It has been a while between work and other stuff but I have finally taken the chainsaw to this review and remade it a little. I always try to get near the end of a game’s story before I review it but this one is a little different. The story is not all that big story wise, but we will come to that in a bit and why it might take you a long while to finish it.
So, here I am now with the game I should have picked up before Front Mission Evolved. Dead Rising 2 is, naturally, the second in the Dead Rising games, save for a short interlude in the form of Dead Rising: Case Zero. I have not played this one so I don’t know what it is all about except that it involves your character from Dead Rising 1 and 2.
The basics of the game are this. Your character is Chuck Greene, former motorcross champ who’s wife was killed in a zombie outbreak and his daughter was bitten. He was fortunate enough to have a shot of something called Zombrex on him at the time and this staves off zombification for about 24 hours but then you need a booster shot. When his career hits rock bottom he cannot afford the boosters without doing some odd stuff, like participating in the Terror is Reality show in Fortune City. He and a bunch of zombie killers are pit into an arena like gameshow where they mow down zombies by the dozen on bikes with chainsaws and get cash prizes for winning. Most of this money goes to buying the girl her Zombrex.
Simple, yes? Well, not really. Like all big and simple turning cogs a single wrench can screw it all up. Your first taste of the game comes in the form of the afore mentioned slice and dice with motorbikes so the game does not mess around and puts you in the thick of the blood bath pretty early. Then it halts for a second for the sake of the story as your make your way through the back stage areas with your winnings to find his daughter before all hell breaks loose and the zombies in the arena break out. You fight your way through them to the green room and pick up the girl and run for the door, finally getting to a shelter where some old police officer has the beds all warm and the coffee brewing in the corner.
However, you still need the next dose of Zombrex for your girl and the only place that has some is back outside. Luckily you find a way out of the bunker on a mission to find the Zombrex in the mall and this is where your game, as advertised, actually begins.
Now I say ‘your game actually begins’ but really it has already begun. There was a glaring lack of tutorial and adjustment to the game controls to begin with, and you pretty much figure it all out yourself. This is a theme that, annoyingly, persists through the game at all levels. If you are anything like me you have a quick skim through the manual, forget it all in an instant and return it to the box content to muddle through the controls. So I would hardly call the introduction the typical tutorial phase but, hey. Zombies wait for no man.
The game itself is all on a timer, with 72 hours of game time (not real time though, which might have been nice, but I will come to this later) before the army gets to town after sealing it off. And your only goals so far seem to be finding a shot of Zombrex every 24 game hours and maybe locating survivors to escort back to the shelter. This is facilitated by a Zombie rights protester (yes, you read that right) who also made it into the shelter. She is watching through CCTV in the shelter’s security room and when she sees something interesting she will radio Chuck and give him a waypoint. This could be anything from a potential survivor to suspicious activity. Eventually these waypoints will expire if you don’t act on them and you could miss out on a few things like weapon combo cards or a shot of Zombrex, saving you the job of locating one later. Though, if you have not got one by the time her shot comes around it is your own fault because a few hours before it is due you will get a message hinting you will get some Zombrex for going somewhere and doing something, But you should be prepared for a harder fight to get it.
Back to the timer thing though, and the whole mission structure as well as random encounters are completely choreographed by the game’s passage of time and all have and expiry attached to them. Most of them will not affect your overall game though there is a central strand of missions too that will fail if you let them run without action. These will divulge the emerging plot where Chuck is framed for the outbreak and you need to find out who really did it and why by chasing down the reporter in town that broke the initial story on an anonymous source that tipped her off.
At first, my reaction to the timing based missions was not good. I fully expected a GTA/RDR style mission system where you have an open world to please yourself in, that maybe unlocks better stuff as you progress, and you could instigate missions in your own good time. As much of the game elements like crafting of weapons and exploring areas of the map or even playing the gambling mini-games in the multiple casinos speak of a sandbox open world, and throwing a timer in there seems like a horrible mismatch of gaming styles.
After the initial mission of finding Zombrex, as well as a detour to rescue a couple of survivors here and there, I was thrown at the first real mission that would eventually expire if I did not act on it. I found the reporter who put out the story of Chuck releasing the zombies, did her little job and once done I realised the mission system would not unlock the next mission until a certain time of day still to come. So I had a lot of spare time meanwhile to do that whole sandbox thing.
Since the games infuriating lack of documentation on how the missions are handled, my advice to anyone would be to tackle the central missions as soon as you can, because you don’t know how long they will take you, and you won’t have it hanging over you the whole time as you explore, level up and find new weapons to beat zombies in the face with, Also, you will always have to take time out to get the ever rare Zombrex from somewhere, be it a pawnshop run by looters with a very capitalist philosophy of supply and demand, or helping people who might give you some for free or a clue to the location of a stash elsewhere.
There is also a levelling system for the character, as you hack through zombies and gain…. not xp but ‘pp’. I know… not sure what pp stands for and I don’t care. It amounts to the same thing really. However, your character auto-levels and his attributes change themselves without your input. I find this entirely annoying as I like to control my play style and feel this being taken out of my hands as being against the spirit of this minor RPG like aspect. This as well as other frustrations in the game makes me wonder if the developers knew what kind of game they wanted to make and some elements should have just been left out in favour of others that gel better with the core gameplay. Again, I will come to this soon.
Other frustrations with the game, besides the lack of documentation and tutorial, is the combat system in general. It feels kind of clunky in more precision engagements, like when you take on a small gang of armed men in one mission you have no duck and cover system, no diving rolls (at least until you level and unlock the ability, again at the game’s whim), no shooting back round corners and even worse, no sprint. OK when surrounded by zombies who shuffle along with the speed of growing grass for the most part, and you are armed with a wide and wild swinging battleaxe that cleaves everything it touches in two with ease, this is pretty much what you want. It will put many fine dedicated hack and slash games to shame. But when you want a little more control you find it lacking and it has cost me dearly. Maybe the PC version of the game will be better with weapon aiming for guns and such, so I will keep an open mind on this, but again the developers now mainly cater to the console market and the kind of gamers that enjoy co-op and multiplayer parties as a more social gaming experience than PC games can deliver. So why not cater to console gaming controls too?
Also, the timer based system of mission activation and expiration becomes a teeth gritting pain when you lose the mission and die and you realise your last manual save, and you can only save manually in toilets that are too spread out for my liking, was some time before the mission activated. You can have entirely too much fun and forget to save and then have to do it all over again if you are not careful, waiting for missions to become available. And you will die a lot on some of the encounters at first.
There is an emerging difficulty curve that drop kicks you in the face when you least expect it. I did note early in my play time that the game had no difficulty setting that it asked me to select at first so I figured given the more playful and light hearted nature of the game set by Capcom that they were aiming at the casual gamer and the only difficulty would come in the missions and the occasional race against the clock. After all, between missions you are simply in transit from one location to another as you please. Your first encounters with the Psychos is a little different though, and they will kick your arse very fast on your first play through. Again, the control issues do creep in but so does their clearly scripted behaviour in combat. I noticed that when attacking one of them she would take three hits before they automatically knock me down and I have no defence for this at all. And what followed was a good 2-3 health drop as controls are taken from you and they deliver another automatic blow.
There are means that the game compensates for this when you die, and I am not sure I like it because it smacks of poor balance and idle development. Essentially, you could do with the game giving you the option to restart the mission at the beginning of the encounter, but that is conspicuously absent and you are forced back to your last save point in the loo. Or you could just restart the whole story again from the beginning. The advantage in doing this is that you start with all your levels and skills where you left off. Some might call this a means of giving the player a helping hand when they begin to fail a lot, but a game should not be unplayable to the end on the first run and there should always be a means to complete it even if it is hard. And sure there is with this one too but you have to ignore a lot of stuff in the process and just get on with it and die a hundred times. I don’t play games to die repeatedly and rely on blind luck to pass the next stage and a lack of skill based victory seems to become a more frequent theme in games.
Another gripe I have is with the dialogue system outside of cut scenes. To speak with people you approach and press the correct button, but there will be no voice acting unless it creates a cut scene. Not in itself a bad thing, if a little tacky overall. However you have to do this often with survivors fighting off zombies by the dozen to get their story. The game will not halt while you speak, and you will get a short bit of back and forth between your character and the other person. All the while you have to read this and attack zombies that get too close. And the text waits for no man as it moves on to the next dialogue with barely time to read and digest what is being said. However, the final annoyance comes when you realise that the conversation has stopped abruptly and you need to, once again, press the talk button to continue speaking and get more info. I am not sure why this is. Maybe the game wishes you to see what is happening a little first before you decide to help the person or not. But one guy needs literally convincing he has much to live for and after the 9th click of the B button he finally accepted my help and came with me.
Maybe Capcom needs to understand the target audience of such a game. There will be people that know they will want to help right now and go talk to the person, have them follow them to the shelter and reap the rewards and karma etc. And there are people who will either carry on walking or sit back and laugh as they get swamped by the undead. I don’t see people picking their decision to help people based on some random and fast moving dialogue like ‘I was out shopping for shoes when all this happened!’ That is not going to move me to an emotive decision of weather this person it fit to live or die. I doubt I will find someone who will say ‘I was lurking by the potted plants near children’s play pen, slowly abusing myself, when suddenly zombies broke into the Mall. Please help me.’ so I am not sure what I will read that I will make a choice on and all the extra clicking under these circumstances just torments those who want to do it all or who have a kid soul in the bleakness of the zombie apocalypse, shining like the last bastion of civilisation and hope.
Even more confusing in this system was the cop in the shelter telling me he would help by giving me the key to the maintenance rooms (this unlocks crafting) so I am like all ‘yeah cool, thanks.’ Only to find that the pause in dialogue happened and I had to actually speak to him again just to get the damned key off of him! Again, it makes no sense to me why this is and maybe the game is actually glitchy like this or perhaps Chuck has an on-off case of ADD and looses concentration if he is not driving a baseball bat with nails glued to it into the pallid face of the nearest zombie.
On the note of weapons and crafting custom weapons, all your weapons have a durability which, to me, is way too short or should have been handled different from what it is now. I would have liked a system where some weapons, naturally wood based ones and toys and such, do break after a time. It is only to be expected. But others like chainsaws and drill motors should only fail if used too frequent and need a cool down time. If observed they will be cool for a while again and you can go on mincing the moving corpses at will. But go too far and it might break down and be useless. These things will cut down half of the Amazon but they will only last for about 20 zombies? Give me a break here. Also, the crafting is good but if your lovely weapon of death like the wheelchair with a lawnmower on the seat is going break after you push it through only half of the main street or even less then let me carry some of the items in bulk so I can craft on the fly. Example, nails. A box of nails fits in a backpack nicely. I gather a few of these here and there and when I find a baseball bat or propane tank I can get into it instead of having to equip them to my small weapon bar and take them to a crafting bench, and then do the same again for a baseball bat. Though I guess this system keeps it to using what you have to hand, which is not always a bad thing I guess. But it gets old after a while.
DR2 dropped another point for me when I was suddenly, after a dozen times of waggling the left stick on my controller to shake off a zombie that latched on too tight, confronted with a different quick time event. This time, as I instinctively began shaking the left stick I realised too late I should have been mashing the Y key instead, and then it asked me for the left stick action once more. This sent me back to the end of my last mission after I had spent a good hour or so playing and stocking on some good weapons so I was not impressed.
So I have summed up al of my dislikes about this game. Lets move onto the likes as I tend to leave my blogs with negative comments lately and I don’t want people to think I do not like these games because I do. The world is well presented, the animation in the cut scenes is pretty good, even if the characters are all stereotypes, and despite the clunky combat in the boss like fights where I think I can only win on blind luck or a lot of grinding to level up on a reply from the beginning, I do like the fact that nearly everything is a weapon. Even kids toys like a foam hammer or a police helicopter. I was overjoyed when I realised you did not just beat them over the noggin with it but you could set it running and leave it in the air like a chopping dervish to cover your back from hordes of the undead while you maced the faces in front of you.
You can craft a few few of your own weapons by combining one with another and by using them you will level up faster. But that is only if you have the combo card for it, which you find by doing missions, leveling up or rescuing people. You don’t need them to experiment with crafting and if you find a combo you can use it but don;t get the benefit of double pp from your kills. However, as pointed out elsewhere, it is odd that you can combine a machete with a broom, but not a kitchen knife. Or why can I not simply equip nails into the leaf blower in splatter some undead to the walls even though I can put jewels inside to sand blast a million dollar smile into their faces.
Either way you will find the weapons to be entertaining. I accidentally discovered the firework lizard mask. I noticed that some fireworks draw the zombies away for a while and the mask is another way of doing it at the expense of another victim zombie. Stick it on one of their heads and the fireworks lodged in the mouth of the mask will draw in the zombies while the wearer walks around without knowing how ridiculous he looks.
Finally, there is a means of enhancing your player, and I fear I will descend into a rant about how it is poorly executed but here goes. You can mix drinks to gain boosts to certain aspects such as movement speed or damage resistance. And drinking them too often will cause Chuck to be sick, which in itself is funny. Even drinking normal alcohol will cause this and the resulting slippery mess on the floor will cause zombies to slide down on their arses and flail around in the chunky carrots. There is even one drink combo that causes this as the primary effect. However… and here comes the slight rant, as with the rest of the game you have little clue what the drinks will do for you since there is no documentation of them. Discovering a drink combo does not give you something like a combo card so you can remember it later or even describe the effects. So when you make a Painkiller you wonder… does this just heal a lot of health or does it give me damage resistance? More than likely damage resistance. But what about Nectar? Anyone know what this does? You need to go look at some strategy guides online to discover their uses and it seems like half the lack of documentation is designed by Capcom to make you buy one. This is hardly the usual JRPG game that has so much stuff to do it warrants buying one though. Also you have no visual reference letting you know how long the drink effect works for.
The other buff you have is magazines. You carry these with you and they give you bonuses to things like gambling, driving or weapon durability. Once again though, there is a downside built in with them since they take up one of your weapon slots so you cannot carry lots of them, forcing you to pick one you feel is best for your play style. This is no bad thing either, however ones such as weapon durability, in my opinion, are essential and it would have been better executed if there were a limited number of them dotted around that you actually consumed by reading them and gaining a permanent boost to that attribute. And if you go back to play through again, and continue levelling, you either lost their boosts, and needed to collect them again or you kept the boost but the magazine was no longer spawned. And this could have been more of a theme with the levelling system in general. In my Front Mission Evolved review I did rant a little about how I did not like the difficulty curve being matched by an increasing stock of better weapons and parts you did not have to work for, so it might seem like I am no advocating a similar system as a fix for another game. But I would have liked my actions to enhance my character rather than a levelling system, or even have it run along side the pp gathering aspect, and give me control of what attributes move, leaving other bonus buffs to be presented to me as I explore or complete side missions like psycho battles and survivor escorts.
Dead Rising 2 is not what I expected, and clearly I am disappointed overall with it. Though I am not a great multiplayer fan and being subjected to retards on XBox live from around the world does put me out of my comfort zone when gaming. So the social gaming side may well be better overall than the campaign, and competing in the minigames online to gather cash and more pp for single player gaming could open a whole new dimension for me. But I will leave this to other reviews to disclose. The pure visceral part about cleaving through hordes of slow moving zombies is still a joy and some weapon combos will make you cackle with evil glee as you test them out so it is worth getting if you are not put off by my rants about the failings of the game. It just could have been so much more than what it became and given a choice I would not have paid full price for it. Pick up a pre-owned maybe or wait until it goes budget buy.