Saturday, November 12, 2011

games of our lives, part 5: Dead Rising 2

CONSUMER ADVISORY: This is a repost of my original review from last year because I couldn't bring myself to rewrite the whole damn thing.

In this sequel, Chuck Greene (who can get it, know what I'm sayin'?) replaces intrepid journalist Frank West as the protagonist. Chuck is a motocross champion and the reluctant star of Terror Is Reality, a TV show where the contestants must slaughter as many zombies as possible. Chuck is morally conflicted by taking place in the show, but because he has to buy outrageously expensive medicine to keep his infected daughter Katey from turning into a zombie, he feels like he has no choice. After filming an episode, Chuck is heading backstage when the arena is rocked by an explosion that frees the zombies. Chuck and Katey make it to Fortune City's emergency shelter just in time. But Chuck finds out that he's being framed for the zombie escape, and in the 72 hours before the military arrives, he has to clear his name, make sure Katey gets her Zombrex every 24 hours, and rescue as many survivors as he can.

Whereas Dead Rising took place almost entirely in one large shopping mall, Chuck has an entire city to explore. He can visit casinos, shopping malls, and even peep shows. (You don't get to see anything, though.) You can earn money by playing/smashing slot machines and ATMs or as a reward for escorting certain survivors, and you'll need it in case you can't find any free Zombrex, because looters have taken over the pawn shop and are happy to sell you a dose for an exorbitant price.

Can you pick it up? Then you can use it as a weapon! Bottles of ketchup and mustard, chainsaws, stuffed animals...they're all fair game. But in a new twist, you can also combine certain weapons to make a superpowered new one. Some of them are funny as hell (like a giant stuffed bear that turns into an automatic killing machine when combined with a machine gun, or a revamped electric guitar that dispenses head burstin' riffs), some of them are seriously nasty (a pitchfork/shotgun combo that stabs zombies and then systematically shoots off each limb), but they're all wildly effective and help you level up quickly.

Zombies aren't your only foes in DR2. You also have to contend with human psychopaths who have either been driven mad by the outbreak or are just taking advantage of the chaos. Some of the most memorable are a horrifying creep (voiced by Patton Oswalt!) in a pig-shaped bondage mask who's trying to force a young woman to marry him, a delusional diva who thinks the zombies are her fans, and a chef who's making nasty meat-based dishes that would never get a USDA stamp.

Other great things about this game: they improved the survivor AI, so they don't need constant babysitting. With the exception of an elderly woman who sounds all of 25, the voice acting is terrific, especially Bibi Love (the aforementioned diva) and TK, the charismatic emcee of Terror Is Reality. It can be very funny; for example, you can use a dildo as a weapon, some of the zombies refuse to budge from the slot machine they're playing (just like Vegas!), and Chuck can change into outfits including women's clothes (though he's not as enthusiastic about it as Frank West), toddler pajamas, and even a Borat swimsuit. The graphics are seriously awesome, and even with up to 7000 zombies onscreen at a time, you can still see a lot of detail in their faces. The soundtrack is quite good; background music fits its location perfectly (like thumping techno in a nightclub and oom-pah-pah music in a bratwurst restaurant), and the sound effects are appropriately creepy. One of the zombie noises actually made the hair stand up on the back of my neck! And DR2 has something that the original lacked: a heart. Finding Zombrex for Katey isn't just a mindless "fetch quest"; you care about Katey and want to keep her safe. The relationship between Chuck and his daughter is genuinely sweet.

Like Dead Rising, DR2 has a story mode. You can play the game without doing the story segments, but then you'll never know the truth behind the zombie outbreak. G and I started off doing story mode, but we got our asses handed to us by a couple of nasty sword-wielding bitches, and time ran out. Were we happy? No, we were not; assorted swear words were screamed at the TV. So we decided to just play through the game several times to level up, and that proved to be a wise decision indeed. Even the instruction manual advises players to level up a bit before tackling story mode. Take their advice, and mine, because some of the bosses are excruciatingly difficult even at a high level; they'd probably be borderline impossible if you weren't sufficiently leveled up. DR2 is so much fun that you won't mind playing it several times, believe me.

I was leery when Capcom passed off development duties to Blue Castle, but I'm sorry for doubting them because DR2 wound up replacing the original in my top 10 list. Video games don't get much more addictive than this.