WORDS BY: Francesca Reyes
A giant sprawling mall full of shambling zombies. One guy forced to take them on in a bid to survive until rescue arrives. Non-infected folks need saving. Nearly everything in the environment can be used as a weapon. Sound familiar? Like, maybe you fell into an undead hot-tub time machine and wound up in 2006, just to play through the original Dead Rising again?
If you’re having déjà vu, it’s no surprise. After all, Dead Rising 2 gets serious mileage from recycling gameplay quirks and content from its predecessor. You still have a limited number of save slots (three now, which definitely beats one), with the option to save and start over with your previous stats intact. And you’re still trapped in a decimated shopping district, trying to juggle a laundry list of tightly timed objectives within an in-game 72-hour period.
This time, though, you’re wading into the flesh-feeding frenzy with a defined purpose: as motocross champ Chuck Greene, your primary objective is your daughter, Katey. She’s inflicted with the zombie virus, forcing you to fetch her Zombrex every 24 hours lest she start getting some ghastly cravings. It’s a poignant turn, and the father-daughter relationship provides an emotional anchor to counter the outlandish insanity unfurling around them. And unfurl it does.
Gone is the slightly campy zombie-fest humor of the original, replaced by a much more grim, acid-tongued commentary on American culture. The optional side quests that turn you against human boss characters — called Psychopaths — can take disturbing turns, with grotesque gore and some ugly, mean-spirited stereotypes, including survivor-sniping good ol’ boys and a crazed Deep South sheriff. The unnecessary political jabs can leave a bad taste, but DR2 keeps things cracking by making the bosses tough. If you stumble into a fight unwittingly without the right weapons or character level, you’d be wise to flee. But the fact that you can ditch quests highlights DR2’s strength — the ability to play the game how you like.
Early on, you’re given the option to chase the truth behind the zombie outbreak in a series of “cases” that span the entire game. If you miss any, you’ll be locked out of solving the deeper mystery, but you can still fetch Katey Zombrex, save survivors, and wait until the military rescue arrives. With multiple endings available, you can even let Katey go all “braaaaaains” if you choose not to administer her daily dose. You’d be a complete jerk, but it’s an option.
Two new features keep DR2 from strict rehash-ville. One is the maintenance rooms populating the game world; it’s up to you to discover all the ways to use them to combine anything from a kayak paddle to a chainsaw to a guitar amp and more. Combo cards — which tip you off to these lethal concoctions — come as rewards for defeating bosses, reading certain posters, and leveling up with Prestige Points (or PP, earned through everything from dispatching enemies to giving Katey toys). With so many hilarious DIY death-dealing tools, it becomes super addictive trying to find them all.
And just when you think DR2’s tough-love level of challenge is too much for your Chuck to bear, you can call in a friend to help you carry the load. Online co-op makes completing objectives and escorting survivors to the safehouse more manageable, and you’ll both reap PP-granted rewards that can carry over to your own separate games. The Terror Is Reality four-player mini-games work the same way — the points you earn go toward your personal Chuck, beefing up his levels to make your story campaign easier.
We admit we miss the first Dead Rising’s goofier schtick and the initial wow factor of its innovative challenge. But the latter hasn’t been toned down for this sequel, and the game remains — even with its flaws — a shuffler lover’s undead dream.
+ Overflowing with Easter eggs, multiple endings, combo weapons, and more.
+ Co-op and online multiplayer are helpful additions.
- Grim, po-faced politics; game is load-tastic.
? Who knew Liam Neeson moonlighted as Fortune City security?