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Dead Rising 2: Case Zero DLC review

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero is a bit of DLC oddity: it’s available now, but the full game isn’t out yet. It’s also not really a demo, since you have to pay for it, it takes place in a completely separate place from the full game, and you can carry over your character’s level to the main game. It’s a pretty fun appetizer for the “real“ Dead Rising 2, but our experience was hampered by some horrendously annoying flaws. That said, we can’t know if these flaws will be a part of the full game, since they were specific to the missions, and not inherent gameplay flaws.

Above: We love the visual details that tell a story. In this case, you can imagine how many zombies Chuck's run down in his truck

Case Zero starts off some time after the original Dead Rising, but also a while before part two, with Chuck Greene driving through the Nevada Desert in his pickup with his young and (typical of videogame kids) extremely whiny and annoying daughter. We’ll tell you now: if we have to deal with her complaining ass all through the main game, we’ll be looking for an option to feed her to the zombies. Anyway, she’s still an innocent kid, and being the spawn of Chuck’s loins, a sympathetic character by default. You can’t really blame the kid for complaining when she’s in the middle of an apocalypse and has been infected by a zombie bite, can you?

Due to her infection, Case Zero puts you up against two tension-ratcheting timers: she’ll need one dose of Zombrex before the end of the DLC, and you have to get out of town before the military arrives to take you away to some plastic tent to be sanitized. And no, we don’t think they’ll be cleaning you.

Zombrex must be administered every twelve hours to the infected to prevent zombification, so you have that to worry about. In the opening cutscene, Chuck actually already has several doses, but then someone steals his truck at theStill Creek gas station, which means he’s lost the meds as well as his ride. So leaving town isn’t a simple matter: the place is essentially deserted, full of zombies, and in the middle of nowhere. So your other main objective is to scavenge up parts of a motorcycle so you can put the bike together and ride out of there before the army arrives.

Above: You'll face off against some intimidating hordes, but the zombies themselves aren't much of a threat

Just as in the original Dead Rising, your chances of succeeding in your tasks on the first try are low. You’ll almost certainly have to start over from the beginning, or possibly an early save file (but then you lose level progress). Since the game is only a couple of hours long, starting over isn’t a big deal. Still, for some players (like us) it’s not very fun to replay the beginning part of the story again when there are no surprises.

There also isn’t a whole lot that makes Case Zero feel like an evolution of the original game. We didn’t see any special zombies other than them wearing different outfits. We didn’t get to see any new special moves since your character’s level is capped and nothing noteworthy is unlocked in those first few levels. The one main feature that’s new is the ability to combine weapons. It’s possible some players will get a real kick out of experimenting with all the combinations, but we kept feeling the pressure of time passing quickly and our need to find the bike parts was too much to worry about what weapons we could make – and regardless, most of the weapons in Case Zero can’t be combined anyways. If you were dreaming of combining every weapon you find, get ready to wake up: only a small portion of weapons can be combined with anything. At least, that’s what we saw. It also may be a case of the devs not wanting to give you too much to play with in the DLC, so you’ll want to buy the full game to really play around.

Above: There aren't many really cool combo weapons to play with, but the one's that are cool, are really damn cool

Killing zombies in various ways is as satisfying as ever, and the best weapon in the DLC isn’t even a combined one – let’s just say you should play with the broadsword a while, and we’ll leave it at that. Of course there are survivors to rescue, and thankfully they appear to be way, way less annoying to escort now. We’d say that 90% of the time, we were able to just run toward our destination without even having to check back to see if our companions were okay. They juked, shoved, and brained zombies capably on their own. Only a couple of times did they get surrounded and stuck, which really is just about right – after all, if they were invincible, there wouldn’t be any tension in rescuing them.

Each rescue mission has a cool twist to it and reveals each survivor’s personality, and with the annoyances taken away, they make for fun diversions. ExploringStill Creek is also engrossing despite the town’s small size. There are quite a few weapons to experiment with (plus a handful of great combinations if you know where to look), and the locations reveal interesting obstacles to clamber over and navigate through, and of course funny “occupations” for the zombies. In the mini-casino, zombies are totally hypnotized by the slot machines, while near the police station, uniformed zombies shuffle about carrying night sticks or pistols uselessly. For the cheap price (400 points or $5), you get a lot of game to play with. We didn’t feel like we’d really seen everything until after at least six hours of play.

Now we get to our biggest gripes about Case Zero. From what we’ve seen there’s been no big improvement in the save system. It does auto-save for you, but only at specific points that can actually be spaced out by an hour or more depending on how you play. We got complacent after seeing frequent auto saves early in the game and so forgot to manually save for a while. Then the game killed us for dropping off a three foot ledge (thanks?) and we discovered we’d lost well over an hour of progress. Our choice was to lose that hour and load the last save, or start over and keep our levels but lose the story progress. So bee warned: save manually often. Granted, it was our fault for not saving, but the game made us believe that auto saves would be frequent when they’re actually really spread out during random segments.

Above: Most of the game takes place in the day, which doesn't make for a creepy setting. Luckily, night falls later on, increasing the sense of urgency for your escape

Our biggest problem with Case Zero, and it’s a big one, is that it’s possible for the story to be literally impossible to complete, either through a bug or a loophole in the design. See, while almost all of the bike parts can be found at any time, one of them only appears in the world after (we think) specific conditions are met, but here’s the important part: those conditions are arbitrary. It might have been a bug, but it’s hard to tell. What happens is this (so we can try to save you some pain): the bike part is in the possession of two biker dudes, but they only spawn into the world if you exit and enter your safehouse a certain number of times and then go talk to a different survivor who’s standing on a roof (again, we think). These nebulous conditions that are never told to you can mean that there’s no way for you to succeed in your mission, and this actually increases in probability as you get better at the game because you don’t have to visit the safehouse as much. That’s a damn obnoxious thing to face in a game.

We also must mention that the load times were ludicrous - but we were running of a disc with no ability to install to the hard drive, so since the DLC version will be directly on your hard drive, we're guessing the load times will be better - we hope so, because we were getting up from the couch to do other things while the game loaded, and this happened often.

So, Case Zero has hiccups in its ability to entertain you that feel like leftovers from the original game, but it also has some awesome weapons to play with and a good deal of that Dead Rising humor and charm you can’t get anywhere else. If you’re not bothered by replaying from the beginning a few times, then the main flaws won’t be too big a deal. And finally, if you loved the original and are restless to play the sequel, Case Zero will probably satisfy, as long as you don’t raise your expectations too much, and don’t assume it’s representative of the upcoming full game.

Aug 31, 2010

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.