Dead Rising 2 Preview
It takes a while for Dead Rising 2 to let you off the chain in Fortune City. You spend the first few minutes of the game with cutscenes and a short stint participating in DR2′s zombie-themed game show, Terror is Reality.
Five or 10 minutes later, after everything inevitably goes to hell, you finally get to leave your safe haven with a weapon and mission, and step into the city free to do what you will.
And holy crap, is it big.
The original Dead Rising was set in a bi-level mall, and it was pretty sprawling. In Dead Rising 2, only the first area you enter – maybe about a sixth of the total map – is a mall comparable to a large portion of DR1′s Willamette Mall. The rest is casinos, a pair of outdoor strips populated by storefronts and landscaping, and hotels. All packed with teeming legions of the undead.
As Josh Bridge, senior producer at Canadian developer Blue Castle, explained, you’re going to want to learn the layout before really trying to tackle the story.
“The world of Dead Rising is a feature,” Bridge said Friday at Greene’s Hardware Store, a Capcom promo event in Los Angeles that took place in a mock storefront filled with Dead Rising 2′s combo weapons and props (Capcom put up the same storefront in Seattle at PAX 2010). It also let me get a solid half-hour with the game. “You’re really going to want to explore and find out where the vehicles are, and where the moving sidewalks are, and where the wheelchairs are, because you actually run faster when pushing a wheelchair.”
Bridge was referring to the fact that, despite Fortune City being absolutely enormous, the story of the game still only spans 72 “hours” according to the game’s internal, sped-up clock. DR1 spanned three game days as well, and both games are built around meeting objectives by certain times. Punctuality was tight in DR1 – DR2 is much bigger, and so getting around will definitely play a factor in completing objectives.
From a play standpoint, a side-effect of all that hugeness meant lots of looong, slightly painful loading screens as I moved from area to area. This is offset by the fact that even though it takes a bit to load each of the game’s locales, they are extremely dense, with rooms and stores and buildings and alleys to explore, without additional waiting.
Clear Your Schedule
From what I saw, it’s going to be hard to make any attempt at playing Dead Rising 2 all the way through on the first go. The Dead Rising series allows players to gain levels (in DR2, by building combo weapons and killing zombies with them, and rescuing survivors or completing objectives), then start the game over with their amped-up character intact. There doesn’t seem to be much possibility at playing DR2 through, and getting the better of the game’s multiple endings, without spending a lot of time leveling and just learning the map.
Watching Bridge play was the best part of the promo event. I watched him grab a bunch of DR2′s new combo weapons, the most interesting being the Auger. A motor added to a pitch fork set the business end of the fork spinning. When Bridge jammed it into a zombie, he suddenly had an end-over-end spinning, five-point fleshy star of death that he could use to melee other zombies. And the whole time, the spinning zombie’s limbs were flying off from the impacts. It was gory, violent, hilarious and surprisingly effective.
But you’re going to want a list of combo weapons from the Internet handy when you fire up Dead Rising 2. There’s an obscene number of items that you can use as weapons, just like in DR1. But now you can combine many of them, and combo weapons are almost always much more effective than standard weapons.
The problem is, combos are pretty specific. A bat and a box of nails makes sense, but you can’t just strap nails to, say, a fire extinguisher. Fire extinguishers combine with squirt guns, or dynamite – not with chainsaws or leaf rakes. And you’re constantly running across combinable items, all denoted with the special blue “combo” icon. So you know you can make cool weapons, but you don’t know exactly how, and all that experimentation will eat up a lot of time.
Even so, the combo weapon mechanic is very satisfying. There’s no shortage of creative and funny weapons to build and try, so much so that the combo weapons will keep you busy for a while just by themselves.
Otis – Stop Calling Here
DR2 also does a great job of maintaining the hugeness and customization of DR1, while streamlining the experience.
Most notably, the transceiver on which you receive mission instructions is not nearly as intrusive as it was in DR1.
“We figured it out – call waiting,” Bridge joked, referring to DR1′s phone mechanic. In the first game, Otis, a survivor back in the safe room, would often call main character Frank with information about survivors and missions. But pulling out that phone instantly rendered Frank incapable of defending himself, picking stuff up, opening doors, or even jumping. And getting attacked ended the call – only for the transceiver to start ringing again a few seconds later.
Needless to say, it was annoying. The guys at Blue Castle thought so too.
“We wanted to have a scene killing Otis, but we just didn’t have time,” Bridge said. “We wanted him surrounded by zombies, getting eaten alive, but we couldn’t do it.”
Earn Money in Multiplayer for Single Player
The build of DR2 available at Greene’s Hardware Store was pretty complete, and quite disappointingly, that rendered DR2′s new multiplayer modes unplayable for me. Both co-op and competitive multiplayer are online-only.
The game does give you a taste of Terror is Reality, the American Gladiators-style, zombie-killing-themed game show on which the competitive multiplayer is based. The opening scene of DR2 has Chuck, the ex-motocross star protagonist, competing on the game show. The event features Chuck riding a motorcycle with two chainsaws strapped to it through a horde of zombies in an arena, the goal being to kill as many as possible before the time limit. Three other riders were also criss-crossing through the fray.
Multiplayer seems to be similar to the style of Fusion Frenzy or Mario Party, with zombie-themed minigame events that don’t appear to include any sort of death match-style play. That’s not confirmed, however – Bridge wouldn’t talk about multiplayer modes.
He did mention that there are lots of single-player incentives to fire up multiplayer. When you play online co-op, which is drop-in, drop-out-style, any stats you earn carry back to your single-player game. And so does money and items, Bridge said. Competitive multiplayer is similar.
“The money you make in Terror is Reality can come into the main game,” Bridge said. “So if you need cash, you can just hop online and try to place in the top three.”
Economy is a big part of the game, and Fortune City is littered with money. Bridge likened the city more to a big adult theme park than Las Vegas, and from the looks of it, there’s tons to do – and most of it costs, and earns you, more greenbacks.
I was most struck by a pair of minigames that dolled out winnings. First was a mechanical bull-riding game, which required the player to hit a specific button when prompted to avoid getting tossed off. It cost money to get on, but doing well earned the money back.
The second, and arguably the thing that made me smile the biggest of everything I saw, was a cash grab booth. Chuck steps in, and suddenly he’s surrounded by money flying around. Rapidly tapping a button grabbed the money out of the air, and after, Chuck stepped out with a sizable wad for his trouble.
A Huge and Crazy Place
My time with DR2 reminded me a lot of the best parts of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man – a gaudy, super-bright place with a bunch of exceedingly dangerous and gratuitous ways for greedy people to make money. And zombies by the truckload – there was almost never a time when I wasn’t under constant threat of getting eaten alive. It made the whole experience tense (“where’s my next weapon?”) as well as darkly funny.
Overall verdict: Dead Rising 2 is a better game than its predecessor, and is massive and well-rounded. The multiplayer modes – and their incentives in the single-player game – are a good mechanic for keeping DR2 interesting and getting players to get into the game in different ways, and my impression is that they won’t feel tacked on to players. At every turn, it seemed like there was much more to do than just a zombie-slaying rampage, which can get old after a while. And that’s not to mention the bunch of completionist achievements and trophies that will keep hardcore players changing how they approach the zombie apocalypse.
Capcom and Blue Castle want you to spend with Dead Rising 2 to get the full story experience. Luckily, it appears that there’s enough freedom and content to keep players from getting bored in the meantime.