Warning: This review may contain spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other games.
Dead Rising 2 is the sequel to the popular Dead Rising, an open-world game which took place inside a gigantic, zombie-infested shopping mall. Dead Rising 2 ups the ante by setting the game in the Fortune City, a fictional stand-in for Las Vegas. While the gawdiness of Vegas does lend the game its own unique look, the setting isn’t all the different from the first one, as Fortune City is essentially a giant shopping mall anyway. You play as extreme sports star Chuck Greene, a contestant on a zombie-killing reality show called Terror Is Reality, whose daughter was bitten by a zombie years before and must recieve regular doses of the drug Zombrex to keep her from becoming one of the undead. Shortly after participating in a Terror Is Reality event wherein you and some A.I. contestants drive motorcycles mounted with chainsaws through a huge pit of zombies, the zombies escape and take over Fortune City. Soon it is also revealed that someone wearing your biker gear is responsible for setting the zombies free, and has framed you for the crime in the process. Holed up in a bunker with a handful of other survivors (none of whom trust you), it’s up to you to prove your innocence, keep your daughter supplied with Zombrex, and of course, kill thousands upon thousands of zombies.
In my opinion, the greatest zombie games ever made have been Valve’s terrific Left 4 Dead games. They perfectly capture the atmosphere – and the comedy – of classic zombie movies and really make you feel as though you’re right in the thick of the action. By the same ticket, I’m a big sucker for zombies, so it’s tough to make something zombie-themed that I won’t enjoy. Still, Valve set the bar pretty high as far as awesome zombie games, and so, going into Dead Rising 2, I was well aware that it probably wouldn’t measure up to Valve’s masterpieces. I was pleasantly surprised at how fun and addictive Dead Rising 2 turned out to be, however, and I’m really glad I picked it up, even though it’s nowhere near Left 4 Dead caliber.
The real heart and soul of Dead Rising 2 is the open world. Filled with thousands upon thousands of zombies, Fortune City is an awesome place to run around in, and the fact that you can pick up absolutely everything you come across and use it as a weapon is an absolute ball. From trash cans to tiki torches to swordfish to moose heads, literally every item can be used as a weapon (some are much more effective than others, of course). In addition to this, many items have the potential to be combined with others to create special combo weapons that do more damage, gain you more PP (the equivalent of experience points), and are just generally more fun to use. Some examples of combo weapons – and there are many – include the combination of a sledge hammer and a fire axe, a machete and a remote control airplane (that hovers in place, attracting zombies with its shiny lights and lopping off their heads with the machetes on its propellor blades), some jewels and a flashlight (which makes a lightsaber), and a leaf blower and a spear (creating a high-powered harpoon gun). These many, many different combo weapons are loads of fun to experiment with, and are by far the highlight of the game for me. Even once the missions began to wear thin for me, the combo weapons kept me coming back again and again, just to find new and exciting ways to chop zombies to bits.
It’s a good thing that all the zombie killing is so much fun, because Dead Rising 2 does feature numerous annoying flaws. The combat system is pretty sluggish, with each attack involving its own somewhat slow animation that you can’t interrupt. Sometimes a zombie will sneak up behind you with relative ease because you mashed a button a few too many times and you can’t stop Chuck from swinging his crowbar in one particular direction. This is probably a symptom of being able to grab everything around you to use as a weapon, but the result is pretty irritating, especially when you have an amazing weapon but can’t seem to use it as Chuck swings around at empty air. Another downside to the combat system is that it seems like every mission that involves a one-on-one fight with a human opponent requires the use of a gun of some kind in order to succeed, which really sucks. Guns are the least interesting weapons in Dead Rising 2, and I often found myself rather annoyed as I ran around killing security guard zombies in a big to accumulate pistols for my next attempt at a certain mission.
The missions are problematic as well. For one thing, the two main kinds of missions featured in Dead Rising 2 are the most annoying kinds: escort missions and timed missions. All the missions have time limits, and while it does add a sense of urgency to the game, the fact that killing zombies is often more fun than completing the missions means that enforced time limits come off as lame as opposed to tense. I frequently found myself distracted by making a new and amusing weapon, and would end up losing precious mission time as a result (or failing missions altogether). As well, lots of the missions involved escorting AI characters from the midst of a zombie horde back to the safe house, and let me tell you: the AI in Dead Rising 2 is really stupid. The AI characters were always in the way, and if you accidentally hit them too many times, they’ll defect and start attacking you. That being said, once they were following you at a safe distance and I’d handed them a decent weapon, I never had too much trouble getting the survivors back to the safe house alive. Still, it’s a pissy mission format, and there are way too many missions that follow the formula.
The story missions are much more enjoyable than the side missions, to the point where, at the higher levels when the side missions began to get frustrating, I began just ignoring the side missions and killing zombies until it was time for the next story mission to start. The story missions have formats that are unique from the side missions, and many of them have you running all around Fortune City dealing with criminals and trying to track down the man who framed you. One story mission that I particularly liked involved Chuck chasing an underground train on a dirt bike, with the objective being to jump onto the back of the train with the bike and then dispatch all the opponents on board. It was a fun time, to be sure. One downside to the story missions is that the cut scenes are unnecessarily long at times, and can really take you out of the game with their tediousness. Thankfully, you can skip past them, so you aren’t forced to sit through the same long, boring dialogue scene again and again. Another downside is that they’re an all-or-nothing package. If you fail one, you can’t progress to any others, and you basically lose the game. You’re given the option of continuing playing without being able to win, but I thought it was stupid that you couldn’t fail a single mission if you wanted to see the story through to the end.
My final gripe about Dead Rising 2 is the save system. For one thing, you’re only given three save slots, which is enough to get by on, but it means that if you save frequently (like me) and you screw up a mission, there’s a chance that you won’t be able to go back far enough in time to correct your mistake and thus have ruined your game. Thankfully, you never get that many opportunities to save – but this is a pain unto itself. In order to save, you have to find a restroom, and if you’ve ever tried to find a restroom in a shopping mall, you’ll know how aggravating it can be. So saving your game doesn’t come frequently, and the result is that you end up having to replay some stretches of the game over and over, trying to complete the mission and THEN get to a restroom to save. It’s a tough flaw to ignore.
For all my complaining, though, I did have a lot of fun with Dead Rising 2. The creative weapons and the ability to combine them into bigger, better weapons is enough to carry the whole game, and there’s loads of enjoyment to be had in arming yourself with an arsenal of zany weaponry and killing hordes of the undead. The repetitive and frustrating side missions, compounded by the lousy save system, do threaten to drag the game down with their crappiness, but thankfully you can skip most of the really annoying ones and just spend your time mashing zombies to a pulp. All in all, I’m glad I picked Dead Rising 2 up, but it just doesn’t pack the same punch as Left 4 Dead. It’s worth playing, especially if you, like me, are a huge zombie fan, but after playing it through to the end once, I doubt I’ll revisit it.
3.25 out of 5