Dead Rising 2 is really two games in one package; one is them is fun, and one of them is awful. Other games have suffered from similar unfocused flaws: Heavy Rain, Enslaved, and Fable 3 to name a few but at least those games knew what parts of their design worked best and emphasized them. Even at its best Dead Rising 2 never succeeds as well as it should.
The good game within Dead Rising 2 is a third-person adventure set in a zombie infested casino resort. The casinos are filled with wacky weapons, and the ability to combine items allows you to make even crazier contraptions. It’s just a joy to hack up the undead with knife gloves or a drill bucket. Personally, I find that saving survivors is the funniest part of the game since no one seems to have their priorities straight. A group of women won’t come with you unless you bribe them, the same goes for a man with a gambling addiction. Another guy won’t come until you help him rob half a dozen ATMs, and another women who got locked out of her room in her underwear won’t come until Chuck strips down to his skivvies as well. Their requests are ridiculous considering the circumstances but that makes them all the more entertaining.
The controls lend themselves to this kind of adventure game. Chuck is maneuverable, able to weave through hordes easily, but his attacks are slow. Every attack has a few too many frames of animation, so after he swings his sword or bat or flaming boxing glove, he spends a dangerous amount of time recovering from that swing. Thankfully, zombies are slow and stupid, so they rarely have the wherewithal to attack Chuck while he’s in this vulnerable state. The combat controls that should be frustrating are alleviated thanks to the idiocy of the enemies.
It’s too bad then that Dead Rising 2 never takes full advantage of this part of the game. The survivors are far more capable in this sequel, able to bat away most zombies with their bare hands. While this may ease the frustrations inherent in all the escort missions, it also removes any tension. Escorting survivors in the first game was dangerous and difficult. I had to keep a watchful eye over my flock or they would die or get lost or left behind. Such tragic ends were common, especially when running through the park filled with crazy armed inmates in an armored car. That park was a no man’s land that I always feared. There’s no place like that in Dead Rising 2. No part of the resort seems any more or less dangerous than any other part. In fact, the whole resort rarely feels dangerous at all. I never have to worry about my followers because they’re too smart and too strong. They never get lost, they rarely get caught by zombies, and they never seize up in fear. I’m so confident in their ability to defend themselves that I can count on one hand the number of times I actually gave them weapons. Their bare hands are more than enough.
The zombies and the ticking clock are also poorly utilized. The zombies work best when they interfere with missions and the ticking clock, when they become an environmental hazard that you have to fight through as fast as possible. Yet there are long stretches of in game hours when I have no mission worth doing; I’ve saved all the survivors and the next story mission isn’t for a while, so there’s no tension in the time limit. At this point, killing zombies just becomes a way to kill time. It’s fun but not very frightening. There are certain other missions available to me during these long in game hours, but these other missions seem to belong in an entirely different game.
The bad game within Dead Rising 2 is a third-person brawler with poor controls. Chuck’s slow attacks are fine against slow enemies, but against the many psychopaths that are stronger and faster than him, the controls become a nuisance. The psychos know how to take advantage of Chuck’s vulnerable recovery animations, and those attacks then knock him to the ground, leaving him even more vulnerable. The bosses move in predictable patterns, and knowing those patterns is important, but it’s not enough to simply know when to attack. I also have to know how I’m going to attack. Each weapon has a different attack animation, with stronger weapons having longer animations, so each fight tasks you with learning through trial and error exactly how many hits with a specific weapon that you can get in on a boss before he attacks back. Winning isn’t so much a matter of learning the boss’s patterns as it is about learning Chuck’s patterns. I’m spending more effort fighting Chuck’s controls than I am the boss himself.
The most depressing thing about Dead Rising 2 is how these bad boss fights ruin other good aspects of the game. The save system, which limits you to only being able to save in bathrooms, is effective at creating fear when you venture out into the resort because you don’t have a safety net to fall back on. Reloading from a save often means restarting a significant amount of progress. However, if you die during a psycho fight that means you start in a bathroom and must fight your way back to the psycho to try again. These treks back become boring, since I’m not under a time limit and the zombies are easy to get past with proper planning. And since the psycho fights rely so heavily on trial and error learning, you’ll find yourself running through the same batch of zombies over and over again, long after such treks cease to be fun. Without the ticking clock, these environmental hazards are just annoying. There’s no reason not to have a checkpoint before each boss fight or at the very least before the final boss.
The story is quite good as far as zombies stories go, but the lack of a checkpoint before the final boss ruins any potential dramatic moments that the story might otherwise have. The final boss fight (and secret boss) is an effective narrative climax with surprise betrayals and revelations of secret conspiracies that leave Chuck filled with righteous anger. When the fight begins, it feels like the end of something grand, but then I die and that feeling disappears. After dying on the final boss multiple times, the fight loses whatever meaning it once had. It becomes disconnected from the story, so by the time that I see the ending cut scene I no longer care about the ending.
I loved Dead Rising, so I was surprised by my disappointment with this sequel. It seemed like all the changes made for the sake of more appealing gameplay took away from the brutal fun of the first game. Yet I loved Case Zero—probably because it had just one psycho fight, a save point right before that fight, and a merciless clock that had mere seconds left on it when I finally beat the game. Case Zero was the third-person adventure that Dead Rising was always meant to be, it’s too bad that the main game doesn’t live up to that promise.
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