So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I fired up Dead Rising 2, the sequel to Capcom%26rsquo;s promising-but-flawed early Xbox 360 game. Would it fix the problems of the 2006 original? Would Canadian sports game dev Blue Castle be a good fit for a bonkers zombie massacre? Would the four year-old concept still be fun at this stage? Yes, yes, and yes, are the answers, with a few noteworthy caveats. Read on for the full, gore-filled picture.
Cleaving Las Vegas
It%26rsquo;s an undisclosed period of time after the Willamette zombie outbreak of the first game. You play Chuck Greene, a father who%26rsquo;s visiting Fortune City %26ndash; a thinly-disguised parody of Las Vegas %26ndash; in order to compete on Terror is Reality, a zombie-slaying game show that has emerged as a reaction to the spreading infection. He%26rsquo;s here to win money in order to pay for his young daughter Katey%26rsquo;s Zombrex treatment, Zombrex being the new drug released to suppress the effects of zombie bites in newly infected victims. Yes, she might be an angelic %26ndash; and surprisingly well-acted %26ndash; pre-teen, but unless treated every day, Katey%26rsquo;s tantrums will have your face off.
In a turn of events as surprising as the way last night turned out to be a bit dark, the show%26rsquo;s stock-pile of conveniently dismemberable reanimated props breaks loose. Publicly framed for releasing the feral gut-munchers, Chuck takes Katey and seeks refuge in the large communal safehouse attached to Fortune City%26rsquo;s main entertainment complex. But with no military help coming for three days, and that help liable to arrest whatever%26rsquo;s left of Chuck after it%26rsquo;s shot the living crap out of him, he will have to venture out, combating and evading zombies at every turn, as he attempts to clear his name and forage a daily Zombrex supply for the little one.
In essence then, a lot like that day I got banned from Bristol zoo, except that zombies are less cute than spider monkeys, but possibly slightly funnier. And I was guilty as charged, but in my defence, pretty drunk.
This being a Dead Rising game rather than a Resident Evil entry, the emphasis is on laughs and excess rather than the po-faced drama of man against corpse, conspiracy and over-sized boulder. Think Return of the Living Dead rather than Romero. Actually, think Shaun of the Dead, because DR2%26rsquo;s creative splatter comedy is tempered by a strange mix of genuine emotional hooks (via Chuck%26rsquo;s relationship with his ailing daughter) and schlocky exploitation (via some grim events and forthright breasts). It%26rsquo;s a tonal mix that shouldn%26rsquo;t hold together, but perhaps because of the already-heightened reality of the Vegas-style setting, it actually manages to work.
More of the same, but better?
On first glance, Dead Rising 2 doesn%26rsquo;t differ a great deal from the formula of the original game. Or on the second. Or for that matter, on glance number three. You find yourself in a mini open-world made up of contrasting but connected areas, all of which are packed out with shambling, stinky offal-scoffers. The game%26rsquo;s story plays out over a three-day period in accelerated game time.
Over the course of those three days you%26rsquo;ll be given a series of compulsory story missions and a boatload of optional ones. All missions need to be completed within a certain time after their announcement or they%26rsquo;re gone forever, and failure to complete a story mission results in a stout booting back to your last save point.
But while all of that remains the same, one simple but fundamental change makes a big positive difference. The original game%26rsquo;s notoriously brutal manual game-save system has been softened to allow three save slots. The game still forces a studious survival instinct, demanding diligent play by offering nothing in the way of auto-save functionality, but this time around a gross mistake in timing %26ndash; say, hitting a hard compulsory boss fight with crap weaponry and no time to get better kit - doesn%26rsquo;t force a total restart.
As such, you can enjoy Dead Rising 2%26rsquo;s hilarious gratuity without the constant fear that a sudden difficulty spike could send you right back to the beginning. Masochists may be disappointed, but everyone else can rejoice. Most of the time.
But that%26rsquo;s not the only welcome improvement.