Review: Dead Rising 2 (Sony PS3)

Dead Rising 2
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Blue Castle Games
Genre: Action
Release Date: 09/29/2010

You either are the sort of person who wants to kill zombies with a swordfish or you aren’t. This is an inescapable reality. I knew I had to purchase Dead Rising 2 the moment it was announced for the PlayStation 3. The image of a guy, serendipitously named Chuck, smashing a zombie with a roulette wheel amidst the noise and flashing lights of a casino floor resonated strongly with me, a roulette dealing guy named Chuck. I waited patiently as the release date slipped further and further into the distance. I stopped working in the casino business in the interim, but I still longed to murder the undead with a plethora of tools and weapons. Did Dead Rising 2 live up to the hype?

Story/Modes
The first Dead Rising game was an Xbox 360 exclusive and I refuse to buy an Xbox. The downloadable preview game, Case Zero, is also Xbox 360 exclusive. The forthcoming epilogue, Case West, is Xbox exclusive. Even without playing through these titles, the world of Dead Rising 2 is pretty easy to insert yourself into. There have been zombie outbreaks in Willamette and Las Vegas. Chuck Greene and his daughter Katey survived the Las Vegas outbreak, but not intact. Katey was bitten by a zombie and must take Zombrex once daily in order to prevent zombification and her mother, Chuck’s wife, died in the attack. Unfortunately, Zombrex is expensive and Chuck needs to make lots of money to keep his little girl alive.

Chuck makes his money in just about the skuzziest manor possible, by participating in the zombie snuff game show Terror is Reality. TiR is a gruesome mix of American Gladiators and Monday Night Rehabilitation from Idiocracy. After a terrorist attack floods the streets of Fortune City with literally thousands of zombies, Chuck must grab his daughter and get her to the nearest Emergency Shelter, along with a ragtag group of survivors. From there, the game opens up. Chuck must keep himself alive, rescue survivors, score Zombrex for Katey, and try figure out who caused the outbreak.

The Story mode allows single player progress, but is even better with a friend in co-op. As the Server, you can advance your Story with the added help, or hindrance, of a second Chuck. The Client player can drop out at will with no real negatives. As a Client, you can jump into another player’s game with you current character, earn PP (experience) and money, and jump out without issue. The co-op is almost totally seamless, as long as you aren’t too anal and can accept the occasional knife glove maniac slashing zombies purely for the joy of it.

There are a few types of missions in Story mode. Rescuing fellow survivors takes up the bulk of Chuck’s non-story time. These missions are escort missions, with the occasional fetch quest or ambulatory issue complicating things. Scattered throughout are boss fights, some required for the Story, others purely optional. Every boss in the game is a Psychopath, a normal person driven mad by the collapse of society. The quality of these battles varies widely. For every battle that is interesting and requires some thought, like the helicopter battle, there are four hillbilly snipers that can be brained with a baseball bat.

Alternatively, there is the competitive Terror is Reality mode. TiR mode is a competitive mode that is the second best money generating method in the game and the most fun, by far. TiR is a four event competition in which four players try to kill as many zombies as possible in one of 9 events. Zomboni, Pounds of Flesh, Ramsterball, Headache, Stand Up Zomedy, Ball Buster, Master Shafter, Bounty Hunter, and Slice Cycle are all a hoot. Zomboni is a fun little game involving Zamboni machines, zombies, and four clown mouths that open and close. Smash zombies and shoot the juice into the clown mouths for points. Master Shafter is a strange one, with the players running around with lances, fighting for position using timed button presses, trying to skewer zombies for points. The fourth game is always Slice Cycle, which is good since it is the most fun of the games and the easiest to tack up big dollars at. TiR cash can be sent to a saved game whenever you choose.

The real beauty of TiR is that it is so separate from the rest of the game. Unlike Co-Op, there is no need to include people from your friends list. If you are victorious, you score some serious scratch for your Story mode game. The nice thing is that even if you lose, you still gain some valuable cash. This encourages people to play, even if they are not very good and it makes dropping out or quitting pretty silly. I had my signal drop and got booted after 2 games, but the cash that I earned was still banked. This attention to detail shows a level of care that few developers possess.

The tone of Dead Rising 2 is very player dependent. The Story mode plot is played very straight and serious, with little humor. The play environment itself is also very serious and horrific, with herds of zombies meandering through the plazas and shops of Fortune City. If a dead serious horror game is what you are after, Dead Rising 2 can be that for you. Otherwise, I refer you back to my opening sentence: if you want to kill zombies with a swordfish, then go ahead and impale them on that bad boy. There are many humorous weapons scattered throughout the game, some of which are frightening in their efficiency. For me, the joy of wearing a yellow Servbot head with a lawnmower engine and blades affixed to the top and charging through a throng of zombies is transcendent. Marbles, rubber masks, and pink bicycles with training wheels are legitimate weapons.

Graphics
Dead Rising 2 is not the prettiest game in the world. It is often nice looking, but the glitches, slowdown, and shearing force me to dock DR2 serious points on the Graphics score. The character models nicely straddle the line between realistic and cartoonish.. Being too realistic tends to make characters look, well, zombie like. Too cartoonish and it is hard to take a horror game, even one with a comic undertone, seriously.

Chuck Greene, cleft chin and all, looks the part of hero. That being said, Chuck looks less than heroic when wearing old timey footy pajamas with a butt flap, a coon skin cap, and cowboy boots. Or maybe a pink halter, cut-off shorts, and a Servbot head is more your style. Personally, I spent most of my time in Story mode wearing a tuxedo, white cowboy boots, and a white cowboy hat, looking the Matt Houston part, down to the “Ëœstache. The cutscenes are rendered with the in game graphics, so Chuck always appears wearing the gear you have clothed him in. This is one of many nice touches that made it into the game.

Amongst the weapons, some have no use aside from looking great when used on a zombie. Ketchup, mustard, and whipping cream can be used to harass the undead, and they all look great. Spray paint has limited, but fun use, and it also looks amazing. Going item by item, I cannot think of a weapon that did not look great when busted out. The only real disappointment with the way weapons work is the lack of visualization for breakage.

The hordes of zombies have some variety, but do be prepared to kill chunky lady in a low cut black tank top and mall security guard with a pistol over and over again. If Fortune City really has that many showgirls running around, they must have a cast of thousands for the production numbers. That being said, the weight of numbers never gets boring. It is almost impossible to really communicate how many zombies there are shuffling across the Strip. Standing atop a fountain with a pistol with four bullets and a baseball bat is all the more daunting when you scan the horizon and see nothing but red, gaping maws between you and where you are headed.

There is so much to love about the way this game looks that it is sad, but understandable, when things start crawling. Less understandable are the massive loading times whenever Chuck travels between areas or a cutscene begins. The loading is the biggest buzzkill in the whole game, taking you right out of the action. An even bigger buzzkill happens when a survivor falls behind and gets stuck in the previous area and you have to turn around to retrieve them.

Audio
Musically, Dead Rising 2 makes a very interesting artistic choice. Since the majority of the game takes place in shopping malls and casino gaming floors, using upbeat Musak-style tunes makes a lot of sense. Having spent several years on a casino floor, I can tell you that using the lamest, most tuneless music possible is both accurate and I think it perfectly sets the tone for the game. The elevator quality music is an interesting counterpoint to the tremendous amount of violence being perpetrated. I can definitely see how the soundtrack could be off-putting to most, but it does serve a purpose.

The psychopath fights each have unique music. Most of these boss fights have nu-metal style riffing, which sets the stage for some bloody battling. A nice touch is the way the music fades as you leave the area in which a fight is taking place. The music for the fight against a fellow TiR contestant, for example, is a dead ringer for a Marilyn Manson tune.

The voice acting is… strange. Chuck and most of the main characters do a very good job and make their characters’ personalities come to life. One exception to this being the voice of T.K. I am not sure if it is the scripting, the voice actor, or a combination of both, but he never sounds right. I think it might be the phraseology more than anything, but he never connects. It is a real shame, too, since his character is very integral to the plot. Honestly, it could just be that he is a pro wrestling style character and I set the bar too high for wrestling style voice acting.

The voice acting high water mark is set by the Terror is Reality announcing crew. Using the standard play-by-play guy and color commentator combination, the voice actors do an amazing job. TiR has a pro wrestling feel to it, and these two actors set the mood well. The color man has a sick sense of humor and makes a number of tasteless jokes that actually made me laugh enough to be distracted from the bloody action. The Michael Jackson joke was so bad I quote it every time I play Slice Cycles.

As far as the sound effects go, the zombies make a nice meaty sound when they are hit with weapons. They squish and rip with a gleeful noise. The lawn mower based weapons have a nice cadence and sound suitably realistic. The only real fart in the bathtub is the sound firearms make. The guns never quite sound realistic or convincing. I wonder if this was a choice, to reflect how weak guns are in the game, since fireworks sound amazing.

Gameplay
The bulk of Dead Rising 2 is wading through zombies. Every corner you turn reveals hundreds upon hundreds of the undead. I killed upwards of 7000 zombies on one play through without making an effort to kill excess zombies. To put it in perspective, there is a trophy for killing 53,596 zombies in one playthrough and another for killing 70,000. No, really seventy thousand zombies in 72 hours of game time, which is much less real time. That being said, the real goal of the game is not to kill as many zombies as possible. In fact, to get a perfect save, you must become pretty adept at dodging zombies as you rescue people.

The primary method of zombie dispatching is to pick something up and smash it over a zombie’s head. Rinse and repeat. It would be possible, though mind numbingly boring, to make it through the Story using whatever pipe wrench or baseball bat you pick up. Thing is, there are much better ways to kill a zombie. Hand to hand combat is simple, but rewarding. There are punches and haymakers and drop kicks. The real fun comes from the pro wrestling style moves. I probably killed a thousand zombies with the Randy Savage elbow drop. Grabbing a zombie by the wrists and putting your knee in their back let you rip a zombie’s arms off. The best move? Gorilla Pressing a zombie onto a crowd of zombies. Seriously, murdering the freshly risen with moves I used to do on my little brother is quite cathartic.

The big system introduced in this game is the Combo system. By taking two compatible items to a workbench, Chuck can combine them into a new, and hopefully improved, weapon. A nail bat (Nails+ Baseball Bat) will serve you well. Some are more logical or useful than others, but the more esoteric ones can be a blast to use. I cannot get enough of the Electric Wheelchair (Battery+ Wheelchair), which can be pushed through a crowd of zombies to inflict electrical death and destruction while a zombie sits in the chair convulsing. Once you get a taste for Combo weapons, you will likely use them to the exclusion of all else. The PP bonus alone makes it worthwhile.

The controls are simple and work the way they should most of the time, emphasis on mostly. A few psychopath fights bring out the worst in the control scheme. One of them, which is a spoiler so I will leave the name out, drove me into anger several times. There are multiple platforms that require jumping, and lining up the jumps can be irritating at best, game breaking at worst. Coupled with the occasional stutter and slowdown, the breakdowns in the controls leave a sour taste in my mouth.

Replayability
Dead Rising 2 never feels artificially lengthened. Most of the rewards for multiple replays, costumes, alternate endings, trophies, are of the sort that only someone who really enjoys the play of the game would pursue them. The costume extras are tied into trophy achievement, which is a great way to satisfy the majority of players. As I write this, I am endeavoring to make a perfect run and rescue all of the survivors. I can think of many games I played this year that were good, but did not hold my interest enough to warrant this sort of trophy hunting, like Red Dead Redemption.

There is a fine line between making a game resource too easy or too hard to gain. PP is DR2‘s stand-in for experience and it is very easy to manipulate. A variety of PP boosting magazines are scattered throughout Fortune City, with different criteria for each. Coupled with a Combo Weapon and the Combination card for that weapon, it is easy to earn tons of PP in a hurry. I reached the level cap of 50 at the end of my first complete playthrough, after a pair of aborted attempts. Cash is a trickier proposition. Terror is Reality is a good source, since you can net $50-100K per play, though it can be time consuming. An easier method is to pickup all three Gambling magazines and play the giant slot machine in the Slot Ranch Casino and plug away for half an hour. Several of the game’s most enticing items, like a complete suit of Ghouls’n’Ghosts armor or the keys to the sports car or SUV require millions of dollars, but the rewards are mostly worth it.

Another replayability factor is online multiplayer. Between the gory game show glory that is Terror is Reality and the manic mayhem of a marvelous game of Co-Op, Dead Rising 2 has quite a lot to enjoy multiplayer. I would have knocked this game for lacking a single console multiplayer mode if this were another generation, but that is simply the way things are these days. I do miss having my competitor or ally in the same room, but those days are likely over for good now. The only real issue with the multiplayer would be how difficult it can be to get into a Terror is Reality game. Unless you are playing at peak hours, it can be difficult to get the required four players. After playing several games in which a player was lost early in the competition, likely someone hunting a specific game they need for a trophy, I came to enjoy three person games even more. With three players final scores are much closer and the competition is tighter. Too bad this is not the normal mode of play.

Balance
Dead Rising 2 is a game of two halves. The first attempt to make it through the game, Chuck is under-powered and can die pretty easily. Before you reach level 20, the hordes of zombies are terrifying and there is a significant chance they will pull you down and devour you. Even worse are the Psychopath battles when you are low level because the Psychopaths are wicked tough when you can’t take a punch. This is almost a completely different game once you cross the Rubicon and reach the 20s.

When Chuck is over level 20, he becomes a beast. The barehanded moves get better and better, his health bar lengthens, and he can run faster than the fastest Psychopath. At this point in the game, you will have access to a large number Combination Cards and should be dealing some serious damage. A level 50 Chuck is still vulnerable, particularly to the special zombies in the back third of the game and some of the Psychopaths. More essentially, time is always an issue and even at level 50 it can be hard to cram everything in and accomplish all the goals you want to. It still takes skill to rescue all the survivors and make it to the S victory.

Originality
Yes, this game is a sequel. There is no getting around the fact that this game has a number 2 in the title. That being said, the original game is pretty revered amongst horror gamers and is very different from other zombie games. The whole horde dynamic is pretty different from Resident Evil, for example. The heat between Dawn of the Dead‘s producers and Capcom is completely meritless, because the dynamic is so different between the two. The Combo system is very different from any other games I have played and it makes the game stand out, for sure.

Addictiveness
My personal watermark is two weeks. If I still want to play a game two weeks after I started, that warrants a Good rating. I am at almost three weeks of straight play and I am still chomping at the bit to get some more time. I know as a fact I have two more runs through Story mode to get all the play I want. I do not recall a game that I wanted to play beginning to end more than once, let alone 3-5 times. My long suffering wife has had to endure conversation after conversation with me extolling the strategic advantage of various household items come the zombie apocalypse. What can I say, I love planning ways to brain the shambling dead?

Appeal Factor
Zombies are big right now. Bigger than I can recall them ever being, as a horror fan. Movies, TV, video games, zombies are everywhere and the core of Dead Rising 2 is the concept of a zombie apocalypse. This is definitely a zombie model based on the George Romero rules, with zombies behaving like zombies should: slow, stupid, and hungry. These zombies slouch and shuffle and fall down on slippery floors. So, I classic zombies are your forte, Dead Rising 2 is an easy sell.

Another key to the Appeal Factor is the fact that this is a sequel. Dead Rising was a pretty big game and one that has a pretty big following. Frank West, the first game’s protagonist, has moved to the mainstream of Capcom’s universe, appearing in a number of Capcom games. That being said, this is the sequel to an Xbox 360 game. A PS3 only owner will likely have never played the original game. Without this frame of reference, there is definitely a strike against DR2.

Miscellaneous
As of this writing, the DLC has started to trickle out. The downloadable costumes are everything I like about DLC: fun, cheap, and completely non-essential. If you decide not to drop the two bones on the Psycho costume, for example, I cannot imagine that you are missing much of the game. The costumes are certainly fun and they do have minor gameplay repercussions, but I am perfectly content to only buy the Psycho and the Ninja. The Psycho is a take-off on Leatherface, with a bulging belly, blood-splattered clothing, and a skin-colored mask. The Ninja costume is pretty self-explanatory, but it has a greater gameplay effect, making zombies notice you less and adding a new animation for swords.

Dead Rising 2 was released in a couple of configurations. The one I purchased, the Zombrex edition, includes a hardcover art book, a syringe pen, a bandage, a prescription pad, a Zombrex pamphlet, a metal game case, and a code for a downloadable Theme, all in a nice big box. The hardcover book is well made, with a glossy cover and pretty quality paper. It is fun to flip through and see the concept drawings, but it is not essential. The Zombrex pamphlet is pretty cool, but it is folded to fit in the box and that takes away some of its luster. I wish they had made it smaller so it would not have to be folded. The metal case, much like the one on my beloved Texas Chainsaw Massacre special edition, is cool as heck. With the Zombrex logo and pill shaped indentations, the case looks great. The less said about the theme, the better. A slot machine facing that scrolls between various weapon combinations is just not that interesting, to be honest. The pad is kind of neat, but will likely end up as a Post-It pad on my desk. The pen and bandage are the real stars of the Zombrex edition. Both come packaged in a Zombrex box, that is completely in character. The pen looks like a syringe full of brightly colored fluid and functions like one: hit the plunger and the tip clicks out. The bandage is in matching packaging and the whole thing is really fun. Whether this pile of stuff is worth a $20 surcharge is up to you, but I love it and it keeps me from being tempted to trade it in.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Classic
Graphics: Great
Audio: Above Average
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Great
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Final Score: GREAT GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
There are games that you play and forget and there are games that burn themselves into your consciousness. Dead Rising 2 is definitely a game to remember. The combination of zombie horror and ridiculous comedy brings to mind great zombie flicks like Dead Alive and Shaun of the Dead. As this year closes, I think Dead Rising 2 is perhaps the best game of the year. Even if it isn’t, I can tell you one thing: I had more fun with Dead Rising 2 than any other game I have played this year. That is about as ringing an endorsement as I can give.