Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dead Rising 2 - Get Ready To Win Big

To continue my buildup to Dead Rising 3, I’ve also replayed the game before it in the series, Dead Rising 2. In contrast with the original Dead Rising, I have more of a history with this entry, as it was actually the first one I played. However I didn’t own an Xbox 360 back in 2010, so I ended up playing the game on PS3 instead after receiving the Zombrex Edition as an 18th birthday present (interestingly enough, this game came out on my 18th birthday, which is a little more special to me for reasons I will elaborate on later). After I played through it once I wrote a terrible review for it on DeviantArt before playing it again a few times in a row to unlock all of the pieces of the Knight Armor (a reference to Arthur from Ghosts n’ Goblins) and other such things before suddenly moving on to something else. With this last playthrough nearly four years later, I was able to look at it from a new perspective, that of someone playing it in 2014, and was able to conclude that though flawed, Dead Rising 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor.

Condition Disclaimer: When playing this game again for the review, I started a new game from my Level 50 save game from four years ago with all four of the DLC packs applied. I also did not play the 360-exclusive Case Zero or Case West because I played the PS3 version of Dead Rising 2. It was decided that these conditions wouldn’t affect my overall opinion of the game.

Five years after the Willamette outbreak, former motocross champion Chuck Greene is in Fortune City, Nevada to take part in the game show Terror Is Reality, a rather controversial competition where contestants kill hordes of zombies for money and fame. Chuck is in it to gain the money needed to buy Zombrex (a drug which can stave off complete zombification for 24 hours) for his daughter Katey, who had been bitten by her zombified mother during an outbreak in Las Vegas when she was only four years old. After the show ends, Chuck goes backstage to talk to Katey, during which all of the zombies from the competition are released, killing most in attendance. Chuck grabs his daughter and manages to escape to a safe house, which closes behind them after they enter. Raymond Sullivan, the only surviving security guard, is reluctant to let the two of them take refuge, concerned that Katey will turn at any moment. In response, Chuck holds up a box for a dose of Zombrex and says that he can keep her zombification in check during their stay. Sullivan understands and lets them in, adding that the military will arrive within three days to evacuate everyone. In the security room, Chuck confirms Katey’s suspicions that he doesn’t actually have any Zombrex, holding up the empty box he flashed to Sullivan. Stacey Forsythe, another survivor and leader of the Nevada branch of CURE (Citizens for Undead Rights and Equality), offers to help him find doses of the drug and gives him a map of the area and a two-way radio. After Chuck gives Katey the first dose he can find, he watches the TV with Stacey, only to have a news report by Rebecca Chang claim that he was not only responsible for the Fortune City outbreak, but that he also did it in support of CURE. Determined to prove the report wrong, and receive continued shelter in the safe house, Chuck decides to find Rebecca Chang so he can clear his name and discover the truth behind the release of thousands of zombies. Unfortunately, this action leads to him discovering a rabbit hole which only continues to grow deeper the more he searches.

Chuck Greene (left) with his daughter, Katey (right).

As with the previous game, I thought the story was written pretty well. The overarching mystery of what exactly caused the release of thousands of zombies is kicked off immediately, but doesn’t seem to really go on all cylinders until a few minutes in, when Chuck is framed for the incident. Still, the pacing was pretty decent, although thanks to the spacing of the Cases this time around, there is (depending on your level) a lot of down time between them. When the next part of story does show up though, it does a great job of keeping you motivated to see it through and see what questions will be answered next. There is also a legitimately shocking twist regarding one of the characters near the end of the game, but it doesn’t feel tacked on, as playing through the game again and paying attention to their dialogue and actions actually helps support the validity of the twist. Chuck also feels much different from Frank as a character, but in a good way. Rather than perform actions only as they suit his needs, he actually puts the safety of his daughter above everything else and acts on the need to help not just himself, but those around him. His prime motivation, collecting Zombrex for Katey, may come off as a little clichéd for some, but personally I think Chuck is a good protagonist to follow, although whether or not he’s better than Frank is still a matter of debate.

The supporting cast is also pretty good, with Rebecca Chang and Stacey Forsythe being the stronger and more helpful of them all, though in hindsight I think Rebecca may be a little similar to Frank West; I guess all reporters are opportunists or something. I can give credit though for having the supporting cast as more actively involved in the story, allowing us to get to know them better beyond a cutscene here and there. As for the Psychopaths, I think they’re a little more of a mixed bag this time around. A lot of them are genuinely off-putting and aid the uneasiness of their cutscenes. However, similar to the original, the Psychopaths can also be extremely hammy in their performances and induce laughter rather than terror, partly because some of them are also a bit stereotypical. The one group which encapsulates this feeling is the Militia Men (aka the “Redneck Snipers”), who, in the span of just two minutes, evoke every single negative American stereotype you can possibly think of, resulting in one of the most entertaining introductions I have seen in a long time.

Seriously, I couldn't stop laughing at this scene.

Just as before, 72 Hour Mode is divided into Cases and has six different endings, each labeled A through D as well as two versions of F. Completing this mode with Ending A and fulfilling another condition will unlock Overtime Mode which, upon successful completion, will unlock Ending S. Unlike the original game however, there is no way to independently access Overtime Mode, as it is directly fused onto 72 Hour Mode (which is kind of fudging it since the mode really lasts up to 96 hours in-game) and you must complete both of them in a row. As for my feelings on this Overtime Mode, which also adds another 24 hours to the campaign and wraps things up, it felt a little weaker this time, since it follows the same formula from last time with Chuck collecting items and then engage in a boss fight, except this time the items are more pointless. The boss fight still manages to be pretty memorable and the ending does show signs of good things to come for Chuck and Katey, in contrast with the moment of despair Frank has in the original game’s Overtime Mode, so it’s still worth trying to access. However, I wish it didn’t have to end with a jump scare; that’s kind of cheap.

As a side note related to 72 Hour Mode, I’d like to mention why the game is kind of special to me. The day on which the game’s events starts, September 25, is my dad’s birthday and the day that it ends, September 28, is a birthday that I share with my brother. Plus, as I said before, the game came out on my 18th birthday and I got it as a gift, which makes it more special to me.

Since Dead Rising 2 takes place in a mall-like casino, much of the gameplay is recycled from the original, mainly the ability to use any item in the casino as a weapon. Just about anything will do in a pinch and you can still hold magazines in your inventory to increase durability of items or add certain special abilities. But the main draw of this game is the fact that you can duct tape items together to form new combo weapons, granting new attack options and opportunities to dispatch the undead. Two of the more well-known ones are the Knife Gloves (Boxing Gloves + Bowie Knife) and the Paddlesaw (Chainsaw + Paddle), but you can also create items like the Beer Hat (Beer + Construction Hat), Handy Chipper (Wheelchair + Lawnmower) or Laser Sword (Gems + Flashlight) among many, many more. I absolutely love the combo weapons, since they are very fun to use and allow you to feel more like a badass for being able to MacGyver multiple items together.

The Knife Gloves are one of the best combo weapons in the entire game.

But while combo weapons are fun, they have their limitations. You can duct tape a lot of items together, but they must have a blue wrench icon above them to be compatible and even then you may have to do some guesswork. It’s a lot of fun trying to discover what goes with what, but if you want the full benefits, you’ll need to find the Combo Cards which show how to create specific weapons, otherwise you’ll get a Scratch Card which has none of the bonuses associated with that particular card. It’s easy to get the cards though, as you just need to rescue and defeat certain people, level up by getting PP or find the posters around the casino which give Chuck the inspiration, and thus the card, for a weapon; it’s like a scavenger hunt in that regard, except that some cards require you to really go out of your way to get them and can be a (worthwhile) hassle. To assemble the weapons, you must also have access to one of the Maintenance Rooms scattered around, though it’s usually about one per area and they are spaced far apart from each other like the bathrooms. Some of these weapons also require two-handed items, so if you need to make a long trek you’ll need to make sure that you not only have everything on you, but also that a zombie attack won’t make you drop that one item you need. Thankfully, the game alleviates this a little by sometimes having some ingredients very close to or inside the Maintenance Room, but if you want a specific combo you’ll still need to look around really hard or memorize where certain item clusters are.

Another major addition to the game is that now you can collect money. This is a natural step considering that you’re in a Las Vegas expy and you’ll definitely need it as you continue playing. One way to collect Zombrex is to buy it at gradually increasing prices from stores set up by looters, so if you don’t want to go through the trouble to collect the nine free doses on the map (two more than you’ll ever need), this is an easy way to do so. But you can buy other things from the looters, including individual items or already assembled versions of combo weapons like the Tesla Ball (Bingo Ball Cage + Battery) or the keys to different vehicles around Fortune City (these are worth spending a playthrough to get). Unfortunately money is also used in annoying ways, like convincing certain survivors to go with you. It was a little jarring to have to deal with money again, as I had nearly forgotten about it, but for the most part I do like this addition to the gameplay.

Zombrex makes the world go 'round.

Apart from that though, Dead Rising 2 actually fixes a lot of the problems that the original game had. Items still break easily, but healing items are more plentiful and allow you to survive longer than before. Vehicles are a little tighter in their handling and can stop much more easily, so it’s less of a hassle to get to where you want, plus survivors can ride inside provided there’s enough room. Photography may be gone, but now it’s possible to move while aiming a firearm, which makes them a much more viable combat option. Stacey will also contact the player in the same way that Otis did, via walkie-talkie, but it’s not often that you actually have to answer and every call actually has a purpose. Additionally, you can re-read what she said by checking your watch and scrolling through the possible side-quests and if the call does require you to stop attacking, you can at least jump around and maneuver away from zombies. But the biggest fix of all is the Survivor AI. Survivors can still be a pain to rescue, but they are far more competent and will actually follow Chuck a lot better; to alleviate all worry though, the Leadership magazine makes them nigh invulnerable and is a must-have. Also, they somewhat fixed the save system by adding two additional slots for a total of three. Some may find this to still be limiting, but it’s a good addition nonetheless.

It’s also good, though painful, to know that Dead Rising 2 does not retain the Infinity Mode from the original game. However, it does have an online mode, Terror Is Reality, in which you and three other people compete for cash prizes in a system where all of the points you earn are converted to an equal amount of money. The games that you can participate in are actually quite fun and an excellent way to make money, since you can cash out to transfer all of the money you earned back to single player and you earn money no matter what your standing is. However, there is one main issue, besides being unable to earn cash unless you’re in a Ranked Match. I didn’t run into it this time, since the community for it seems to have dropped, but I remember when there was a painfully long queue time in the main lobby and sometimes there were people who wouldn’t ever shut up. It’s sad knowing that in the far future this mode will no longer be accessible (as is standard for anything depending on an online connection), but I was able to enjoy it again and I recommend trying it out to get a quick boost in cash.

TIR is very brutal, but also pretty fun.

One final mode that the game has is a Co-op Mode, though it’s online only and you can drop into another person’s game by calling them over the radio. These calls are easily ignored if you want to go solo, as I did, but playing with someone else is a good way of being able to take on certain challenges with fewer problems. I remember playing in this mode once, but not how it went, so I can’t really give a full opinion on it. However, if Co-op is something you really want to do in this game, so be it. I just wish that the call alerts couldn’t appear during cutscenes, as they broke the immersion whenever they came up.

Graphically speaking, Dead Rising 2 is a step up from its predecessor, with more detail in the varied themed environments and the capacity for nearly ten times the amount of zombies to appear onscreen at once, up to 7000 as opposed to 800 from before, enhancing the claustrophobic feeling of having zombies surrounding you from all sides. While cutscenes are more polished than last time, I noticed that they almost all had this odd filter applied and it’s not completely appealing, but you can still see everything very clearly and I have to give them credit for that.

That's a lot of zombies.

Voice acting is also still pretty good, with suitable voices for Chuck and Katey as well as the other supporting characters and antagonists, as well as even more over-the-top narm for fans to enjoy. The soundtrack is also still good, especially the mall music, and the licensed tracks remain good, though there appear to be fewer of them. The one that’s really memorable though, and good in my opinion, is Kill the Sound by Celldweller, which serves as the theme which plays over the first credits sequence (before Overtime Mode starts if you get there).

Dead Rising 2, to put it simply, is a very good improvement to the original Dead Rising. The story is still well-written, with Chuck Greene serving as a great father for his daughter and thus a protagonist you can really get behind. Fortune City is bigger than Willamette and allows for more opportunities to do things like gamble or generally screw around. Combo weapons are extremely fun to use and feel very unique to the world of Dead Rising. Though the game still has its faults, most of the issues from the original game are ironed out nicely and Terror is Reality is a fantastic way to earn quick cash. Fans of the original game will definitely want to seek this out, but for newcomers I can safely say that you can start here, just as long as you know the basics of what happened during the events of Willamette.

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