For a game built around the dead-simple premise that killing zombies with improvised weaponry is more fun than using anything bearing the "military-grade" label, it’s nice to see that Dead Rising 2's most recent unveilings--weapon combinations and co-op play--are designed with a similarly down-to-earth approach. Co-op is a feature built into the game without an ounce of context explaining the presence of a second player, while weapon combinations allow for some ridiculously handcrafted tools of destruction. When not raiding in-game clothing stores to create the most absurd outfit we could find, those were the two areas of Capcom’s upcoming action game that we focused on the most at last week’s Captivate press event.
For those who don't follow the strategic dealings of big publishers, Dead Rising 2 is the latest in Capcom's recent string of Western-developed games. Though the 2006 original was created within the Japanese company's internal studios, Capcom has enlisted the help of British Columbia-based Blue Castle Games to develop this sequel. Thus far, it's a strategy that has led to some lukewarm results. Both Bionic Commando and Dark Void were the products of similar partnerships, and both were met with mixed reviews. Fortunately, Dead Rising 2 carries more reasons for optimism. The biggest one is that unlike the two aforementioned games, it's neither an original title nor a modern take on a retro classic. Dead Rising 2 follows on the heels of a somewhat recent and very successful predecessor, and that solid foundation gives it a good chance to become the most successful game yet to arise from this external development strategy.
So there's your caveat. What we've seen of Dead Rising 2 suggests a game that recognizes what made the original so great and doesn't try too hard to reinvent the wheel. The basic gameplay is largely the same, with you playing as one of the few survivors during a zombie outbreak with only 72 hours to make it to safety. Rather than being at a shopping mall, you're now in a sprawling Las Vegas-inspired casino complex. However, like most Nevada hotel-casino resorts, it's a place big enough to house more than just craps tables and roulette wheels. We split time between two areas: the Mayan-themed Yucatan Casino (which, in true Vegas fashion, somehow had a German bratwurst restaurant in it) and the Royal Flush Plaza shopping center, which felt a good deal like the mall from the original.
One area where the game veers most sharply from its predecessor is the inclusion of co-op play. You'll be able to play through the entire story either by yourself or with another player at your side. The pairing comes with a host and guest designation. The host gets to keep all the story progression for completed missions, while the guest keeps all the experience points, found weapons, and other various unlockables he or she stumbles upon over the course of the adventure.
While odd on the surface, we have to admire the matter-of-fact approach Blue Castle Games has taken with Dead Rising 2's co-op. For one, the story doesn't make any attempt to explain why a second player is able to drop into another player's game at any moment. Nor does the game bother with giving you the option to play as a different protagonist other than leading man/motocross enthusiast Chuck Green. Blue Castle simply realizes that open-world action games are more fun when you're able to share your creative exploits with someone else, and that’s especially true for zombie slaughter escapades like this one. It feels a lot like the co-op from Saints Row 2: only one character is visible during the cutscenes, but both get an equal cut of the fun--however much suspension of disbelief is required going into it.
The game will scale the difficulty to account for an added player, but Blue Castle maintains that there are distinct advantages to playing the game with someone else at your side. We're told that the most beneficial of these moments are boss encounters. Fans of the original Dead Rising will recall boss fights against fellow survivors, those who hadn't succumbed to the zombie infection but still posed enough of a threat that violent altercations became necessary. In Dead Rising 2, you'll encounter similar moments against deranged survivors, including one we were shown against a pair of attractive females clad in cocktail dresses who used abundant sexual innuendo to taunt the player during the fight. In this battle, the second player came in handy to balance out the fight and prevent a two-against-one scenario, though sadly, there was no defense against those occasionally cringe-worthy taunts. (We'd also like to point out how frequently we burst into laughter during the tense cutscenes leading to this fight. One of the developers had outfitted his character with a Groucho Marx mustache-and-glasses type of mask before the cutscene, and it was simply impossible to take anything seriously as the prefight dialogue unfolded.)
The other new feature we spent some time with was the weapon combination system. It's a feature we've covered before, but this time we got to see quite a bit more of it. Think of all the various and scattered objects in the game that can be picked up and used as weapons--everything from fire axes to stuffed teddy bears. Most of these objects have a partner object in the gameworld that they can be paired with to form a new, exponentially more ridiculous weapon. Our favorite, hands-down, was the weapon created from combining a stuffed bear and a light machine gun: the Freedom Bear. You just take your newly armed stuffed toy, plop him down in the middle of a zombie-infested plaza, and watch as he acts as a stationary turret mowing down any undead nearby.
Other weapons we got a kick out of included the Drill Bucket (stick a couple of power drills inside a metal bucket and jam it on a zombie's head like the world's most unsafe helmet), the Exsanguinator (attach radial saw blades to the spinning part of a vacuum), and the Blambow (combine a bow and arrow with dynamite to, well, you get the picture). There are dozens upon dozens more with varying levels of absurdity and effectiveness. There are two ways to go about making these weapons: either go with the trial-and-error method of taking two objects and bringing them to a maintenance closet workbench to see if they pair up, or unlock "combo cards" that tell you the weapon formula in advance. It doesn't matter which method you pursue, though racking up kills with a weapon you have a combo card for nets you double the experience points.
If there's one way we'd describe Dead Rising 2, it's "so far, so good." But there are still big question marks on the horizon, and the biggest is how the story will play out. We know Blue Castle is sticking with the same 72-hour timer system while expanding the number of save slots players can use, but we don’t really know much about the structure of the story missions and whether they’ll feel less stifling than the original’s. Hopefully we'll have a better idea of how those work as we get closer to Dead Rising 2’s August 31 release.