This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dead Rising 2.
Once upon a time, there was a game called Dead Rising that coined the phrase "when there's no more room in hell, the NPCs will walk into walls a whole bunch." It came out on the Xbox 360 while the console was still young and innocent - and the word "Kinect" would still have made red wavy lines appear in Microsoft Word - and featured a unique approach to sandbox gameplay set in a zombie holocaust. And while it's true the difficulty curve was so steep it had a fucking overhang that only curved harder during the countless escort missions hampered by survivor A.I. that had been curb-stomped a few times under the hobnail boots of the stupid fairy, it was at least a pretty original game.
But now there's a sequel, so so much for that. The only real difference is that instead of leveling up by taking funny pictures of zombies for your scrapbook, now you do it by sellotaping fire axes to sledgehammers and pounding them into gravy.
Actually, that's a pretty good difference.
So after everyone just sort of got over the whole zombie apocalypse thing in the first game, an effort is made to just "live and let unlive" with the zombies, or rather "live and let splatter all over pay-per-view TV with chainsaw motorbikes." But there's another gosh-darned outbreak, and our hero, Chuck Greene, is trapped in a glitzy, Vegas-style hellhole with a disproportionally large number of psychotic murderers with ridiculous amounts of health.
The story is, naturally, retarded; this is Capcom we're talking about. Capcom make game stories the same way tumble dryers make potato salad. The main plot involves a protest group who are opposed to cruelty to zombies, because, you know, give a shambling corpse a friendly hug and he might briefly remember being human after he's had a few mouthfuls of your face. But the plot makes out they're supposed to be in the right! Chuck is even established to have sympathies with them right before he runs outside in a lady's crimplene dress and uses a battle axe to separate the top halves and the bottom halves of the entire cast of 28 Days Later.
Let me make this clear now: I actually quite like Dead Rising 2. It just doesn't seem to like me very much, and I'm not sure why when I'm obviously such a cuddly, inoffensive soul. Just as before, you have a certain amount of time to kill before rescue, with timed events occurring at fixed points, and I had to restart the game at one point because the time limit on a critical boss encounter ran out while I has halfway through the fucking thing. How the hell did the boss make their escape while I was watching them wind my lower intestines around a candyfloss machine, Dead Rising 2?
The cynic in me - sorry, that should have read, "the cynic that is me" - wants to say that the ability to restart the game at any point, retaining your character level and upgrades, is a feature added so they wouldn't have to balance the game properly, as there are a lot of encounters and boss fights that on a first playthrough are about as fair as a man with nitroglycerin buttock injections entering an arse-kicking contest. It was only halfway through my second attempt that I finally learned the fucking dodge roll. That would have been nice about three hours ago when the giant pink chainsaw was sliding bloodily in and out of my newly-created chest vagina. There's a fine line between extending a game's lastability and just wasting my fucking time.
Importantly, the NPCs are significantly less retarded and will now efficiently follow you no matter how little attention you give them, sort of like most of my ex-girlfriends. They're much better at navigating crowds of zombies, too, so the actual escorts are trivial skips through the tulips, but from a certain point onwards a surprising number of survivors refuse to follow you until you pay them money. Oh, okay, I'll just leave you inside that zombie's mouth for an hour or two while I go find an ATM. Sorry, survivor, I forgot: did you say you wanted money or to be punched in the face with flaming boxing gloves? Because those I've got. It's not too much of a problem, because as long as you caveman club every ATM you pass you'll never be hurting for money. But it does feel a bit hypocritical when one of the primary subsets of non-zombie enemies are looters whereas what you're doing is just wealth redistribution, right?
Speaking of flaming boxing gloves, the USP this time around is that objects can be combined into special weapons. The combinations that actually work, though, seem a little bit arbitrary, and experimentation is largely fruitless. The game will let you tape a machete to a broom handle but not, say, a Bowie knife or a meat cleaver or an angry cat. It all smacks of adventure game logic, with only the one thing the developer thought of being acknowledged. As in, "you can use the broom to knock the giant moustache off the Washington Monument, but not the bamboo stick, because you need that you appease the angry panda six rooms from now." Most of the combinations are maybe good for a quick giggle at the novelty, but there are only a handful of efficient, day-to-day, go-to combos. For example, once you do tape a fire axe to a sledgehammer, the game mights as well just roll the credits, because anything that gets in the way of it will have a head resembling a Cornish pasty being hit by a car. I beat most of the boss fights just by wailing on them with it, tanking their attacks and necking orange juice like a dehydrated Floridian.
The best part of playing Dead Rising 2 is when I decide to stop, but that's not the smug wanker criticism it sounds like. After I save the game, I say: "Right, tomorrow I will reload that save, so everything I do now is consequence free!" Then I can run around experimenting, testing new combos, trying on womens' dresses, and breaking wind into the phone every time my support character reminds me to find medication for my terminally ill child. Taking on the zombie hordes with a lawnmower blade strapped to the top of your head is exactly the kind of Serious Sam over-the-top fun violence action games need more of these days.
What I like about it is it's a true water cooler game, and I'm not taking about all that Facebook game bollocks where you can boast to all your friends because you stuck a radish up an imaginary cow's arse. You get together with your other Dead Rising 2 playing mates and you can discuss for hours what combos you found, boss-fighting tactics, and where to find the chainsaws and mankinis. Perhaps a romance could blossom that will last a lifetime if you discover a similar taste in weapons and womens' clothing, but what we don't want to know is what you'll do on the first date.
Usually dead rising at around 6AM: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
GAMING PRO TIP: Drinking an entire bottle of coffee creamer in one chug is exactly the sort of thing everyone hates America for