But while this is definitely a friendlier and more addictive blend of the Dead Rising formula, a few of the ingredients are starting to smell way out of date. The boss fights – which occur when Chuck stumbles upon a particularly odorous human psychopath during the course of a mission – are a truly unpleasant and completely inexcusable experience. As appropriate to modern video games as children are to modern coal mining practices, they would have been archaic mid-last-generation.
You enter the boss room. A nonsensically damaging character who can barely be scratched rushes right up into your face. You get hit three times in two seconds and die. Hello, last save point.
You repeat, saving a bit closer to the fight this time in order to avoid a minute of potential back-tracking. The same thing happens again.
You repeat. You die a bit faster this time, but manage to get in a good five or six hits first, using what is ordinarily a stupidly powerful weapon. The boss’s health bar barely drops a pixel. By the time your save file re-loads you have developed a very serious case of clinical depression, but that’s okay. You’re now too emotionally numb to feel the sting of defeat the next seven or eight times you try.
Above: Expect to see a lot of this whenever the bosses arrive
We’re not talking about boss fights as we know them now, full of spectacle, drama and skill. These are the attritional trudges of a by-gone age, exercises in smashing your face into a brick wall until the wall falls over, while hoping you’ve brought along enough health packs to last just slightly longer than the brickwork.
And worst of all, most beautifully, incandescently, immaculately obnoxious of all, they’re never flagged up as boss fights until you locate and commit to them. So any seemingly innocent mission (main or optional) can turn out to be a game-ender without warning. Top-level weapons help, but if you don’t know you’re entering a boss fight you probably won’t have any. And depending on the time limit and location, you might not be able to acquire any either.
And don’t think you’re safe once you’ve trained yourself into the mind-set of constant saving. Because at least one of these miserable fixtures is located inside a save point. And kicks in before you can use it. Try to imagine my face when I tried to utilise that save point towards the end of a particularly lengthy escort mission. Actually don’t. If you get even halfway close you’ll be waking up screaming for a month, and frankly I don’t need that shit on my conscience.
Mercifully it’s just niggles aside from that, but niggles which further the impression of DR2 being an aged game given a shiny HD make-over. One or two story missions containing hard or lengthy set-pieces have no internal save opportunities, and the creaky dearth of spoken dialogue in favour of plentiful written text is both dated and a logistical bugger to work with. Try reading six paragraphs of dialogue to find out what a survivor wants while fighting off the approaching zombie hoard in real-time. It’s fun. And that was sarcasm.
I totally understand Capcom’s rationale for the way Dead Rising 2 operates. And when it works – which is most of the time – the sense of surviving by your own wits, self-discipline and ingenuity is deeply satisfying. And given that you can restart the whole game at any stage with your current levelling intact, this is clearly a game intended to be completed via multiple play-throughs. And I’m into that. But come on guys, there’s a time to rein it in. And that time is at exactly the point it stops being fun. There’s crazy, imaginative fun in abundance, and those stops are infrequent, but when they happen, they’re miserable.
Dead Rising? Yes. While DR2 isn't a vast evolution given the four year gap between games, it is a noticeably more satisfying package. The addictive hilarity of finding and creating the combo weapons is a massive bonus, as is the way the softened save system (largely) lets you enjoy the game free of restart-terror.
Resident Evil 5 ? No. Both games are ambitious Capcom gorefests marred by difficulty spikes and crap boss fights, and neither is a huge advancement over its predecessor, but RE5 is just a slicker and more polished game. Though it doesn't have half of Dead Rising 2's personality.
Left 4 Dead 2 ? No. They're both very different takes on a zombie apocalypse, naturally, and both fill holes the other one can't, but Valve's tight, tactical, team-based dismemberment has more exhilarating and tightly-balanced meat on its bones. Of course, if you prefer a free-form playground take on the undead plague, Dead Rising 2 is the way to go.
While not a huge departure from the original Dead Rising template, Dead Rising 2’s concession to friendlier game-saves and excellent addition of a creative and funny weapon-crafting system make it a rewarding and gleefully entertaining experience. But alas, the corpse-killing hijinks are noticeably marred by some inexcusable hark-backs to archaic game design. A lot of fun then, but with some definite frustrations.
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