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Dead Rising 2 360 is a practically perfect sequel, opening out the story while playing to the series' strengths and addressing most of its weaknesses.
This is still very much Dead Rising, from the enclosed consumer toy town setting to the three-day-deadline before rescue arrives. It's still a free for all zombie-kill-fest where playful exploration is paramount, and where an endgame-focussed dash through the story missions will likely lead to disappointment.
However, for anyone favourably disposed to the first Dead Rising, even if they ended up slinging the disk across the room due to some of its eccentricities, this is an ideal sequel. Capcom and Canadian developer Blue Castle have polished and improved virtually every aspect of the original to produce a bigger, better, more fun sequel.
The action picks up some time after Case Zero, with Chuck Greene funding his daughter Katie's expensive need for zombification-prevention drug Zombrex by taking part in a ridiculous zombie-killing game show called Terror Is Reality, taped in the very Vegas-like Fortune City.
Inevitably the zombies get loose, and Chuck and Katie flee to a secure bunker where a number of survivors are hiding out for the three-days before rescue (in the form of the military) arrives.
Equally inevitably, Chuck has to venture out of the safe room and fight his way through hordes of zombies, initially just to get Zombrex for Katie, then to clear his name when he finds out he's been framed for causing the zombie outbreak.
The world of Dead Rising 2 is very much like that of Dead Rising, but with more of everything.
Oh, and while he's out there Chuck might as well rescue some trapped survivors, defeat some psychopaths, try out some home-made weapons, see what he looks like wearing a giant ginger beard, a showgirl's diamond headpiece and a toddler's playsuit...
The world of Dead Rising 2 is very much like that of Dead Rising, but with more of everything - more space, more variety, more toys to play with. Although ostensibly set in a city rather than a shopping mall, to all intents and purposes, Fortune City is a mall, a series of linked shops - albeit a mall where every third area is a casino.
This is far from a bad thing. The game cuts out all the boring bits of urban space - living quarters, hotel rooms, etc - and instead concentrates on shops, restaurants and leisure areas, all crammed with novelty items to use as weapons.
Like the first game, it's a consumer toy town full of deadly playthings, but this time with an even more ridiculously wide choice of costumes and potential weapons. The 'combo' system premiered in Case Zero broadens the options even further, allowing the creation of some truly, truly ridiculous custom weaponry by combining various items.
Some combo weapons are powerful in melee, other's are more useful at a distance, while others still are just plain fun. Finding new combinations - and the collectible 'combo cards' hidden around the environment, as well as available from saved survivors and defeated psychopaths - is one of Dead Rising 2's most compulsive elements.
Thankfully, while there are still time scales to be obeyed, the in-game deadlines for the main storyline are less tight than they were in the first game, allowing more down-time to explore and have fun.
For the most part, the central story of Dead Rising 2 remains compelling on repeat play-throughs.
Other controller-flinging frustrations from the first game, like the restrictive save system and totally useless survivors, have also been loosened up. Three save slots allow for greater back-tracking (although multiple play-throughs are still advised to level up and fully explore the game's many options), and survivors are now far hardier, and if given a weapon can actually prove quite handy in a fight.
Combat has also been improved. Melee combat against hordes of zombies was the strongest part of the original's game play, and remains pretty much the same as before, but with some tweaks and a widened roster of hand-to-hand moves for Chuck to learn. Firearms combat has been greatly improved, with far smoother targeting and the ability to fire while moving.
It's still not up to shooter standards, but then the Dead Rising games aren't dedicated shooters. What they are, for the most part, is about loose, frantic battles in confined spaces, where button-mashing is more important than precision or complex button-presses. For the most part, Dead Rising 2 is about fun, gross-out battles, and the combat is suitably loose and flexible.
Which brings us to the stickiest part of Dead Rising 2: the psychopaths. As per the original, the zombie outbreak has given some of Fortune City's less-stable citizens the opportunity to act out their violent fantasies, and these provide numerous side quests where Chuck needs to defeat a psycho and save their next potential victim.
In line with the cartoon horror of the rest of the game, these psychopaths are fantastically grotesque and are mostly satirical exaggerations of various American archetypes: the unstable postal worker, the sexually repressed son of a minister, the gang of gun-toting libertarian redneck wingnuts. Broadly drawn and genuinely nasty, they provide vivid colour and variety to the world of the game.
Unfortunately, combat tuned towards hacking through brain-dead hordes of zombies isn't ideally suited to boss-battles in the traditional mould, and it's at these points that Chuck can feel far too clumsy and clunky, reeling to fight back as the psychos dart around, homing in for precise attacks.
The more cumbersome battles can become incredibly frustrating, with the only solution to go away and level up to provide a sufficient life-buffer so that you can defeat your enemy in a battle of attrition. Thankfully most of the truly irritating face-offs are optional, but there is at least one nightclub-set conflict that's slap-bang in the middle of the story, and brought me to a grinding halt and another restart to do some serious levelling up.
It's off the beaten track that Dead Rising 2 is at its most rewarding.
While those multiple play-throughs are all part of the Dead Rising formula, being forced to save and restart by a psychopath battle is exceptionally galling because they're the least fun part of the game, far more of a chore than, say, some of the ridiculous fetch-quests needed elsewhere. They're contrary to the spirit of the rest of the game - rigid and unyielding in their difficulty, whereas the game as a whole emphasises experimental fun.
It's a small problem, though, one that barely detracts from the fun of the game. For the most part, the central story of Dead Rising 2 remains compelling on repeat play-throughs, with the cut-scenes (and indeed the entire opening sequence after the first play) skippable and game play rewards like shortcuts and rare firearms doled out as an incentive to keep completing the story missions.
The central story and the level progression, which unlocks new combat moves and improves Chuck's stats, provides Dead Rising 2 provides with a strong spine of compulsive forward momentum, the drive to play on.
It's off the beaten track that Dead Rising 2 is at its most rewarding, though, as Chuck takes time between uncovering the conspiracy against him to go out, explore and find new things to do.
Dead Rising 2 is just full of opportunities to have a great, gory time.
There's money to be made (and spent), crazy weapons to be built, silly costumes to be tried on (often with a daft custom animation to enjoy), and of course thousands of zombies to bash, slash, shoot, burn, freeze, impale... and so on.
Fortune City may be one of gaming's smaller sandboxes, but it's one optimised for maximum fun, and Dead Rising 2 is just full of opportunities to have a great, gory time there.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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