Friday, 8 October 2010

Review: Dead Rising 2 (360)

Zombies with traffic cones stuck to their heads, others getting sliced in two, being burned alive, or just smashed in the face with a soft toy. Not so much of a surprise considering your proprietary aim throughout the whole of Dead Rising 2 is to kill, mame, and disfigure as many of the living dead as humanly possible whilst trawling through the Las Vega inspired Fortune City. It's a highly enjoyable experience at times, but not without elements of repetition, and some issues which make this sequel feel slightly hacked together at the last minute. But at least it's for the most part, still quite addictive.

Dead Rising 2 sticks firmly to the blueprint established by the first game. The missions are largely similar, the whole idea of picking up almost anything and using it as a weapon is almost the same, as is the never-ending onslaught of zombies, and familiar time-based structure, all which form an altogether familiar, but rather fun game.

However, with this sequel (or what feels like a retry of sorts) developer Blue Castle Games has improved on many of the flaws of the original. The save system has been slightly overhauled, the game’s use of time no longer penalises you for failing missions, and the ability to combine weapons together provides ample reason alone for mindlessly running around and bashing as many zombies as you can. It’s still not without some issues though, and the whole idea of levelling up and going back through the game can get decided boring, often pretty repetitive at times.

Now that isn’t always such a bad thing per-say, with the game’s sandbox nature giving you plenty of the same things to do. It’s just a question of whether you want to keep doing them. And that can be a pretty big ask. Though for the first few hours or so, you will definitely want to stay in Chuck Greene’s world turned upside down.

Roaming around the glamorously hellish paradise that is Fortune City, beating down loads of living rotting corpses with almost anything you can pick up is what you'll be doing most of the time. And there's plenty of items available at your disposal to do this. Nearly everything can be used; saw blades, baseball bats, axes, tables, chairs, plant pots, soft toys, etc. You name it and you can probably use it to deliver death to the undead. It can be a rather wildly enjoyable affair.

Of course you could do this before. But now you have the ability to combine various weapons together into making a custom death-delivering machine, or just a push broom with shotgun on the end of it. Did someone say ‘boomstick’ anyone? All objects that are identified with a wrench icon can be combined with another item. Usually this still has to make some kind of logical sense; such as a water pistol combined with a gasoline canister becoming a flamethrower, and so on. The fact that you have such a huge range (nearly unlimited claims Capcom) of items at your disposal keeps this whole idea from going stale. But also another reason for backtracking your way all over Fortune City.

You’ll be doing a lot of that too whilst in the world of Dead Rising. This sequel, like with the original, has a hard time limit in which to complete the game, and is backed up by a shallow, but mildly compelling storyline.

After being framed for the recent zombie outbreak in Fortune City, our new hero Chuck Green (bye bye Frank West) has only 72 hours in which to clear his name, and find enough Zombrex (an expensive medicine) to keep his daughter from turning into a zombie before the military arrive. To make matters worse, the whole place is quarantined off as well.

After initially escaping to safety from new zombie infestation, you find yourself holed up in a safehouse in the centre of another shopping complex, and it’s from here where you’ll be stepping out into the world, killing lots and lots of things, whilst running rescue missions and helping stranded survivors.

The story establishes the time limit, and throughout the game every mission you do is also timed, taking a chunk out of the whole 72 hours you have. Multiple missions are radioed to you from the save house, and usually run concurrently with each other, meaning that you’ll often have to decide which ones you have time to do, and which ones to let go. Even if you don’t choose a particular mission they still expire, so juggling between them is reasonably important.

However, it is impossible to complete every mission, every side-quest, and to see and do everything the first time around. Instead, the game has been designed for multiple playthroughs, with some challenges requiring you to be significantly levelled up in order to complete them. Also, some missions can only be successfully taken on with good time management. On subsequent re-plays you should have a greater understanding of where things are, and which missions can be done at the same time before returning to the safe house.

In DR2 it is also possible to fail missions, even major ones, without much in the way of punishment. You can even let Katey die if you want to. The result is that the game’s eventual ending changes, and you are left with a few shallow, but mildly perplexing moral dilemmas. In any case it’s a far better system than the one in the first Dead Rising, in which failure could often lead back to the beginning of the game. Now, you can choose when you want to start up from day one again, fully powered up and ready to go.

Aiding with Dead Rising 2’s far more forgiving game design, comes a tweaked save system. In DR2 there a now a handful of bathrooms in which to save. And you can choose to use them, and thus save your game at any point in time, mid-mission or otherwise. Of course balancing out this increase in chances to savage your progress comes the cleaver design of positioning save points often at ends with where you have to go for your main missions. This means that you’ll have to make a choice to either: carry on until the next intended save point. Or: fight your way through more hordes of the undead to reach a bathroom.

Both choices are filled with similar dangers, and neither represents a truly easy option. Getting to a save point when having to stroll off the intended mission path also loses you valuable time, meaning that it’s more likely that you’ll have to play through the game again to make up for any missions you might have missed. But the idea, and implementation is sound. Still, the giving the player a firm choice makes for a fairer overall experience than in the original Dead Rising.

A fair amount of the game (read: most) simply sees you going from point A to point B, picking up stranded survivor and helping them back to the safe house, maybe follow up on a the next case objective in between, or at the same time, whilst killing, bludgeoning, and dealing as much punishment as possible to as many of the undead you can in the allotted time limit.

Along the way you will also encounter a few boss battles – usually either powered up super zombies, or crazed humans looking to stake their claim. But in what exactly, I’m not sure. They’re challenging to beat, to say the least. And you’ll often die initially, having comeback a little later on, levelled up and armed to the teeth in order to finally take them down.

Thankfully, as you should have spent at least a few hours roaming and killing plenty of what you see, accumulating more in the way of weaponry, and increasing your health and strength, then these encounters shouldn’t prevent you from progressing for too long. Instead they simply reaffirm the fact that the game wants to be played over and over again, and that you should have far more fun in completing it if you go about it this way.

Unfortunately, the game’s long loading times make constant backtracking and exploration a somewhat tiring experience. Fairly long loading screens occur when venturing into different areas of Fortune City, and in between cut-scenes, breaking up the action considerably. These are pretty lengthy and make each area feel disconnected from the last. In particular, it feels like you are simply going through a series of separate levels set in the same place while carrying over any weapons and items you happen to find along the way.

Although it is understandable why these occur from a technical perspective (especially when moving from area to area), one can’t help but wonder why Blue Castle Games could have used pre-recorded in-engine cinematics for the cut-scenes instead, thus reducing the amount of times the game needs to load. But as it stands, with all too frequent occurrences, they simply disrupt the flow of action and prevent you from really becoming immersed in the world that has been created.

At least its a world that you can share this time around.

For those of you who might somehow tire of the experience when going it alone, you’ll be pleased to find that the developers have also introduced a story mode co-op option for Dead Rising 2. This sees both players taking control as Chuck Greene, albeit in different outfits, battling hundreds of zombies, and performing all the same tasks as you would in the standard solo story. Although in cut-scenes only one version of Chuck is ever present - the host’s character always takes president.

The use of co-op works well for the most part, however is let down by some peculiar issues with the game’s save system in this mode. For example, when playing I found that only the host could actually save their story progress – the guest player only saves their level, which is extremely frustrating. Especially frustrating in fact, when you consider that your zombie kill counter is reset every time you choose to return. In addition when one player saves their progress, the other is unceremoniously booted from the game, thus having to rejoin with the host again.

A few annoying niggles aside, playing through the game in co-op is a great way for both players to level their characters up, whilst also exploring all Fortune City has to offer. In particular, picking up new items, customising weapons, and then trying them out on the nearest group of flesh eaters in lieu of completing the actual story is great fun, whilst also allowing you to learn the layout of the game and its many nuances before you do things proper on your own.

Taken as a variety of individual experiences, Dead Rising 2 can seem to be rather repetitive and rather mundane. However, combine the time spent mashing up zombies, whilst performing various escort missions, and investigating the shady goings on in Fortune City, it becomes strangely compelling.

The storyline even manages to deliver a few Romero-esque moments of political jousting, often criticising the sometimes selfish and voyeuristic nature of man. But at the same time it knows never to take itself too seriously. Protests against the mis-treatment of the undead is at odds with exactly what the game wants you to be doing – killing as many as possible. And definitely adds a comedic touch to the premise as it unfolds. That, along with the many colourful, and downright stereotypical characters you will meet along the way.

However, Dead Rising 2 isn’t for everyone. And while as many people are likely to be enthralled with the constant carnage on offer, equally as many will be turning away in boredom after only a few hours. What keeps things enjoyable though, is the unique mix of humour, likeable characters, and viscerally gory action.

The fun that comes with finding, and indeed making new combinations of weapons, before then trying them out on the nearest walking corpse is actually just as good as it sounds, while at the same time most of the complaints surrounding the first game have been completely resolved. And although a few cuts have also been made; you can no longer take photos of your bloodiest work whilst running around Fortune City. Plus the game’s frame rate regularly takes a dive, resulting in quite laggy controls. These problems aren’t enough to tarnish what is a mostly entertaining, though rather samey experience.


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