I had the pleasure of seeing the Dead Rising 2 panel at San Diego Comic Con and I came away very impressed. Dead Rising 2 is the sequel to Capcom’s 2006 Xbox 360 release, Dead Rising, a game which I alternately love and loathe. The first Dead Rising is a great looking game with some awesome mechanics with what might be the worst save system I’ve seen in 10 years. Capcom restricts the player to a single save slot. That’s terrible, but something I could have lived with except the game also puts you on a 72 hour clock. It’s somewhat accelerated—one real world minute is probably worth 5 game minutes. Your character, freelance photojournalist, Frank West, must be at certain places in the sprawling game world at certain times in order to get his scoops. If you don’t make it, then the story ends. Restart. This is just as crappy as it sounds. As a consolation prize you get to keep the special moves and rewards earned up to that point. You can use your foreknowledge to avoid the pitfalls of your previous sessions, or as one reviewer at 1up.com described it, it’s Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day with zombies. There are some other hiccups in the original Dead Rising. You gain levels by rescuing survivors, but these are the type of survivors who don’t deserve to live because they are irredeemably stupid. They like to stop and fight zombie hordes and die right before they reach safety and these escort missions run the game clock down until, yup, you’ve missed another scoop. Restart.
My disdain for some of Dead Rising’s design choices, made me very skeptical of Dead Rising 2, but Capcom has wisely addressed these issues in Dead Rising 2 and offered up Dead Rising 2: Case Zero as proof. DR2: Case Zero is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive for 400 Microsoft points. At the current exchange rate that’s about $5 and it’s well worth it. Rather than releasing a demo that’s merely a slice of the main game, Capcom has opted to release a prequel to the main game and it stands on its own as a great game play experience. Levels earned in Case Zero carry over to Dead Rising 2’s main game, with a level cap of 5. Playing Case Zero will also give you a bit of insight into the new characters in DR2.
The original DR protagonist, Frank West, is nowhere to be seen in Case Zero, but Dead Rising producer, Keiji Inafune, hinted that Frank may make an appearance down the line. Set three years after the events of Dead Rising, Case Zero introduces us to Chuck Greene, and his daughter Katie. In the wake of the first major zombie outbreak post Dead Rising, Chuck and Katie are on their way to Fortune City, but Katie has been bitten by one of the walking dead. All isn’t lost though because Dead Rising 2 introduces us to Zombrex, a zombie suppression drug. As long as Katie gets her shots, she will stay human. Two problems though. First, Zombrex is expensive. Second, Katie must have her dose every 12 hours, or it’s game over for her. This is an excellent way to work in the time pressure mechanic, which I didn’t care for in the first game. The father and child relationship is well written and evokes a little of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road—well as much as one can expect a game about mutilating the undead with chainsaws duct taped to broom handles can evoke an award winning author’s work. The point is that the DR2: Case Zero is surprisingly well written.
Case Zero improves upon the first game from the jump by offering multiple save slots. Second, the survivors in Case Zero are Rhodes Scholars compared to those found in the first game. They are smart enough not to run directly into the zombie hordes and get bitten to death. It’s a small thing, but having attempted to play the original recently, it greatly reduces frustration. The moment to moment game play is excellent. There are hundreds of zombies onscreen, and Inafune has stated that the full game can push as many as 3500 zombies into the same game space! DR2 is gruesome. You can put the undead down with assault rifles, but less pedestrian death dealing comes from the ability to combine items. My favorite is the drill-bucket. Take some drills, a bucket, add duct tape. Proceed to put bucket atop zombie heads. It’s great fun, and any fuddy duddies watching will likely be disgusted and lament the state of the world and decry the ever downward spiral of Western Civilization. That’s okay though as that is itself a theme of the zombie genre and Dead Rising 2 in particular.
Since Case Zero is a prequel to Dead Rising 2, Chuck Greene obviously survives the events of Case Zero and eventually makes it to Vegas. There he signs up to participate on the reality TV. show, Terror is Reality and uses his winnings from decimating zombie hordes to pay for Katie’s outrageously expensive Zombrex treatments. While Chuck is competing on Terror is Reality there is an outbreak in the arena. Chuck and his fellow contestants escape, but Chuck has been set up (presumably for causing the outbreak). He has 72 hours to clear his name. So we can look forward to a bit of Running Man mixed with Dawn of the Dead. DR: Case Zero kept me up until 2 a.m. It’s a great game and succeeded in making me want to play the Dead Rising 2. I’m a little leery of the return of the 72 hour game clock, but the improved saved game system and survivor A.I. seems to address the main criticisms of the original game. Dead Rising 2 will be released late on September 28 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Again Case Zero is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive.
Bonus Fun Fact about Dead Rising 2 from Keiji Inafune: Originally, Dead Rising 2 was going to take place in a Disneyland like theme park. This was very early in development, but thankfully the setting was changed to a Vegas like casino town. Shortly after that decision Zombie Land was released, and Inafune-san breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he wanted was for his game to be known as a Zombie Land rip off even though the game would have been in development for well over a year before Zombie Land’s release.
FTC Advisory: I received a copy of this game from Xbox Live at San Diego Comic Con. In addition, I don’t receive affiliate fees for anything purchased via links from my site.
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