Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: "Dead Rising 2"

Chuck's World
review for Dead Rising 2, 1 - 4 player action, available now

Chuck Greene is insane. No, really. If you thought Dead Rising's protagonist Frank West was a few screws loose at times, then prepare a straight-jacket and plot a course for Arkham Asylum, because Chuck Greene is a paranoid schizophrenic, a compulsive cross-dresser, and a reckless sadist. The best part is? ...it's all your fault.

Y'see, in the cut-scenes, Chuck is more or less normal. He has a daughter, Katey, who was once bitten by a zombie; and thusly needs a dailey dose of anti-go-crazy syrum Zombrex else she turns into a slavering beast herself. Because his daughter is infected, he is shown to sympathise with pro-zombie protest group CURE, a PETA-like orginization that quite unironically stands against violence to zombies.

Chuck will say things like, "I'm going to go find your medicine," or, "I'll do whatever I can to bring these zombie-haters to justice." Which is pretty normal. Then he'll go out and tape a sledgehammer to some fireaxes and flatten in the heads of every zombie he sees, provoked or not. Oops.
Now this isn't Chuck's fault. And if you are the kind of boring, follow-the-objectives kind of gamer, he might seem relatively sane within the confines of player control, too. But when I took control of Chuck, his actions contradicted his goals so much it isn't possible that he is anything other than an insane sonofabitch.

Insanity aside, Chuck Greene is a much better protagonist for a Dead Rising game than Frank West ever was. Compare the skillsets of the two characters - Frank West, a journalist who has covered wars, and Chuck Greene, an ex-motocross champion - which would genuinely do you better during an outbreak? Chuck is extremely proficient at riding a motorcycle, which comes in handy when the game calls for a high-speed chase, or - even better - when the game calls for you to kill the undead. And thanks to Chuck's mechanical ingenuity, he can also make combo weapons out of every-day items - which is something West could really have used when he was out taking photos of everything like a garden-variety homosexual.

Gameplay-wise, Dead Rising 2 plays an awful lot like Dead Rising. Once again, you are set loose in a sprawling playground of every-day objects begging to be bought into contact with zombie skulls. Instead of Willamette Mall - which even in itself was massively varied - the sequel takes place in the Vegas-esque Las Venturas strip, an adult getaway, and a ritzy holiday destination that has more colour than a tropical island. The sheer amount of toys to play with this time around, combined with a much larger scope than the original, make Dead Rising 2's playground a far superior one to Willamette Mall.

Once again, killing zombies is a hell of a lot of fun. The engine supports a truckload of undead on-screen at once, and with all the tools of destruction on hand, laying waste to the hordes is a thrilling and visceral experience to be sure. Blood flies everywhere as you cut up shambling corpses with make-shift Wolverine-esque knives-on-boxing-gloves. Guts fly everywhere as you run over unsuspecting freaks with a lawn mower. Brains splatter harshly against the pavement as the Defiler makes short work of every goddamn zombie from here to the horizon.

This isn't a game that can be reviewed rationally. Even with somewhat sticky and unresponsive controls causing me to scream at my monitor like a lunatic, nothing - and I mean nothing - can take away from the spectacle of taping item A and item B together and using it to make short work of George Romero's lovechilds. The game itself is plagued with design problems, from stupid level designs to annoying fetch-quests. But the guts of the game are murdering everything that shambles - and Dead Rising 2 knows its guts. Not even the return of the annoying and slightly shit boss battles with psychos can stop Dead Rising 2 from improving atop of Dead Rising's familiar formula. Actually, Dead Rising 2's range of human bosses - from hippies to semi-Italian chefs to toy store mascots - are so much better balanced than the original's. Of course they still aren't very good. The encounters lean towards the sloppy, which is disappointing, but not exactly unexpected. Dead Rising has never been adept at genuine combat sequences, and the sequel is no exception. It is an improvement, for sure, but the control scheme is suited to carving up the walking dead, not cutting down massive Devil May Cry-like bosses' health-bars. And once more, the gunplay is pure liquid suck poured down the front of your trousers. Piss-poor.

But that doesn't matter. Dead Rising 2 is an addictive, compulsive thrill-ride of decapitation and blood-letting. It's a light-hearted and escapist vision of the zombie apocalypse, in which seeing the corpses coming towards you is means to hoot and holler because it's time to test out your new Gem Blower or Chainsaw Paddle. It's a game in which even the most frustrating of scenes can leave you giggling like a madman at the pure hilarity of it. It's a game in which the story doesn't have to make sense - and it frequently doesn't - because there's a party out there and it's time to join it.

Annoying? Check. Difficult? Double-check. Lets you put on a woman's dress and decapitate zombies with a little girl's tricycle? Triple-check. Dead Rising 2 is fucking fun and that's all that needs saying.

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