Zombies are lonely creatures. They hang around together in huge packs, yet the spark of undead romance is never seen. The reason is obvious: no one caters for zombie love. Unlike normal humans, zombies don’t have the necessary dating products to help them pull. There’s no zombie cologne to make them smell more attractive to the opposite sex. Something like L’eau de la Mort (“covers all unpleasant decaying odours, including rotting brain, decomposing liver and shuffler’s foot”). There are no zombie sex pills, such as Ziagra (“keeps you stiff in all the right places”). And some enterprising company could even expand into products like Zombie Flesh Adhesive, to glue back on those detached limbs. Because if you’re going to get lucky, you’ll probably need those fingers. To hold her hand with, of course.
Dead Rising 2 (actually that could be an alternative name for Ziagra) is a horror survival sequel in which the only zombie related product is Zombrex. It’s a drug which prevents the bitten and infected from turning undead for 24 hours, and as Chuck Greene, you’ve got to keep finding the stuff to keep your little daughter human. The setting for the game is Fortune City, a futuristic Las Vegas which keeps zombies in pens and hosts a TV reality show where they’re sliced up by men on motorbikes for entertainment. Of course, the zombies get loose, and to cap it off someone tries to frame Chuck as the saboteur who blew open the gates to the undead enclosure.
Thus you’ve got to clear your name, ensure your daughter’s survival, but most of all, you’ve got to wade through the hotels, malls and casinos of Fortune City while slaughtering thousands of zombies. They’re everywhere, and we mean everywhere, clustered crowds of the undead that must be negotiated around to complete the game’s various missions. We say negotiate, because these are in the main very slow movers doing the typical old school zombie shuffle.
That means it’s possible to weave through the crowds quite successfully, until you meet some of the more sprightly ones, or come to the thicker throngs of the undead. That’s when the chainsaws, sledgehammers and axes come out, and the messiness begins. It might sound a bit odd that you can dodge around a great number of the unwashed rotting horde, but if they all moved more quickly, there are literally so many zombies around that the fight would be an insurmountable one.
As it is, the difficultly level is pitched just right, as you plot a path through the packs of shufflers, picking your fights selectively to clear the way. There are plenty of tense moments trying to slip past grasping hands, jumping over counters and railings to take evasive action, and if you do get grabbed, the sense of panic is palpable. The left analogue stick must be waggled furiously to break free, mirroring the on-screen struggle, and believe us the waggling certainly gets furious as you watch the rest of the groaning crowd begin to home in on Chuck with outstretched, clawing arms. Saving is limited to infrequent areas (toilets, for some bizarre reason), so a death can be costly, as well.
Dead Rising 2 definitely isn’t lacking in the tension stakes, as there’s a time limit on top of this. Everything happens in real time, in fact, lending the proceedings a sense of urgency. In most games, when a mission directs the player to rescue a couple of survivors from a burning room “before it’s too late”, the developer is just adding a bit of drama. You can nip home for a shower, stop on the way for dinner, file your nails, write a poem, and when you show up at the blaze they’ll still be there, waiting to be saved. In Dead Rising 2, the fire will get out of control at 1.30pm. If Chuck doesn’t get there before then, the people will burn to death.
With all the missions happening in real time, it becomes a substantial challenge to traverse Fortune City completing as many of the optional tasks as possible before the quest givers get eaten, go nuts and kill themselves, or are consumed in a raging inferno. Neglect a main plot mission, leaving time too short to finish it completely, and you run the risk of letting the baddie of the piece get clean away, meaning it’s game over. Leave it too late to get back with your daughter’s shot of Zombrex, and the consequences don’t bear thinking about (although on a positive note, you’ll save a lot on birthday and Christmas presents).
While the missions could potentially be criticised for a lack of variety to some extent – many require you to simply save someone from the meat eaters, and escort them back to your safe-house base – they all involve interesting little stories and characters. Trying to escort a drunk stripper back from a casino VIP room, as she staggers around all over the place vomiting, is most amusing. Other missions are very different, mind you, such as racing through underground railway tunnels on a motorbike trying to jump off platforms onto the back of a moving train.
There are lots of little details injected into the game’s various tasks, and the way everything is woven together with the strong main plot, as you run here and there, hacking and slashing, trying to get everything accomplished with the timer ticking down… It all pulls together superbly to create a sense that you’re truly trapped in a zombie holocaust.
Completing as many missions as possible is also good for Chuck’s survival, as the rewards are experience points which level him up, granting new abilities, stat boosts and also unlocking combo cards. These highlight weapons which can be combined in imaginative (and sometimes hilarious) ways. A rake and a car battery, for example, becomes an electric cattle prod when strapped together by DIY expert Chuck. There are some truly novel inventions on the zombie killing side, and you can experiment to attempt to find your own hybrid weapons even if you don’t have the necessary combo card. Much fun.
Overall, this is a highly compelling zombie romp which kept us glued to our HDTV screen for many a long evening. There are a few minor issues – loading times can be slightly intrusive, and picking up weapons in the heat of a zombie scrap is somewhat fiddly – but these are easily forgiveable blemishes. Dead Rising 2′s main campaign is masterfully crafted, and even replayable as you’re unlikely to be able to finish it fully on your first play through, plus there are multiple possible endings.
There’s also online play here, in the form of a co-op mode over Xbox Live, so two gamers can take on the challenge together. And there’s an online version of the undead massacring game show, Terror is Reality, to partake of; think Gladiators with zombies (though it’s arguable whether Gladiators didn’t already include zombies anyway). While some of the events feel a little thrown together, it’s still very enjoyable and maintains the same disturbed sense of humour found throughout the rest of Dead Rising 2.