Pop culture's necromantic obsession with zombies permeates just about every genre and sub-genre today across various media. No longer are the walking dead meant to horrify; in today's entertainment, they feel, present and 'live' out dilemmas, and exist as superhero stand-ins. This stray from a classic interpretation may fluster some, but it's hard to deny the enjoyably masochistic vehicle zombies create.
Really, the concept is just too fun not to play around with, something Capcom know. Bashing zombies with blunt objects; pelting a zombie with plates; dicing a zombie with a sword: these are all activities you could relish in Dead Rising. There was a survival story in there, sure, but the game was about gratuitous violence against the flesh-hungry undead. Blue Castle Games ups the ante in the cult hit's sequel, but by focusing on more ways to dispatch the mall creepers, Dead Rising 2 is just as shameless in glossing over its problems as it is in its gory spectacle.
Despite its ordinal title, the Dead Rising 2 experience is best thought of as expansion on the first game. Aside from a hackneyed online multiplayer full of Fusion Frenzy style mini-games, the option to bust brainless zombie heads with a friend via co-op play, and the “Tape it or Die” weapon philosophy, DR2 doesn't mess with the series' formula. Within a time limit, it's up to Chuck Greene to keep his daughter from becoming a slow-shuffling spawn, uncover the mystery of “Who Let the Zombies Out” (Jinkies!), and save others under the glitz of Fortune City's money-grubbing aura.
There might be some underlying theme in DR2 somewhere, but as a pithy and patched together story it only works in giving a thin veil of reason to dishing out pain against the undead. Blue Castle missed an opportunity to elevate the series past a zombie-killing simulator by sidestepping Chuck and Katie's struggle. Where as you might have felt like you were fighting for your daughter in Case Zero, Katie's plight turns into a tertiary nuisance while you hit on an overly sexual investigative reporter in DR2. As you search out Zombrex in Fortune City you're more street fighter than father.
Perhaps the only redemptive aspect to the game's storytelling is the resurgence of the campy psychos. Brilliantly envisioned, conceived and portrayed, all of the humanly menaces Chuck confronts expertly straddle a line between comical and sadistically frightening. If they weren't insanely unbalanced from a gameplay perspective, their inclusion would be spotless.
But whether you're playing to save Katie or just experiment with weaponizing everyday objects, DR2 is a technical catastrophe. Hordes of the dimwitted zombies inhabit portions of Fortune City's arcades and casino floors, believably setting the survival scene with models reflecting various locales in the environment (hardhat zombies in construction sites; card dealers and show girls in casinos; etc.). However, the tradeoff for this sense of rotting claustrophobia are load times between areas that utterly destroy the entire pace of the game. That 72-hour in-game time limit feels like a real measure as you transfer between parts of the open world.
The necessity to load Fortune City in chunks is apparent with the sheer number of characters on-screen at any given time. The problem is in the mission structure. In a fetch quest setup, Chuck is often forced to travel between multiple zones of the city to save other survivors and continue with the story. Thus, actually completing the game effectively turns into an exhaustive battle with boredom. Dead Rising 2 isn't so much about surviving a zombie infection as it is the prevailing stagnant loading screens. Situating more missions within common areas would have been a simple solution.
An antiquated save feature only adds to the game's design woes. The phrase “Save, and save often” is appropriately applicable with Dead Rising 2. Fighting just to get to a save point (in this case bathroom stalls) may create tension and adds to that preservative model the series aims for, but when you die in an unexpected and convoluted boss battle two zones and half an hour out from your last save, having to once again wade through zombie thickets and passively sit through bogs of load screens (again) doesn't make for a trilling experience: it's tedium.
As a sequel, DR2 doesn't do anything to visually or aurally separate itself from the first game either. While there are still plenty of different outfits to dress Chuck in and a myriad of ways to kill throngs of flesh-gnawers, animations and textures aren't particularly enticing. Gliding up stairs, enemies caught in repetitive motions, and chugging frame rates shouldn't be a series standard. Furthermore, escorting survivors has a Sims: Zombie feel to it as you skip through texts and relish in their “Thank You” moments composed of a single spoken phrase and interpretive gesture. Cut scenes offer some sort of acting, but with the confused story, it's no wonder they're more obligatory than compelling.
Along with the ability to combine items to kill zombies in more entertaining ways, DR2 tries to switch things up with a multiplayer aspect. While the “Terror is Reality” mini-games aren't completely half-baked despite their simplicity, they're only a successful competitive solution when they actually work. Connection issues and bugs are plagues that prevent you from earning money to use in the single-player game. Teaming up with a partner cooperatively in the story is a more accomplished endeavor, even if having two Chucks is perplexing and coordinating with random players is hit or miss.
Without a doubt, Blue Castle Games and Capcom continue to show us abuse of the undead makes for good gaming—it's just unfortunate Dead Rising 2 accomplishes little else. As a series that's supposed to become the publisher's leading property, the Dead Rising formula is in need of an overhaul to round it out as a whole package. Killing zombies is one thing; killing our downtime with a poorly designed, nonsensical and patchwork game is another.