Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dead Rising 2

Post-Launch Review
Dead Rising 2 (PC)
Developer: Blue Castle Games
Released: September 2010
Played: story complete in 13.5 hours


Five years after the zombie outbreak in Dead Rising, the world has mostly moved on, with a mass-produced drug called Zombrex that prevents infected people from turning. Motocross champion Chuck Greene is visiting Fortune City, Nevada with his daughter Katey to participate in a game show so he can continue to afford Katey's Zombrex. While Chuck is backstage, the show's supply of zombies is released, quickly overrunning Fortune City in a massive new outbreak. Chuck soon discovers that he's been framed as the cause of the outbreak, and he must fight to clear his name before the military arrives for the evacuation.

At Launch

Dead Rising 2 was well received, earning average review scores of 80%. Reviewers were impressed with the game's diversity and sheer number of zombies on screen, as well as the combat and weapon crafting. Most enjoyed the story, though some found it uninspired. Some critics complained of long load times and technical problems.

Post Launch

Four DLC packs previously available as pre-order bonuses were released for purchase. The Ninja, Sports Fan, Soldier, and Psycho packs each contain a costume and special set of skills. A set of four free add-ons allow players who don't own the packs to use them when playing co-op with someone who does own them.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is a standalone game that reimagines the events of Dead Rising 2 with the first game's protagonist, Frank West, replacing Chuck Greene. Since it's a standalone this isn't really DLC and won't appear in this review, but it's worth knowing about.

As soon as I started the game, black screen and crash. After a bit of checking it appears that Games for Windows Live is the problem. Of course. Okay, I'll just sign in and... oh, connection error, no matter how many times I try. Well no problem, I'll just reinstall GFWL.Sign in and... there's a problem with my account, click here to resolve? Click... crash. More research shows that the "problem" is that I need to accept the new XBox Live terms of use. Log in on the website, accept new terms of use, and hooray, I can log in on the GFWL client. Launch game... register product key with GFWL... sign in... hooray, it's working, I can play! Oh, wait, what's this? Game needs to update through GFWL, will kick me out if I decline, and if I accept it'll kick me out to update. RRRRRAAAAAAGGGHHHHHHH.

Anyway, all that is not part of the game itself, but it's definitely something to be aware of if you want to play the PC version.

Before I started playing I was intimidated by the time factor. All missions have a timer and fail if you don't accomplish them quickly enough. There are also tasks that require you to be in a specific place at a specific time - for example, each day you need to find a shot of Zombrex, and your daughter needs her dose between 7 and 8 am each day. She can't take it too early or she'll overdose; too late and she'll succumb to the infection and turn into a zombie.

Having actually managed to get the game running, I had quite a hard time getting into it. There are load screens everywhere during the intro sequence and it really breaks the flow of the opening. I felt quite weak starting out: I couldn't one-shot zombies and weapon durability was very limited, so despite the UI encouraging me to fight fight fight by throwing points and a kill counter right in my face, I couldn't really do much yet.
I stuck it out because I'm stubborn and I wanted to like the game at all costs. I started learning crafting blueprints, figuring out where some good weapons are located, started moving more carefully instead of fighting... and all of a sudden I was having a blast. The sheer number of undead is what I've always wanted in a zombie game. The undead are slow but the swarms are huge, so with low weapon durability, moving around becomes a game of picking your route and engaging only when necessary. Unlike most games, you don't have the gear to fight everything you see, and your inventory space is very limited so you have to choose whether to carry healing items (food) or more weapons.

There's a lot of detail in the game world. Some of the major areas include two malls, a food court, several casinos, a hotel, an outdoor promenade, and a maintenance subway. Each shop and casino has its own theme and holds different weapons and clothing. Each area has its own music, too - the Americana Casino even has a knock-off Thunderstruck riff playing.

Crafting is amazing. You can discover some recipes by levelling up; some come as quest rewards. Most of them, however, you can discover yourself by experimentation - even the level up recipes. Every item with a blue wrench icon (instead of the yellow weapon icon for non-craftables) can be combined with at least one other item to create a new, more powerful weapon. There are all kinds of silly but awesome combinations: a pair of chainsaws duct taped to kayak paddles, an electrified wheelchair you push through crowds of zombies, an amped-up guitar that produces sonic shock waves, a rocket launcher made of pipe and fireworks...

Dead Rising 2 has a lot of silly humour despite its serious storyline, and you can make it even sillier by wearing the right clothes, since whatever Chuck is wearing shows up in cutscenes. I wore a pair of Groucho glasses all game and I couldn't help smiling every time Chuck tried to be serious but looked so goofy. Even though I sort of sabotaged the tone of the story, I still found it quite good with a lot of twists (and multiple endings depending on which/how many story missions you complete). The only element that bothered me is that it seems that the first Dead Rising explains how the zombie plague worked but the sequel doesn't bother. The game occasionally talks about bees and queens as if I know what they do. Since I don't, it's weird to see queen bees come out of dead zombies. There are also several references to an outbreak in Las Vegas, where Chuck's wife died, and those references sometimes make Dead Rising 2 feel like a sequel to a game that doesn't exist.

The game is at its creepiest not when you're fighting zombies, but when you encounter the few humans driven insane by the zombie apocalypse. Most of these are people who just can't cope and are actually kind of tragic, like the mailman who does his duty no matter what, or the game show contestant who thinks he's still playing the game. Some, however, are just terrifyingly insane. Of course, whenever you beat a psycho, Chuck leaves them with a punny one-liner, so the game doesn't get too dark.

Speaking of boss fights, unfortunately they're generally pretty terrible because of how they create difficulty. The only reason most boss fights are challenging is because they can easily interrupt your attacks and knock you off your feet. I'm not asking that every boss just stand there and let me hit them, but... I still didn't have the dodge roll at level 20, two thirds of the way through the game, because whether you get a skill when levelling up is random, as is which skill you get. So the only way for me to avoid an attack was to get hit until I figure out how much time I had to stop swinging and run away. And since stat upgrades are random as well, I was still at minimum speed until even later.

My biggest complaint about Dead Rising 2 is what first kept me away from the game: the time constraints. I believe I've complained before about games that have a time constraint in the plot but not in the mechanics (like many RPGs, such as Mass Effect where you can spend days mining instead of worrying about the Reapers). It's nice to see a game where the time constraint is actually a big part of gameplay, and there are consequences if you take too long to do something. However, that constraint is at odds with much of the rest of the gameplay. You're encouraged to explore and experiment and have fun, but there isn't enough time if you actually want to get all the missions done. I expected a sandbox mode post-story, but there isn't one, which is pretty disappointing.

Recommendation: play it.

Dead Rising 2 does hordes of enemies better than any other game I've played. It's definitely an experience to leave a building and see hundreds of zombies milling about, all moving independently and all interactable. Most games only manage this number of enemies in cutscenes, not in actual gameplay. There's plenty of room to explore and experiment, and a ton of goofy weapons and skills. I'm really disappointed that there isn't a sandbox mode, but you'll make discoveries as you play through the game. A little too much time pressure, but definitely a lot of fun.

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