California Literary Review

Video Game Review: Dead Rising 2

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October 1st, 2010 at 3:15 pm

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Dead Rising 2 box art
Dead Rising 2

Release Date: September 28th, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360 (Version Reviewed), Playstation 3, Windows PC
Developer: Blue Castle Games
Publisher: Capcom
Executive Producer: Keiji Inafune
Genre: 3rd Person Zombie Survival Action Sandbox
ESRB: M for Mature

CLR Rating: ★★★★★


In the Bright Light City you’re going to set some souls on fire!
Viva Fortune City!

Oh zombies. If there was one horrific creature that’s had an overabundance of the spotlight in the last few years, zombies are top contenders with their progenitors the vampires. While lovey-dovey Nosferatus and wolf-men may have captured the hearts of America’s pre-teen girls on the book and film fronts, the shambling corpses have enjoyed a huge resurgence of popularity too, but especially in video games with Left 4 Dead, Nazi Zombies and Plants Versus Zombies (among many others) all proving very popular. Though pinpointing the beginnings of any zeitgeist is difficult if not impossible, I posit that one reason for this zombification in gaming rests on 2006’s Dead Rising.

Why? Well Dead Rising was arguably the first example of a game that could only be made on current generation hardware; but more importantly, it was a fully realized free-form gorefest that emphasized improvisation over linear design in a manner still unrepeated. It allowed you to finally do what you wanted in the Zombie Apocalypse. Did you go searching for survivors or did you focus on uncovering the truth of the outbreak? Or did you just strip down to your underwear, put on a bear mask and smash zombies with guitars? All of it was up to you. It put zombies back in the spotlight and shortly thereafter it seemed like they were spreading like, well, zombies! Yet due to this, the legions of undead drones have become blasé and there is little to do that hasn’t already been done before. Can the sequel, out this very week, possibly make any impact?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssss! Or possibly the rest of this review, I’m not sure exactly. We’ll leave it to you to figure out.

Dead Rising 2

That’s Chuck and Katey Greene enjoying some quality time together. Awww!

Five years after the events of original game, America has become used to the threat of further zombie attacks, and is instead entertained by the shambling carrion on “Terror Is Reality XVII: Payback,” a pay-per-view game show that has contestants compete against each other to kill the most zombies they can. Chuck Greene knows this all too well as a survivor of an outbreak that destroyed Las Vegas, claimed the life of his wife and infected his now 7 year-old daughter Katey. Riding on his skills as an ex-motocross star, Chuck comes to Fortune City, a stand in and amalgamation of Vegas, to compete in the show and earn the money he needs to pay for Katey’s medication, which prevents her from turning zombie herself. He wins, but disaster strikes again and the show’s zombie supply is let loose among the citizens of the resort paradise and he’s fingered as the fall-guy. Due to military protocol, Chuck gets 72 hours to track down who actually caused the outbreak and clear his name. Cue in the dramatic action music, it’s time for Chuck to turn these rising dead, into the . . . er, falling dead!

Dead Rising 2

As any true red-blooded American, Chuck reserves his right to “bear” arms. Ba-dum-crash!

By directly acknowledging the acceptance of zombies less as monsters and more as entertainment, the entire game’s tone has shifted from somewhat serious, into pure camp. There are still a few touching moments due to Chuck’s relationship with Katey, but overall the story keeps mostly light and it works rather well. Any attachment you might feel though is drained by the end due to the convoluted nature of the plot and the drama of the game’s “Overtime” mode feels far less important or compelling than in the original, but overall it’s still satisfying. As with DR1, most of the really interesting moments, deeper themes, and social commentary occur in the game’s rescues and confrontations with the “Psychopaths” that act as free-roaming boss encounters.

Any great zombie story has something on its mind other than the now mundane “trial of survival.” While Dead Rising hit upon many of the same consumerism tones as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Dead Rising 2 is all about America’s allowance of base indulgences in places like Las Vegas. From overzealous mall cops and sex-obsessed basement dwellers to the shattered ambitions of terrible stage magicians and musicians, many of the psychopaths you encounter in the game are people of unfulfilled ambition. Denied satisfaction in our instant gratification culture, they come to this resort to live out their deepest desires but when the outbreak abolishes all order, they go unrestrained into the world, and end up perverse exaggerations of ourselves. More normal survivors aren’t without sin either, and are often a portrait of self-involved individuals who won’t budge until some arbitrary desire is met, even in this life-or-death situation. It might be a sad state of affairs that many of these characters, though one-note, are instantly familiar in today’s society. Truly, the hot desert air of Fortune City is as thick with satire as it is with ghouls.

Dead Rising 2

Yeah, the funniest part about this picture to me is that it’s pretty much how my last trip to Vegas ended. Minus the zombies of course.

Satire work best when it emulates the source material so well that it can be mistaken for exactly what is being satirized. So the question becomes: is it a good “Zombie Game”? Well fundamentally, this is the exact same game as Dead Rising. You’ll take control of Chuck and battle cadaverous crowds with anything you can find in the environment and manage a ticking time limit which forces you to decide between rescuing survivors or uncovering the next clue to the main plot.

Even with the basics being the same, there are a host of small improvements to several portions. Notably the AI on survivors seems a bit improved so they don’t need as much babying, there’s a handy icon to let you know if they’ll follow you to the next zone, transceiver calls aren’t nearly as annoying or disrupting, and the camera is more suited to using firearms. One big change is that you aren’t restricted to a single save slot; if you feel like making a risky choice that might prove impossible, you can now chance it and have less worry that you’ll completely eradicate your progress when it doesn’t pan out.

Since the game emulates the first one so well, if you had major gripes with the loose controls or the core crowd dodging and battling gameplay, you’re out of luck. Additionally, though the game looks great most of the time, there are noticeable problems with loading, as moving from zone to zone seems to take forever (even with the game installed to your hard drive) and if you’re really moving fast on a motorcycle you’ll see quite a few objects materialize before your eyes. There’s also no infinite mode as in the first, and in general it’s difficult to recommend the game for anything other than the Xbox 360 since only these users will be able to tie in to the downloadable games of Case Zero and the upcoming Case West, which serve as a prologue and epilogue respectively to Chuck’s romp through the glitz and glamour of Fortune City. If you’re excited for this game on the PS3 or PC, I’d go so far as to knock a full point off the total score, since you won’t get the complete package.

Dead Rising 2

Just another day at the office.

While there’s no infinite mode, the folks at Capcom and Blue Castle have added quite a bit to the overall package to compensate for the loss. Their primary effort lies in Chuck’s improvisational engineering; many of the items you’ll find in the game can be taped or nailed together to create useful or simply hilarious contraptions of destruction. From the “Paddle Saw” featured on the game’s cover, to the “Hail Mary” (grenades taped to a football ala Three Kings) there’s a huge assortment of “combo” items to discover. Easily the game’s best new feature, it really spurs your creative juices to find a combo item and try to figure what you can attach to turn it into something amazing. On top of this, there’s also a new multiplayer component to the game in both a cooperative online mode where you can drop in or out of a friend’s story to help them out (which is good, since it’s a rather hard game), and a competitive mode where you participate in the “Terror Is Reality” game show.

“TIR” has easily the best presentation of any versus mode I’ve seen in a long while, and is set up perfectly as a cheesy WWF (or is it WWE?) broadcast, complete with intros from an overblown host and macho commentators whose back and forth resemble a very dirty version of Statler and Waldorf! The 9 events in TIR are generally rather simple mini-game affairs, sort of a combination of Double Dare and Dead/Alive. There’s not a lot of depth to any one game, but they all work very well as a complete package and prove to be a rather fun distraction to a main game full of rather fun distractions.

Dead Rising 2

Seriously, if any real game show had an event called Slicecycles I’d watch it!

Dead Rising 2 turns out to be the most anyone could ask for in a video game sequel. It improves on many of the flaws of the original, and brings in a host of new features and ideas while maintaining most everything anyone could have liked about the original. It’s a tongue planted firmly in cheek take on America’s fascinations, from decadent gambling parlors to our love of monsters that suffer the loss of identity we all fear, but understand completely. Most of all, though, it seems like an amalgamation taped together from a variety of sources and inspirations. Like one of Chuck’s combinations it all works to create a fun experience powerful enough to stand out in a genre that is beyond well tread.

Keiji Inafune and the developers at Blue Castle have captured the wildest and worst parts of the drunken debauchery of Vegas, tossed in a bunch of humor on top of the horror, and created the best game I’ve encountered this year. I for one enjoyed my time in Fortune City immensely and urge you to give it a shot yourself. If you can’t feel your pulse race at what this game has in store, be careful, you might just be part of the dead . . . rising . . . too.

Oh man, that was awful.

I’m sorry.

Still a great game though.

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Dead Rising 2 Trailer

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