The original Dead Rising is still my favourite game of the current generation. It remains, to this day, the only time when I felt I was playing and consistently enjoying something that truly could not have existed on Ps2/Xbox/GameCube. Sure, the graphical power of things like Gears of War, Uncharted, and Heavy Rain would not have been possible previously but had these games been made 5-6 years previously, they really wouldn’t have played all that differently. And sure, the Wii introduced motion control into mainstream gaming, but I personally have not found a game that was fun for more than 20 minutes that uses such devices. But Dead Rising was different. The first time I loaded up the demo, I saw something I’d never seen in a console game before; not a couple of zombies, not tens of zombies, but hundreds. And not hundreds of single pixel zombies, but fully animated characters with enough differentiating look to avoid a cut and paste feeling, all in HD. This game would have been very different on the previous console generation. Now the sequel has arrived, but unfortunately, somewhere in the intervening years, the magic has been lost.
Dead Rising 2 tells the story of Chuck Green and his young daughter Katie. If you’ve played the preview game Case Zero (or just read the review here on Jaded Eye: http://jupperpeep.com/jadedeye/2010/10/14/dead-rising-2-case-zero-review/), you’ll know that Chuck is a motocross star, trying to protect his daughter Katie, who has been bitten by a zombie and needs injections of the drug Zombrex every 12 hours to stop her turning into one of the shambling horde. If you didn’t know that, well, you do now. Chuck and Katie arrive in Fortune City (i.e. Las Vegas) to take part in a game show call Terror is Reality, where contestants kill hordes of zombies in themed games in order to win money (rather cleverly, the game show is available to play as a separate online competitive mode – it’s not overly complex, but is oddly engaging) Chuck participates and wins, securing enough money (he hopes) to pay for Katie’s Zombrex needs. However, the zombies break out of the gameshow arena, filling the surrounding casino and forcing the survivors to head to a safe room (no doubt also earning a pretty smug ‘I told you so’ from the show’s Health and Safety Officer). When Chuck and Katie get there, they discover Chuck has been framed for the outbreak. Therefore, you have 72 hours to find out who framed you and clear your name, rescue any other survivors and keep Katie doped up with Zombrex until the Military arrive.
All this is really just set-up for a carbon copy of the first game. Chuck still runs around a large contained area – although a casino, it’s still full of shops that provide a variety of useful, comic and rubbish weapons. Chuck still gets messages from someone in the safe house via a walky-talky (which are still text on the screen, rather than actually voiced) about the location of survivors or to investigate disturbances, which invariably result in fights with psychopaths; all with the “ticking clock” pressure that means events will disappear if not attended. And just as Frank West (star of DR1) did, Chuck still powers up by rescuing said survivors and killing zombies/psychopaths. All of this is as much fun as the original was, but there simply isn’t that feeling of playing something you haven’t quite seen before. The wow factor of the first game has gone, because of the first game. And it’s only made worse by the sequel’s constant rehashes of things from the original. When you eventually get into the DR2’s underground tunnels, it doesn’t surprise the way the first game did with the massive increase in numbers, because the first game did the exact same thing already. In truth there are so many similar events both gameplay- and story- based between the two games, I started to suspect a plot twist akin to Metal Gear Solid 2, but no – nothing so imaginative here.
One of the few new additions are combo weapons. Chuck can combine two items together to create a new weapon that is more powerful than normal. Using it upgrades Chuck faster than normal weapons – it replaces the first game’s photography element. The idea is sound and there are some hilarious combinations but the system is slightly flawed; in the very first maintenance room, next to the safe house entrance, there is a baseball bat and box of nails – good for making a Spiked Bat. This means, during every trip to and from the safe houses, two nailed bats can be made – i.e. you’ll always have two excellent weapons in your inventory, perfect for crowd control without having to go exploring. Obviously, there’s nothing stopping you exploring further, but not a massive incentive to do so either, especially if you’re running out of time to rescue person X from psycho Y.
By far the biggest issue with Dead rising 2 however is the difficultly balance – it’s all wrong. The original had a very odd system whereby, if the game got too difficult, you could restart from the beginning, but keep all your upgrades. This meant the early sections were now very easy, and could be completed much quicker, leaving more time between critical missions for exploration and levelling up. The sequel keeps this format (while dropping the dreaded single save game issue by including 3 slots) but has got the difficulty levels all wrong. The optional psychopaths are still incredibly difficult and I quickly started avoiding these on the first play through, confident I would be restarting soon. The core missions however are all really easy – I don’t believe I died on a single one until the final 12 hours. As I continued to make progress, I had no incentive to restart and therefore, more and more of the events were missed because my character was not strong/fast enough to reach these elements. It threw the entire game out of balance. I completed the entire main 72 hour section and the overtime mode (another copy from the original) without ever resetting back to the start, only really struggling at the main game’s final boss (warning: he is incredibly cheap). Unlike the original I never needed to restart Dead Rising 2 in order to keep progressing and can not see myself doing so now that I’ve solved the core mystery.
I don’t want to sound too down on the game, as it’s still a lot of fun, and has ironed out some of the crippling issues in the first game (the ones that I was happy to dismiss as ‘quirky’!) I would recommend this to anyone who didn’t play the first game or suggest that those who disliked the first try the sequel as there are enough changes and simplifications that it might make a difference to you. However, it really never engaged me the way the original did – too much of the game was almost identical, whilst some of the key changes were for the worst. I believe Dead Rising 2 should serve as a warning to Valve; makers of Portal, who are currently at work with Portal 2. Everyone one wants more Portal, just as I wanted more Dead Rising. But the truth is that I didn’t just want more Dead Rising, I also wanted more of the surprise and amazement that Dead Rising provided, not the identical experience with a new coat of paint. Whilst still an excellent game in its own right, Dead Rising 2 simply isn’t able to provide that same spark – it will be interesting to see if Portal 2 can overcome the same hurdle.