Dead Rising 2
Blue Castle Games / Capcom
Genre: Action Horror
The Dead Rising series is a group of games that I thoroughly enjoy but don’t get to talk about often. The series is larger than a lot of folks give it credit for at four mainline entries, a number of “side stories” and reimaginings, and a number of films in its mythos. The series has stalled out a bit since its second feature-length movie, Dead Rising: Endgame in 2016 and a re-release of Dead Rising 4 in 2017, but it has a solid foundation of material to sift through for anyone interested in checking it out.
After the success of Dead Rising back in 2006, it seemed to take forever for a second game to follow in its footsteps. When announcements started up in 2009 that another Dead Rising game was on the way, I can remember being pretty excited for some more over-the-top zombie survival using every object I could get my hands on. After three years, it was exciting to think about how far the game could have come from the original, too. The canon ending to the original left plenty of unanswered questions and room for expansion on the plot after all.
Dead Rising 2 had a big set of blood-covered boots to fill, not only from its origins but due to the release of the next entry in Capcom’s heavy hitter series, Resident Evil 5, that came out the same year it was announced. The original game still had some buzz but it was pretty much in bargain bins by the time the second game came around. Promises from the original team, though, showed that the company had faith in their upcoming product. As a fan of the second game from the previous times I’d played it, I wanted to put it under a more critical lens to see if it still held up ten years later.
It’s been five years since a zombie outbreak overtook the city of Willamette, leaving thousands dead and the rest of America in the grip of terror as the country was slowly invaded by the undead. Dealing with the growing epidemic has become the new normal. Entertainment has found a use for them and scientists are working on a cure, though they have only so far developed a preventative for zombification called Zombrex.
In fact, Zombrex is what brought Chuck Greene, a former motocross champion and survivor of an outbreak in Las Vegas, to the arena in Fortune City, Nevada. The prices for Zombrex have inflated due to demand and his daughter, Katey has needed regular doses of the medicine since she suffered a bite during their escape. Joining the slaughter-fest competition, Terror is Reality, he has been earning enough to keep her safe, despite risking his life every time he enters the arena.
Things take a turn for the worst when the zombies kept in captivity for use with Terror is Reality are released, causing havoc on the Fortune City strip and throwing Chuck into another bid for survival for him and his daughter. To make matters more dire, someone has pinned the entire incident on Chuck, causing anyone living to suspect he’s dangerous and turning him into public enemy number one. Now, not only does he have to keep a steady flow of Zombrex for his daughter, but he has to investigate who set him up and why while surviving the various dangers of Fortune City.
Running around in Fortunate City as Chuck is a struggle at first. You only have basic attacks and can pick up some basic weapons here and there to pack a little more punch. Early on, Chuck ends up with the ability to construct his own weapons by combining items he picks up as he travels. For example, finding a baseball bat and a box of nails will warrant the obvious result of a nail bat. As you travel, you can unlock other combinations through experimentation or by looking at inspirations in the mall- a movie poster might unlock an idea for combining boxing gloves and gasoline to make a set of flaming fists to fight with. Want to be a Jedi? Throw a flashlight and some gems together to make a lightsaber. There are a ton of possibilities, and they become a staple of the gameplay and overcoming some of the tougher enemies in the game.
As Chuck levels up, he’ll unlock more combat possibilities and bolster his inventory, maximum health, and more weapon combinations. He can do this in a number of ways, the most basic being to destroy hordes of the undead around the city. Doing so with the jury-rigged weapons Chuck comes up with will net more than the usual amount, and there are big bonuses for rescuing survivors and escorting them to the safe house that serves as Chuck’s base of operations.
Taking up the same mantle as Dead Rising, Chuck also has a time limit, following the clues for his case so that he doesn’t lose his leads. There is an added time constraint in regards to Katey and her Zombrex doses. If the player misses either of these deadlines, they’ll result in a game over from which the player can reload or restart the game with all of their previous leveled up stats. Thankfully, the player can check Chuck’s watch with the push of a button to keep up with their missions and deadlines.
In an effort to add more to the Dead Rising formula, this game has two added features. First, the game’s campaign can be played co-op with one other person, both playing their own personal Chuck. The second added mode is the “Terror is Reality” game show. While this has a couple of modes involving fighting or otherwise attacking zombies, it’s mostly used for gaining money to be used in the game at this point in the game’s development.
The Good, The Bad, And…
Dead Rising 2 takes everything the first game did and improves on it. Most importantly, the AI is much more manageable, making saving the other survivors across Fortune City scores easier this time around. Escaping zombies is still a challenge but feels more like a fun challenge that can be outsmarted if the player wants to work around them. Along with fixing some balance issues, the game really settles into its campy borderline offensive tone that it has become known for. The game is well-produced madness.
Of course, there are a few nicks in the armor, so to speak. With time limits come missable side missions and survivors, a few of which you don’t even get notification of. A couple of the survivors’ missions are also frustrating for the wrong reasons, though those are few and far between. The difficulty of the game also spikes harshly well into the late game, though it’s far enough in to be easy to compensate for. There are inconveniences but nothing that drags the quality of the entire game.
The only real red mark on the game is the Terror is Reality mode. Like the last set of quirks, it’s optional so it’s not a problem in the long run since it can be avoided by just not playing it. Given how great the rest of the new features are, the money-making game mode hasn’t aged well and wasn’t terribly fun to begin with. With money having so much importance in the game to get Zombrex and buy some other items, it can be useful but I couldn’t keep my attention on it long enough to find out.
Dead Rising 2 is nice to look at, bringing a very Vegas look to the “not-Vegas” Fortune City. Ranging from neon and brightly colored outdoor environments to large and vivid interiors, whether you’re ducking into a small hole in the wall bar or into a recreation of the Willamette Mall, there’s always something to take in. The character designs are mundane but interesting for every survivor, adding a level to the game’s intended aesthetic and feel. The quality is great, but the important part is that each area feels distinct by design.
The soundtrack is all right. Nothing stands out in the music but it is solid and works well throughout the game. Every thump, slice, and chainsaw buzz feels straight out of a slasher or action film, though, and brings the pulp feel the game calls for. The voice acting is pretty strong and the calls from other survivors aren’t quite as incessant as they could have been when they are in danger.
In nearly every way, Dead Rising 2 overshadows the original game. The game’s plot and protagonist are stronger and more empathetic respectively and nearly all of the new tweaks on the game’s balance are perfect. While the Terror is Reality mode is a little disappointing, the rest of the game is a blast to play through even when the difficulty spikes in places. That Capcom and Blue Castle Games (now known as Capcom Vancouver) nailed the ridiculous tone the series needed to stand out is even better.
Still, would I recommend the game to everybody? Probably not but only due to how silly it can get. If you’re someone looking for a serious horror game with tension and substance, Dead Rising 2 probably isn’t going to be your jam. If you know what you’re going into, Dead Rising 2 is a ridiculously fun experience and the few momentary irritants are well worth bypassing or working through. There are a ton of ways to play the game, too, now that it has been released on Windows and modern systems like Playstation 4 and the XBox One. It’s a great time whether you’re playing by yourself or with a friend in tow online and with the game only lasting around 10-15 hours or so, it won’t take up too much of your backlog time to invest in.