. Getting a call adds a short info blurb to Chuck's wristwatch/PDA, which can be checked with the touch of a button. You won't receive any more long annoying calls from Otis, which is a blessing to anyone who had to take one of his agonizingly slow calls while surrounded by zombies.
Chuck is a motocross star, not a photographer, and so the photography elements of Dead Rising have been completely removed. Instead, Chuck's focus is on his ingenuity. While Frank West was limited to whatever weapons he could find around the mall, Chuck can make his own weapons. Early on in the game, Chuck finds a workbench. If he brings specially marked items to the bench, he can attempt to combine them. If successful, Chuck will somehow convert two seemingly normal objects into death-dealing monstrosities. The first one we got to see was a rather simple bat combined with a box of nails, which turned it into a spiked bat. Simple and easy, and it heavily increased the killing power of the weapon. Chainsaws plus a rowing paddle let you turn the paddle into a roaring double-sided spear of death. The weapons can get quite silly. Combining jewels with a flashlight allows you to make a lightsaber by focusing the light through the crystals, but my favorite was a combination of a machine gun and a stuffed teddy bear, turning the bear in a bandanna-wearing, gun-using pseudo-turret called Freedom Bear that could mow down zombies in an area.
These weapon combinations are not just useful for their improved killing power. As long as Chuck is using a self-built weapon, he gains additional PP for his attacks. Using a nail bat to swing through a crowd of zombies earns roughly 50 PP per kill. Use a charge attack to swing the bat at full force into the zombie's head, and you'll earn a hefty 200 PP for the kill. This lends an interesting tactical element to the combat. Self-built weapons only have a certain amount of durability, so you'll want to keep a hefty selection of combined weapons on hand. You can only combine these weapons at Chuck's tool bench, which is located near the entrance to the safe room. There may be other tool benches in the game, but they're going to involve a time investment to use, so you'll have to find the proper items and lug them back to your tool bench in order to make a PP-improving weapon. It may sometimes be worthwhile to grab guns or weapons that are lying around the mall, but doing so means that you're sacrificing experience to save time. There are also combo cards that you can find around the mall, and the cards not only tell you the exact combination of items necessary to create a weapon, but they'll also make it more effective.
Time is going to be very important in Dead Rising 2. Just like the original, you've got 72 hours in the infested Las Vegas, and there is a lot to do in that time. Beyond Chuck's main quest, he also has other things to worry about. His daughter needs a daily dose of Zombex in order to stave off her infection, and as you'd imagine, that's in rare supply during a zombie apocalypse. There are also other survivors in the area that you need to rescue. Each survivor has a certain time limit that he or she can stay alive, and it's sure to be a challenge to rescue every survivor while still keeping up with your daily mission objectives. You'll be able to replay the game multiple times with your earned levels, à la Dead Rising, so not every player will get the game's best ending on the first playthrough. Higher levels mean more abilities and more useful attributes, such as extra holding slots for items and more health.
One of the more frustrating elements of the original Dead Rising was dealing with survivors. Their AI was rather awkward, and they didn't react well to anything getting in their way. Since survivors are back in Dead Rising 2, one has to hope that their AI has improved. I only encountered a few survivors in my brief trip, but they seemed to react a lot better to Chuck's instructions than they ever did to Frank's. They handled themselves in combat more competently, quickly moved where I told them, and perhaps most importantly of all, they seemed to have a much more lenient hitbox when it came to weapons, making it a lot harder to accidentally kill them when you're trying to smack zombies away from them.
The AI also seems to have improved, although it will be tough to tell how much until we can see how it handles a large crowd or hectic situations. Your eventual goal with a survivor is to lead him or her back to the vent that leads to the safe room, exactly as in Dead Rising. The good news is that this vent is at ground level, so survivors won't be queuing up at an awkward ledge that they don't know how to handle.
Dead Rising 2 is pretty much a direct sequel to Dead Rising. The gameplay mechanics are mostly identical but have been cleaned up and smoothed out. The same basic ideas are in play, and if you've played Dead Rising, you have an idea of what Dead Rising 2 is going to involve. There are enough new gimmicks and features to keep things interesting. The absolutely obscene amount of different combo cards means that you're sure to spend a lot of time trying out different weapon combinations. The game retains the time-based challenges from the original game while still allowing players who just want to kill zombies a chance to screw around. The game is also set to feature co-op and multiplayer modes, although we didn't get a chance to try those during our demo. It's hard to get a more straightforward sequel than Dead Rising 2 looks to be, with more of the same gameplay and a few new and improved features.
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