Like Nintendo with the Metroid Prime series, Capcom turned to a US studio to develop the next chapter in one of their flagship, this-gen franchises. Although Retro arguably knocked their assignment out of the park, Blue Castle Games, responsible only for three mediocre baseball titles up until this point, has limped in with a serviceable but immensely flawed sequel to one of the Xbox 360’s most beloved sleeper hits.
For a zombie game, it’s interesting to note that some people–myself included–find the zombies in Dead Rising 2 to be more of a nuisance than a worthwhile feature, even when they’re being decimated by all manner of makeshift weaponry. The best bits of the game are always off the beaten path in stores and maintenance rooms. Luckily running past zombies is quite easy, and by the end of the game it seemed like my expansive collection of survivors had bothered with killing more undead than I had (not counting any that shambled in front of me as I raced from one location to another in my golf cart).
Despite the decaying nuisance which floods every open space and dark corridor of Fortune City, the motivation to explore and experiment is quite rewarding. Even more so than the first, Dead Rising 2 gives plenty of opportunity for the player to stumble upon and relish in its inherent absurdity; at one point I found myself riding a tricycle in a full suit of knight armor while being escorted by a tiger. In that rare moment, I saw Dead Rising 2 for what I wanted it to be, not what it actually is, sadly.
Before we dive in to all the things that are wrong with the game, let’s touch upon the good. The most notable addition to the series are the combo weapons. Chuck’s handyman prowess and an endless supply of duct tape allow players to create 50 unique weapons by combining two different items together. Unfortunately, the extremely limited inventory space and monotonous traveling required for most parts render almost every combination pointless, as they’re simply too much effort for too little reward. Many of the explosive combos are cool in theory but only eliminate a handful of zombies in practice, despite having taken 20 minutes to assemble. The Hail Mary (football + grenade), for example, barely dents the 100 or so zombies guarding the entrance to any of the casinos. Quite quickly I came to rely on the Boxing Knives, particularly for their ability to beat down and slice up annoying psychos in a hurry.
Dead Rising 2’s marketing benefits from the Wii Effect, where they can impress passer-bys with snippets of excitement and fun (such as an LMG-wielding giant teddy bear), but the majority of the combo weapons are gimmicks at best. They won’t kill bosses. They won’t help you get to your next objective safely or on time. And chances are they’ll run out of ammo or get knocked out of your hands before you can even put them to use at all. But making them is half the fun, and with 50 different concoctions to discover, therein lies Dead Rising 2’s value. Once the novelty has worn off, however, all that remains is an outright broken, needlessly tedious and poorly constructed game that will disappoint any gamer with a pulse.
Like with the first, the player is free to go about the game however they want. Do you want to uncover the story? Do you want to save your daughter? Do you want to just screw around and make dynamite-launching bow and arrows all day? I personally took an entire playthrough to level up to 50, earn money, and familiarize myself with important areas and weapon locations, then had zero trouble on my second playthrough doing everything the game could throw at me and still having time to kill. There are some pretty curious omissions that detract from the overall enjoyment, such as a lack of a permanent storage area for rare combo components at the safe house, or the ability to store any clothing items you find rather than having to hunt them down again, and I was particularly disheartened when starting a New Game+ completely erased my inventory, forcing me to track down all my magazines and remake all my juices again, among other things.
Survivors return (there are 118 characters to meet in total, including psychos, main characters, and about 40 or so people whose death is inevitable), and there are over 50 to rescue throughout Fortune City. You are still only restricted to eight at any given time (even if you haven’t added them to your party, other survivors will not appear until some of your potential maximum group dies off or is brought to the safe house), which can cause you to miss missions altogether if you take too long. I got attached and spent a couple of hours being escorted by three sniper-wielding prostitutes and a bride with smeared makeup and an assault rifle. I even forced the bride to wait outside the rescue area while I dropped off other survivors so that she couldn’t leave my party. Unfortunately, great liberty has been taken with the presentation of the survivors; 99 percent of survivor dialogue is through way of subtitles (seriously, what decade is this, Capcom?), drastically reducing their personalities and my connection to any of them. The psychos were much more identifiable and memorable, by comparison.
And therein lies Dead Rising 2’s biggest flaw: the presentation. It starts immediately with the painfully long load times; menus freeze for upwards of an entire minute, moving from one area to another gives you ample time to chew and swallow three bites of Chipotle (my method of time measurement), and even in-game cutscenes are all bookended by loading screens that are sometimes longer than the cutscene itself, ripping the player right out of the experience. I tried installing the game to my hard drive to reduce the constant waiting forced upon me, but it made no difference.
Although Fortune City is aesthetically diverse and there are countless zombies on screen at any given time, Dead Rising 2 looks and feels dated. The engine noticeably stutters at certain points in the game, buckling under the weight of the on-screen assets. Characters and scenery are poorly rendered (the game is even nice enough to show you just how poorly time and time again during the close-ups in cutscenes)–at one point during the arrival of the military, the textures and lighting are seemingly sucked right out of the game. My gaming co-pilot commented that it’s just as bright underneath the Humvees as it is above them (no shadows).
A bit of rough edges would be reluctantly acceptable if the heart of the game was strong, as it was with the first one. But Dead Rising 2 suffers from a very derivative plot, laughable dialogue and scenarios, and a twist towards the end that I verbally predicted 10 hours prior. The characters are all quite bland, including Chuck (aka Not Frank) himself and his creepy daughter Katey. Counterparts for both Jesse and Isabella are easily identifiable, but only the gratuitously sexy Asian reporter (who is constantly being molested by the camera angles) brings any bite to the bunch. In fact, there is a copious amount of sexy women in this game, but I still can’t decide if Capcom loves them or hates them as just when you’re thinking, “Wow, that fake character’s fake breasts are kind of hot!”, she gets brutally sawed in half by psychotic magicians.
To compound the poor story elements, the game’s handful of endings are half-assed at best. The “best” ending requires the player to enter “Overtime” and participate in an all-too familiar fetch quest, but unlike Dead Rising 1, the purpose of this lonely endeavor is never explained. Then, you make your way to the final, final boss battle, who strips you of your entire inventory that you’ve worked so hard to build up and proceeds to pummel you with cheap power moves. The main villain is so annoying and stereotypical, he’s barely worthy of being a generic psycho. I didn’t care about the conflict whatsoever, because ultimately it had no relevance to the Dead Rising universe. At this point my patience had been pushed to its limits, and once all was said and done, I did not feel satisfied by the outcome, nor did I feel rewarded for my efforts. The game literally wasted my time, almost punishing me for trying to have fun by playing it.
The highly touted co-op mode allows a second Chuck to drop in and drop out of your game at any time. Both players must be in the same area at all times and if one’s health is fully depleted, the other can instantly revive them with any food or drink item. Sadly, at the time of this writing, a massive number of players are having fatal issues with the co-op, including me; attempting to save while playing online will result in one of the players being kicked from the game. Needless to say, this almost completely negates the purpose of being able to play together, as saving is kind of an integral part of any six-plus-hour journey.
Where Blue Castle’s many layers of incompetency are divulged and Dead Rising 2 outright reveals itself to be rushed and broken is the Terror is Reality competitive mode. This basically resembles what Dead Rising and Fuzion Frenzy would look like if Chuck combined them using duct tape and a few over-caffeinated Capcom interns. There are nine different mini-games in total, but good luck ever getting to play them. Finding a match, even during the weekend of the game’s release, is a lost cause. I spent hours looking for ranked matches and the few times I found a party, the lobby was shut down because I “lost connection to the host”. Finally I got into a game and it glitched out on me. Hard. I could move during the Zomboni round but couldn’t grind up any zombies to score with. Next was a shooting game and although I could aim, I couldn’t shoot. The third round was appropriately called Headache, where the four players are required to put as many masks on the zombies as possible. My character was frozen at the start point, while everyone around me continued to rack up their score. The final game was Slicecycles, where players drive around on chainsaw-equipped motorbikes and score zombie kills. Again, I couldn’t do anything, and went on to lose the match, obviously. Then, the game kicked salt in my wounds by freezing my Xbox at the results screen. On top of all this, my understanding is that even if you were to win a round or match, most Dead Rising 2 players have a tendency to rage quit, which automatically shuts down the room and causes the winner to lose his or her progress entirely.
Even if Adriana Lima invited me to play this game online with her, I’d never do it. Not since Fable II have I seen such a dastardly attempt to pass off such an unfinished product on the masses. Despite my mind-bogglingly bad multiplayer experience, I went back to mop up some achievements and finish earning Arthur’s full suit of armor, which requires earning $2,000,000 and unlocking Ending S. After a very difficult and lengthy feat, the map has permanently disappeared across ALL my save files, even the ones where I do not have the armor yet. And again, this seems to be a common occurrence according to the GameFAQs message boards. With that, I put the controller down, and considered my time with Dead Rising 2 officially over.
The solid foundation residually left over from the original and the new hybrid weapons system create a basically appealing package from which a decent amount of fun can be derived, but the lackluster presentation, uninspired story, outright broken multiplayer, and atrocious amount of glitches makes Dead Rising 2 less of a flawed gem and more of a somewhat polished pile that incrementally smells worse the longer you let it sit in your disc drive.