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72 hours in Fortune City offers a different main character and setting, but it's still the same Dead Rising we all know and love...
Video games are fundamentally repetitive affairs, whether it's trudging through level after level shooting the same faces in an unimaginative shooter or stacking blocks incessantly in Tetris. Like its predecessor, Dead Rising 2 is built around the concept of repetition as you embark on 72 hours in Fortune City, initially just to survive, but eventually to achieve the best ending and work out who's behind the latest outbreak of the living dead.
Taking place five years after the Willamette incident in the original Dead Rising, the sequel introduces a new main character in the shape of former motocross champion Chuck Greene along with an all-new setting in the Las Vegas inspired Fortune City. Zombies are now widespread and put to use as entertainment in the gruesome game show Terror is Reality where contestants have to kill as many zombies as possible for big cash prizes. Chuck heads to Fortune City to compete in the show to afford the daily doze of Zombrex that his daughter Katie needs to prevent becoming another member of the walking dead. But obviously things quickly go amiss and it's not long before Fortune City is overrun with zombies and the finger points in Chuck's direction.
Time is a central mechanic for the Dead Rising series, it's something that you'll constantly have to grapple with as you decide who to save, which psychopaths to challenge and whether or not you've really got the time to put another dollar in the slot machines or ride the bucking bronco. Like its predecessor you're given 72 hours to... well pretty much do whatever you want. Chuck’s daughter needs a daily dose of Zombrex, which sits alongside the Case Studies to provide some structure to what is otherwise a thoroughly non-linear game based around the linearity of time. The structure forces you to think about things fairly differently. Ordinarily when a game puts a list of objectives in front of you it's fairly normal to believe that they can be completed with a little bit of skill, luck and patience. But as Dead Rising fans will know, it isn’t so easy in this series.
On your first run through Dead Rising 2 it’s simply about surviving the 72 hours, rescuing enough survivors and killing plenty of zombies. You’ll inevitably end up dying because you’re trying to beat psychopaths (bosses) that you’ve haven’t got the faintest hope of defeating, missing out on lots and ultimately on the way to a poor ending. But that's what Dead Rising is all about. Beyond survival the first playthrough is about levelling up in a similar manner to grinding through an RPG. The plentiful supply of zombies are not only there to provide fodder for the many comical means to dispose of them but to allow Chuck to upgrade his stats and make it possible to wade further into Dead Rising 2 and eventually earn the best ending.
Dead Rising 2 introduces combo weapons in place of the photography challenges of the original to gain extra Prestige Points. Combining a variety of items with a little duct tape unleashes a rage of DIY contraptions such as the Spiked Bat (Nails/Baseball Bat), which when used reward Chuck with PP score multipliers. Taking photos never sat entirely comfortably in the original, so the switch to focus on the core action is a welcome change, even if a little underplayed as the extra power and score benefits rarely seem worth the hassle of tracking down the various parts.
Coming back for a second playthrough allows you to not only take advantage of a beefed up Chuck Greene who carries across all of the accumulated stats and cash, but also the knowledge you have of Fortune City, the psychopaths that inhibit it and the natural order of things. It's Groundhog Day with zombies and something that’s bound to frustrate as many people as it does entertain. Fortunately Blue Castle Games and Capcom have layered the game expertly so it really does reward multiple playthroughs with genuine content that you missed the first time through and a sense of empowerment gained by having the inside knowledge of the way the game works. It’s a game full of surprises for those that want to really play the hell out of it and discover everything it has to offer, even though the thought of restarting everything over again can be a tough obstacle to overcome.
Teaming up with Western developers hasn’t brought Capcom the greatest success in the past, but it seems that Blue Castle Games has finally come good on the deal. Dead Rising 2 undeniably sticks very close to its predecessor but that hasn't deterred the Canadian studio from making improvements where necessary and easing some of the excessive frustrations that made the original a hard game to appreciate. The elimination of a camera means that Chuck's now free to move and aim a weapon at the same time, and while the structure of the game is virtually identical, Blue Castle has also made the save system a little more forgiving with extra save slots to return to if you’re heading into a dead end and don’t particularly want to start the whole thing over again. It's a compromise to the original concept of sticking to your decisions, but undoubtedly helps to make Dead Rising 2 a more forgiving experience, albeit one that is still geared around the old-school tactic of frustration being a crucial prerequisite.
That said the decision to stick so closely also has its disadvantages as it seems that the game is still technically somewhere behind its ambitions. Fortune City is still split into specific areas, divided by some pretty long loading times. Given that every hour in the game is five minutes in the real world it would be interesting to know how many game days are spent watching load screens! Evidently throwing around thousands of zombies is always going to need a compromise, but the disparate feeling of the game is a little antiquated compared to the free-flowing nature of most games.
Multiplayer also needs a brief mention, if only because of its negligent appearance. Taking on the role of a cloned Chuck having two players does make for some enjoyable occasions, but that's about it. Competitive multiplayer comes in the form of the gameshow Terror In Reality, where four players compete to kill as many zombies as possible for cash that can be used in the single player game. Like Fable 2 before it, multiplayer is little more than a tacked on experience and clearly not the true Dead Rising experience we hope to see.