Dead Rising 2: Case Zero is just a bit more than a demo and a bit less than what most people would consider to be “proper” DLC. Case Zero is impressive, regardless of what you call it or how you think about it. I haven’t played Dead Rising 2 yet, but Case Zero would seem to be that game in microcosm, a bundle of survivors, weapons, and a horde of zombies all packed into a “one gas station” town on the outskirts of Las Vegas. It feels like an American zombie movie. Really though, I suspect that’s not the tone that DR 2 will take.
Case Zero introduces players to DR 2’s extreme sports hero and protagonist, Chuck Greene. Chuck has the face of a murderous Aaron Eckhart and a daughter infected with the zombie virus. His only mission is to keep her safe, and in Case Zero that means finding a (temporary) anti-zombie virus drug unimaginatively named “Zombrex.” In delightful keeping with the first Dead Rising,Chuck’s paternal obsession also dictates what’s most important to players: the game’s time limit. Dead Rising (and probably DR 2) gave players 72 hours to solve the mystery of the zombie virus and escape with the truth. In Case Zero, Frank has 12 hours to do his business in town before getting the hell out. Once those twelve hours are up, the military rolls into town. Their policy on infected individuals (even creepy looking video game daughters) is not a friendly one.
So far, so good. Dead Rising was an excellent game because it threw an outrageous number of items, enemies, abilities, and side quests at players, stuck those players in a zombie-packed mall, and enlivened the whole affair with a harsh time limit. It was almost impossible to get everything done (getting the “best” ending) in Dead Rising. Case Zero isn’t quite as difficult, but even DR veterans will struggle through their first playthrough of this little morsel of DR 2.
Everything that I loved about DR is back (along with the critical time limit) in Case Zero, excepting a few additions. There’s nothing really wrong with any of the new content, and just about everything is right. If Dead Rising 2 is simply Case Zero expanded to fill a giant casino, I’ll buy it in an instant. Ranged combat is quite easy to pull off thanks to the sensible use of the left and right triggers to aim and shoot (DR maddeningly set “shoot” to “X”). Every other method of interacting with the environment is exactly the same as it was in DR, which is fine because DR’s mix of deep environmental interaction and slightly stiff movement is as perfect now as it was then.
The only completely new element in Case Zero is the special weapons and upgrade mechanics. Chuck regularly discovers blueprints for new, extremely deadly weapons. These makeshift weapons range from the obvious (a baseball bat covered in spikes) to the bizarre (a bullhorn that explodes zombie eardrums). Frank creates these weapons by first learning the basic version of the recipe and then by combining the two appropriate items at any workbench. Makeshift weapons are mostly better than their everyday counterparts, and they give Frank bonus XP (PP in the world of Dead Rising) for every kill.
That’s the other important part of Dead Rising that makes a triumphant return. PP are hard to earn even with special weapons, and since the first game’s camera isn’t making a return (no great loss), the only way to earn PP is to kill as many zombies as possible. My first playthrough of Case Zero ended in my daughter’s capture (and probable death) at the hands of the US military. That was ending C. I then proceeded to play through Case Zero three more times. Only on my final playthrough did I collect all of the motorcycle parts necessary to blow town, buy new Zombrex for Kelly, and save every single survivor. In between, I learned the ins and outs of my temporary zombie playground, created every weapon possible (in Case Zero, that is, DR 2 will have many more), and killed 1,000 zombies, among other achievements.
It’s telling that out of all of my adventures and exploits only that 1,000 kill mark was achievement inspired. I did everything else just for the sheer fun of it. I didn’t discover broadswords until playthrough two, and I was delighted to see their quasi-procedural slicing effect on zombie bodies. Escorting survivors back to the safe house is still a tricky business, what with their tendency to get stuck on zombies. Still, old tricks work best: give a hung-over woman a sword (or more amusingly, a bowling ball), and she’ll trash any zombie in her way.
Again: it’s Dead Rising, in Vegas, with creative, makeshift weapons, and a less entertaining protagonist. The one thing that it might be is slightly less off-kilter, which could prove to be a disappointment. The “Psychopaths” that stood in for minor and major bosses in the first game don’t make much of an impression in Case Zero. The one Psycho who does show up, an angry man with a pitchfork-shotgun (an excellent weapon) is mostly just surly and violent. Dead Rising sans ludicrous bosses isn’t a welcome idea, but as long as the full game doesn’t follow this boring trend, it’ll do just fine.
Case Zero is certainly cheap by AAA DLC standards. It’s not a level (or collection of levels) from the main Dead Rising 2 game. It’s a self-contained adventure with its own miniature story. The experience and combos unlocked in Case Zero will even carry over into Dead Rising 2. It’s a fun little bit of game, and for Dead Rising fans who aren’t sure about DR 2, Case Zero is an excellent (though not free) way of determining the worth of the sequel. It’s an excellent game hindered in no way by its size or larger, twenty hour long companions. It’s a 360 exclusive, which is unfortunate: I can’t think of a better way to grab new customers than Case Zero, and Capcom just threw potential PC and PS3 customers overboard. Still, everyone with a 360 should try Dead Rising’s tense mix of beat the clock tension and zombie massacring fun at least once in their life. As it is, Case Zero is a perfect introduction to both DR and DR 2. Why not try it?