In the world of Dead Rising 2, there's an activist organization known as CURE that pushes for the humane treatment of the living impaired. If only CURE realized just how much fun it can be to maim, behead, or otherwise massacre hordes of brain-craving zombies. Very little has changed since the release of Dead Rising more than four years ago, but the most important thing that has stayed the same is the thrill of being set loose in a town overrun by mindless monsters. Slice your way through these moaning monsters to save survivors, dispose of dangerous psychopaths, and uncover the terrible truth that could change everything. Unfortunately, along with the good elements that made the original game a beloved hit come the same quirks that will cause you to occasionally stumble. Frequent load screens break up the fine pacing, control blemishes make precision difficult, and the driving controls are lousy. But the core of this game is so outrageously, savagely entertaining that it's easy to look past these missteps. Dead Rising 2 is a unique and engaging experience that is difficult to pull away from and eminently replayable.
Chuck Greene has found himself in an awful situation. His young daughter was bitten by a zombie a few years back and requires a daily dose of the wonder drug Zombrex to prevent her from turning into one of them. But just as pressing as his family issues are the legal troubles swirling over his head. Zombies are now a controlled menace in society. People who are unfortunate enough to be infected are locked away so they can't go around chomping on necks willy-nilly. But someone has unleashed a horde of undead monsters into the gambling town of Fortune City and framed poor Chuck Greene in the process. The story in Dead Rising 2 is a lot more personal than in the first game. You have to continually hunt for more doses of Zombrex to keep your daughter alive while searching for the truth that will clear your tarnished name. It's a situation that makes Chuck an immediately sympathetic figure, and his caring demeanor is a welcome reprieve from the abrasive star of the previous game, Frank West.
The story does a fine job of embracing stereotypes from zombie movies. The cast of characters, including a volatile security officer and sultry news reporter, have an over-the-top acting style that makes it enjoyable to see what ridiculous thing will spew from their mouths next. It's a tongue-in-cheek approach that never takes itself too seriously. This sense of humor is pervasive in the game, and best exemplified by the wacky wardrobe you have access to. During your time scouring Fortune City, you find a wide assortment of outfits to change into, and your fashion style is carried over to the cutscenes. This may seem like a small feature, but it makes the story so much more enjoyable. The mood during these cinematics is usually bleak and overly dramatic, but when Chuck Greene struts in wearing a servbot helmet and a Hawaiian grass skirt, it's difficult to keep a straight face.
That effervescent creativity bubbles over into the combat. The biggest addition to Dead Rising 2 is a crafting system that lets you combine certain objects to create gloriously over-the-top weapons. You can duct tape a machete onto the end of a push broom, affix a machine gun to the arm of a robotic bear, or light your boxing gloves on fire with a spurt of motor oil. It's a fantastic and ridiculous system that gives you a plethora of goofy ways to vanquish your undead attackers. The combinations are preordained, so you don't have the freedom to create whatever wacky ideas you have in your head, but there are plenty of unique gadgets to go around. You can create these special weapons just by tinkering in tool sheds until you come up with something that works, but to unlock their full potential, you have to earn combo cards. You get these cards by leveling up, killing psychopaths, reading posters, or rescuing survivors, and they not only supply the recipe, but they also give you access to its special attack. This forces you to scour the environment and complete objectives, so you have to work to take advantage of the best weapons instead of just using them from the beginning of the game.
The structure that made the original Dead Rising so hectic has survived the transition unchanged. Even though you have the freedom to roam as you please in this open-world adventure, an in-game clock serves as a perpetual reminder to move on to your next task. Every objective begins and ends at a specific time, and if you can't complete it, it disappears. In the case of optional activities, such as rescuing survivors or killing psychopaths, there's little repercussion for failure. But if you forget to give your daughter her medicine or can't finish a primary storyline objective, that entire plot thread disappears forever. You can keep playing if you want, and there's even a special ending to commemorate your inadequacy, but to finish things off the right way, you have to start all the way back at the beginning. It's a punishing system that can serve as a stomach punch for the uninitiated, but it's also the driving force behind this unique experience. The threat of failure is always hanging overhead, and it pushes you to act quickly and make smart decisions. Dead Rising 2 is slightly easier than the original, so you shouldn't have too much trouble reaching the conclusion as long as you stay focused; just don't expect any hand-holding.
Starting over in Dead Rising 2 isn't nearly as lousy as it sounds. Chuck levels up by completing certain activities, and your experience stays with you in perpetuity. There's a huge difference between the slow-footed, weak man you start the game as and the virile Adonis you become when you reach the level cap of 50. So even if you stumble and have to start over, you're so much more capable the next time through; thus, the whole experience is much easier and more fun as well. In addition to earning boosts to your core attributes, you learn martial arts maneuvers. Jump kicks, power bombs, and elbow drops are just some of the deadly moves you unlock, which makes dispatching undead foes efficient and fun. Pulling off these fancy skills is a lot more intuitive than in the original game. Before, some of your moves required you to click the stick while pushing a button, which was downright clunky in the heat of battle. But now, your techniques are mapped to the face buttons and triggers, so you won't fumble around as much. Unfortunately, the higher-level skills are not quite as interesting this time around. You can't disembowel zombies or perform a German suplex, and the replacement moves aren't nearly as flashy. Still, the upgrade system in Dead Rising 2 does a fine job of dangling a carrot until you reach the summit.
The bulk of Dead Rising 2 involves running around the map, rescuing survivors, and killing psychopaths until you trigger the next cutscene. It may sound repetitive, but there's enough variety in these simple activities to keep you on your toes. Survivor rescue is not as easy as it sounds. You receive distress calls informing you of stranded humans in need of help, and you have to convince them to come back with you to the safe house. Sometimes, it's as easy as talking to them for a minute before they decide hanging around with zombies is a bad idea, but at other times, it takes more convincing. You may have to strip down to your knickers or provide a tasty beverage, and there are enough preposterous requests to keep you guessing. Thankfully, their artificial intelligence has been greatly improved from the first game, which removes the aggravation of saving their hides. However, as adept as they usually are at following you through the zombie horde, they are painfully slow at times, which makes an already stressful game that much tenser. But it's still a lot of fun finding every last survivor, and it takes a bit of practice before you can round them all up in one go.
Psychopaths serve as the boss fights in Dead Rising 2, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that man is worse than zombie. These deranged lunatics show their true colors when chaos rules the day, and their dark backstories make it satisfying to finally kill them. For instance, one of Chuck's former motocross competitors has lost his mind now that law and order have disappeared. He fashions chainsaws on his motorcycle and plows through everything that moves with creepy glee--even humans who are unfortunate enough to cross his path. Each psycho has a unique tale of depravity, and finishing off these sickos cues a morbid scene of their ultimate demise. Unfortunately, it's in these battles that the sluggish controls are exposed. There is a slight delay when you try to dodge or attack, and up-close melee attacks don't always register. You can overcome this drawback with a bit of patience, but it's a shame the controls in Dead Rising 2 aren't more precise.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Dead Rising 2 has to do with how it urges you to play through the entire game multiple times. Because of the pressure of the ticking clock, it's almost impossible to see everything your first time through. Going back a second time with a powered-up Chuck and a better grasp of the level layouts makes it much easier to complete the main objectives and thoroughly explore your surroundings. There are tons of hidden secrets to uncover. Extra boxes of Zombrex, drivable vehicles, shortcuts, and all sorts of fabulous weapons can be found in the darnedest places, and it's well worth your trouble to comb the environment to see what gems you can unearth. One thing that may hold you back from repeat playing is the atrocious load times, which continually try to derail your fun. The city is broken up into a number of malls and casinos, and you have to suffer through a long load time every time you enter a new area. There are other technical issues as well, such as pop-in and screen tearing, which detract from the simple joy of slicing a zombie in half.
If you don't want to slay zombies and rescue survivors by your lonesome, a handy cooperative mode lets you tackle the campaign with a friend. Although it's certainly interesting to have a buddy by your side as you unravel this conspiracy, it feels strange during the initial play-through. This is a narrative-heavy game in which your actions decide the ultimate ending, so having someone else along for the ride encroaches on your expression. Although co-op doesn't make much sense your first time through, it's a great idea when you replay the adventure. Combining your destructive might against the undead zombies and uncaring psychopaths is cathartic, and getting help makes rescuing survivors much easier. There are some limitations--most notably the inability to explore the city separately--but as long as you don't mind having your buddy nearby the whole time, this mode can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the competitive offering, Terror is Reality. This pits four players in American Gladiators-inspired minigames, but loose controls and forgettable scenarios makes this dull. You do get to transfer the money you earn here into the main game, which lets you buy premade combo weapons and extra Zombrex, but that's not a big enough draw to suffer through this mode.
Dead Rising 2 delicately balances wanton destruction with thoughtful objectives. Just about every aspect of this game is entertaining, ensuring that you're having a good time whether you're fighting psychopaths, rescuing survivors, or just trying to find hidden secrets. The weapon-creation system continually rewards you with unique ways to kill your brain-starved foes, but it's the tight structure that provides the main draw. Because you're continually pushed from one objective to the next, you don't have time to dwell on small problems. It would have been nice to be able to put a waypoint on your map, and the driving controls are still horrible, but it's worth putting up with these issues just to experience the brutal joy that is buried within. There are a lot of zombie games out there, but this game proves that killing brain-dead foes can offer more than just mindless fun. Dead Rising 2 is a great sequel to one of the most original open-world games available.