George A Romero has much to answer for. Aside from the horde of zombie movies that have shuffled in the wake of his most significant works, Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead, we’ve seen a minor influx of similarly themed video games, from the Resident Evil series to Valve’s Left 4 Dead.
2006’s Dead Rising was one of the few zombie games to tap into the darkly subversive humour of Romero’s seminal films, however, and its combination of open-world exploration and anarchic zombie battering made it one of the Xbox 360‘s most memorable early releases.
Dead Rising 2 continues the first game’s obsession with improvised weaponry and unlikely deaths, with its new protagonist, motocross rider Chuck Greene, capable of beating the walking dead into a bloody pulp with blunt instruments including guitars, park benches and power drills.
In an added twist, the everyday weapons that afforded protection in the first game are joined by a new combination system, which allows items to be cobbled together to create hybrid weapons with deathly potential.
Early on, you’re shown how to combine a bag of nails with a baseball bat to create a deadly zombie-mashing cudgel, while in later scenarios it’s possible to concoct outlandish weapons from chainsaws and an oar, or a hand grenade and a football.
The game’s objectives have also become more involved. While the duration in which you have to survive remains at 72 hours, there are more objectives to be fulfilled. Chuck’s daughter is in thrall to the zombies’ virus, and it’s only through regular injections of the drug Zombrex that she can remain in her normal state.
Unfortunately, Zombrex isn’t cheap, and Chuck is forced to either search for the stuff in the game’s undead-filled environment, or purchase it using cash found dotted around the map or earned in Dead Rising 2‘s online mode.
Then there’s the task of clearing Chuck’s name. Accused of deliberately unleashing the zombie horde on Fortune City, Chuck must find out who and why he’s been framed before the army show up.
While all this is going on, there are the hapless residents to save. Running around Fortune City, you’ll either hear desperate cries for help, or receive text messages informing you of nearby survivors for you to rescue. Although rescuing survivors is an optional part of the game, it’s also perhaps its most satisfying, and successfully dragging, say, an old lady back through a shuffling gaggle of zombies to your safe house instils a genuine sense of achievement.
Combat, too, is enjoyably simplistic and gleefully messy. In the short-term, there’s a huge amount of fun to be derived from just experimenting with the hundreds of items dotted around the map. Is a giant foam hand better for pummelling a zombie to death than a shampoo bottle? Just how effective is a cordless power drill for despatching the undead? Finding out the answers to these questions provides much of Dead Rising 2‘s initial appeal.
There are, however, a few flaws. Loading times are frequent and lengthy, and the early stages of the game feel disjointed as a result. All you want to do is get out of the safe house and get on with the task at hand, but it often feels as though the game’s loading times and cut scenes hold you back.
The extreme difficulty of the first game is similarly in evidence. And while Dead Rising 2‘s army of walking dead are slow, the weight of numbers inevitably takes its toll. Find yourself in the wrong place and holding the wrong weapon, and it’s curtains for Chuck in short order.
The fact that weapons degrade over time only adds to the tension, and the sudden loss of a singularly effective zombie-slaughtering device can prove immensely frustrating.
And with save points often spread quite far apart across Fortune City’s map, death can often result in lengthy journeys and missions having to be repeated from scratch.
The response to this, of course, would be that you have to treat the game with the respect it deserves. As funny and quirky as its script and arsenal of weapons makes it appear, Dead Rising 2‘s missions require more forethought than is at first apparent, and learning the layout of its locations is vital to success.
Despite its niggles and frustrations, Dead Rising 2 is nevertheless a compelling and entertaining. Its drop-in, drop out co-op gameplay and multiplayer mode, in which four players slay zombies for cash in a reality TV show, add extra longevity to an already lengthy and absorbing game.
A worthy successor to the original Dead Rising, it’s perhaps the only game you’ll play this year where you get to kill a zombie with a bottle of beer and a hard hat. George A Romero would be proud.
Dead Rising 2 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.