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Review: Dead Rising 2

Dead Rising was an Xbox 360-exclusive title that aimed to capture the hearts of zombie fans everywhere. It did just that, and despite some major flaws, it was a surprisingly solid game with plenty of replayability. Now it's time for the sequel, and things have changed. New protagonist, new location, new story, and new development team have guaranteed that Dead Rising 2 will be different. Only it's not so much different, but rather an improvement. There's a sense of deja vu all throughout Blue Castle's endeavors to provide Capcom with a worthy addition to the franchise, and funnily enough, it ended up as the better game out of the two. Blue Castle has learned from the mistakes Capcom made, and while Dead Rising 2 certainly has issues, they are far less notable and important issues than the first game's problems.

Gallery: Dead Rising 2

Dead Rising 2 follows former motocross champion as he competes in the zombie-related game show Terror is Reality. He doesn't do this for himself, but rather for his daughter, who was bitten by his wife during an outbreak that destroyed Las Vegas. He must buy continual supplies of Zombrex to keep her from turning, with the medicine having concerning side effects (such as epileptic fits). Unfortunately for him, an outbreak occurs shortly after his win for the "Payback" episode. Even worse, the security cameras caught a man dressed in his outfit destroying the gates between the zombie pens and the arena, unleashing the zombies onto the crowd and resulting in the infection of most of Fortune City. Now he must survive the town until the military arrives, prove his innocence, and safeguard his daughter all at the same time.

While Dead Rising 2's story is certainly goofy, it takes itself far more seriously than the previous game. Dead Rising was plagued by campy acting and oblivious main characters, and both of these things have been rectified in Dead Rising 2. Chuck Greene often expresses annoyance and confusion over how idiotic some of the survivor requests are, and is a genuinely reasonable and likable character. That's not to say that Frank West is not, but Chuck Greene does seem to have a bit more humanity to him. The supporting characters take more of a backseat than Frank West's buddies, with the three main supporting characters (besides Katey) being a gruff security guard, an ambitious field reporter, and a zombie rights activist. The antagonist is also clear from the beginning, while Dead Rising's protagonist/antagonist relationships are developed late and are quite murky. To put it succinctly, Dead Rising 2 is a clear struggle of right versus wrong, while Dead Rising is a grey moral area regarding the actions of the characters.

The graphics have been improved plenty with Dead Rising 2. The textures are far higher resolution, the bump mapping looks fantastic, and the detail on the zombies is far greater. It also runs surprisingly well, having not crashed or stuttered once due to any graphical issues. However, there are still plenty of low-resolution textures, especially on survivors, and sometimes textures do not load all the way, which leaves a pixelated mess. There are also no animations for survivor or Chuck lip syncing, so talking from you or NPCs while in the game proper (not a cutscene) is met with the default face. As a side not, the lip syncing in cutscenes is drastically improved and far more expressive, perhaps because of the developer speaking English. The sounds are all as appropriate as one would expect, and the tradition of pulse-pounding boss music makes a return. It is a visually and aurally impressive game, even with minor hiccups.

For those that have played Dead Rising, you will be familiar with the gameplay behind the sequel. In short, you can grab anything and (almost) everything in your quest for survival and retribution. See a bench? Pick it up and throw it. Want to drive a motorcycle into crowds? Go right ahead. Want to make a pie smoothie? Feel free. There are also survivors and psychopaths looking to do the same thing, so you must save innocents, kill criminals, and find out what is going on before time runs out.

As made apparent, items are divided into four categories: melee, thrown, firearm, and food. There is also a fifth meta-category, which are craftable items. Melee items are, naturally, used to beat down zombies. These are goodies like baseball bats, swords, and virtually any large object. Thrown items are just that: you throw them at an enemy, and it stuns or kills them. Food are things like bread and orange juice, and can be eaten normally or blended to make a power-enhancing smoothie. You can guess what firearms do. Thankfully, the aiming and discharging of firearms is much, much easier in Dead Rising 2. Now, when wielding any firearm, you can freely move while doing careful aiming. No more running around to the perfect position to freeze in place! This was one of the biggest problems of Dead Rising, and the fact that it is fixed here will almost be enough for the hardcore fans of the original.

Alongside these are the combo weapons. The big touted feature of Dead Rising 2, combo weapons allow you to take two items and combine them into one. In several cases this is logical (nails and baseball bat), in others it is goofy (shotgun and pitchfork), and in yet more it is downright lunacy (gems and flashlight). All combo weapons give you multiple bonuses: almost all combo weapons give you experience for killing enemies, they are usually much stronger than normal weapons, and they typically last for quite some time. Unfortunately, the combinations are chosen by the developers, so player ideas - such as a golf club and a grenade - are out of the question. There are combo cards for each combination, and having them gives you double experience for kills made with them. Cards are retrieved from survivors, leveling up, psychopaths, looking around the mall, and in one case, crafting the item in question (for the secret achievement).

There are plenty of survivors to rescue from the oncoming zombie horde, and they unfortunately need your help. Thankfully, they are not quite as idiotic (in gameplay terms, anyway) as they were in Dead Rising. This is the second major fix from the original, and is a slam dunk. Survivors now actively avoid zombies, fight back, and are even crack shots with any weapons you hand them. In short, they are no longer an escort mission, and more like teammates. In our three playthroughs for this guide, not a single survivor died to a zombie in any of them. None even got knocked down halfway. Friendly fire and psychopaths are far more dangerous to their health now than zombies are.

While survivors are much smarter in gameplay, they are far more stupid normally. Perhaps it's because of how common zombies are after the Willamette Incident, but people are bogglingly idiotic when it comes to a zombie uprising. One girl refuses to join you unless you strip naked to carry her. A many survivors and groups refuse to join you unless you pay them, and range from comedians to security consultants (alluded to be prostitutes until the real profession is revealed). The most frequent words out of Chuck Greene seem to be "You can't be serious," and "You have got to be kidding," and we don't blame him. It's comical just how inept the survivors are at taking care of themselves.

Psychopaths are littered around the grounds of Fortune City, and peek their heads out every few hours. Most of them are reskins of previous bosses, though. For example, one boss leaps in and out of cover to hunt you down like Cliff Hudson, while another is a cop that took things a little too far, much like Jo. The two unique boss fights that we found were the Snowflake and Ted fight and the Bibi Love event. Both of these allow you to recruit survivors from the psychopaths, and in Bibi's case, you never even engage in a fight. Psychopaths are the real challenge of Dead Rising 2, as they were in Dead Rising, and the zombies serve as little more than distraction.

After reaching Ending S, there's still plenty of replayability left in Dead Rising 2. Besides the multiple ending, achievement-seeking replays, the first thing of note is co-op. The game positively breaks when you are joined in co-op by a friend, but in a supremely funny way. Bosses become trivial, tasks are completed hours ahead of schedule, and you are left with plenty of time to fart around. This is what makes co-op so great: it is more focused on goofing off, rather than challenge. And there's a lot of things to goof off with.

Unfortunately, co-op is plagued with some pretty bad issues. Sometimes the loading player will be stuck, unable to move. Sometimes the player will crash or be booted after psychopath defeated cutscenes. The worst, however, is that loading a save from a co-op ending can delete all of your special, purchase-only, multiple playthrough items like the SUV Key. This is an incredibly glaring oversight, especially since all other co-op saves merely add experience and money to an existing save. There's also the leap of logic necessary for two chucks to exist in-game, but as only one is recognized by people in cutscenes (the person to trigger it), it's not that bad of an issue.

Dead Rising 2, if the previous paragraph didn't make it apparent, has plenty of minor glitches to go around. Sometimes there will be bad audio lag. Other times, textures won't load completely. Then there's move-specific glitches, such as using the knife glove heavy attack on a mercenary. Try it for yourself, it's incredibly hilarious. Surprisingly, there was only one completely game-stopping bug that we found, and that was an issue with the Slappy psychopath fight.

Proper multiplayer is a four-player free-for-all that pits contestants in the actual Terror is Reality game show. To be honest, we didn't spend a whole lot of time in multiplayer. It's sort of tedious, often rewards luck more than skill, and has issues with gameplay balancing. However, it is the easiest and fastest way to get money in the game, as every point earned (even if you lose) is translated to cold, hard cash for one of your save slots. Unlike co-op, this won't cause any issues at all. This is the only real reason to do multiplayer, so if you have plenty of cash already, you can skip it without missing much. You might want to do it anyway, if you want the outfits.

Perhaps the most burning question is whether or not Dead Rising 2 has the normal issues that plague a console port. We are extremely relieved to say that it is fully functional and intuitive to the keyboard and mouse. Actions are bound to where you would expect them to, with the only awkward control being the one to drop your item. Video settings are fully customizable, although controls are not. This isn't so much of an issue thanks to the good controls, but some that prefer to bind their keys different might be annoyed.

The best way to describe Dead Rising 2 is that it's Dead Rising, except with all the nasty bits carved off like the fat off a T-bone steak. It's succulent, juicy, and waiting for you to take a massive bite from. Thanks to improved combat and AI, it plays much better, and the new additions make it truly fantastic. In a big surprise, it's also $40, which makes it a third less than the console versions. Despite the issues some may have with the game due to the more deliberate gameplay, Dead Rising 2 is a must buy. It's a fantastic - and more importantly, fun - game that you can pour hours and hours into.

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