There are all kinds of different schools of thought as to what a sequel should and should not be. For many, a follow-up should take the foundations of its predecessor and build upon them in new, clever ways while correcting the original’s flaws in the process. Others ask far less of developers, content with only minor progression in a few areas or even one major improvement or addition. There aren’t so many, though, who could claim that a sequel that does nothing to remedy the common complaints spawned by the first game while retreading the same ground – almost step-for-step – is something that they’d queue up on day one to buy. But that’s precisely what we have here and, while you have to give credit to Blue Castle for mimicking that unmistakable Capcom magic, you do have to wonder if the external team hasn’t followed the schematics a little too closely for its own good.
While it’s perhaps a trifle unfair to claim that absolutely nothing has changed, we will say that Dead Rising 2 is closer to its predecessor than the GameCube remake of Resident Evil was to the original PlayStation game. It doesn’t help matters that Fortune City, the game’s take on Las Vegas, feels troublingly like a mall. The good, the bad, the divisive… with few exceptions, it’s all familiar fare, as ex-motocross star Chuck Greene steps in for photographer Frank West, who presumably is off busying himself fighting Yattaman and Ryu. The few areas in which Blue Castle does go off menu all come down to this substitution, waving goodbye to Frank’s photojournalism and ushering in new gameplay mechanics thanks to a knack for DIY and an infected daughter. The latter isn’t so much a gameplay device as just another reason to return to the safehouse every 24 hours, but since you’ll be back that way with survivors in tow far more frequently than that anyway, it’s no big deal. The kicker is actually finding the Zombrex that keeps Katey from turning – there’s the odd pack scattered about the map or up for grabs in the extortionate pawn shops, but the story-based giveaways can be easily missed if you misuse your time, which will lead to one dead daughter.
Combining weapons is far more novel and while not every idea that pops into your head will actually work in the game, there’s a healthy spread of comical combinations all the same (and one that could quite easily be grown with DLC). Maintenance rooms are frequent enough that you’ll never curse their absence, but getting the right ingredients for the best gear often involves carrying unwieldy objects some distance. It’s worth it though – as those who have seen the likes of firework-based rocket launchers, inflatable parasols and lethal wheelchairs will attest – and the sizeable PP boosts you get from using them will keep you at it long after the initial novelty has worn off. PP levels Chuck just as it did Frank though, oddly, a lot of the best moves and abilities are locked away in the progression process. The dodge roll, most notably, didn’t unlock for us until reaching the early 20s, making many of the psychopath battles nigh-on-impossible for those that haven’t restarted the game with their stored stats at least once.
Yes, the most misunderstood element of Dead Rising returns here (well, perhaps with the exception of the save system, but then that just served to highlight that most gamers need to grow a pair), and expecting to get through the game on your first try is like asking to be slapped around. Whenever you die or an important story element is missed, you’re given the option to start over while keeping your experience and items, and it’s an offer we recommend you accept. On our first run we walled on every psycho and limped through a few hours only to have the truth vanish from under our noses – restarting at about level 15 or so, it’s a whole different game and, while never easy, we comfortably saw the majority of Dead Rising 2’s content. At a push, we’d say there was slightly less to do than in the original; where once there were decisions to be made about which leads to prioritise, now it seems far more possible to more or less do everything in a single run if you’re smart (and punctual) enough.
With such an insane increase in the number of brain-munchers Dead Rising can throw around at once, we shouldn’t be too surprised that it’s hardly what you’d call a pretty game. It’s a fair decision though, since you’ll not miss that little bit of polish when you’re swirling an improvised polearm down a corridor that houses more undead shamblers than you’ll ever have seen in one place before. But with so little to do that doesn’t involve hacking bits off walking corpses, a lot will hang on how long it takes you to tire of dismemberment. With a decent number of combination options, inquisitive (and twisted) minds should revel in the potential for carnage. But thanks to the stupid psychopath battles (some of which echo those of the original a little too closely for our liking) and some fundamental system decisions, those less easily pleased by clouds of blood and limbs could easily find themselves alienated. Dead Rising 2 is a sequel that tries so hard to appeal to fans of the original that the rest of the gaming world might not find the mass slaughter of zombies quite so appealing. We loved it from start to (stupid) finish, though the many reasons others might not are plain to see and completely understandable.