Monday, October 04, 2010

Game Review: Dead Rising 2

Zombies. Who doesn't love 'em? The zombie movie has made a comeback in the past decade. A couple of them were pretty good, and they helped coax George A. Romero and his Harry Caray glasses out of retirement. There's a zombie TV series starting on AMC this month called 'The Walking Dead'. And, they're the perfect video game cannon fodder. Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 sold millions each, as well they should've. They're great games.

Another strong-selling zombie game is Dead Rising. Set in a shopping mall, your job is to find out what caused the undead outbreak, but you only have 72 hours to do so. It was a great setting for a zombie game (even if it's taken lock stock and barrel from a classic Romero film). Great graphics, especially for a launch-window game, with hundreds of zombies on screen at once. Tons of objects that can be used as weapons, and you can level up your character for multiple playthroughs. So why did I hate it?

The game did everything in its power to get in the way of the fun. They give you an open-world setting, but they restrict you with a timed mission structure. The missions are given to you via text, at the bottom of the screen, and almost always when you're in the middle of another mission. 90% of the gameplay is 'escort missions'. Just the word 'escort mission' is enough to make most gamers groan, and the ones in Dead Rising are no exception. They make sense in the scope of the game, but the survivor A.I. was terrible, and rarely fought for themselves or made any effort to keep up with you. And the biggest deal breaker for me? The save system is archaic and broken. You have to walk into a bathroom to save your progress. On the way to every bathroom are tons of zombies. If you're low on health and don't have any food to eat, you may not survive long enough to get to a bathroom, which means whatever progress you've made since the last save will be lost. After this happened a few times in a row, combined with everything else, I gave up on it.

The worst part of all of this? Before Dead Rising shipped, they released a demo on Xbox Live. In the demo, you had 30 minutes to go wild in the mall and kill zombies however you wanted. It was a blast! Playing the demo only set me up to be disappointed by the restrictive final product. But then Capcom announced Dead Rising 2 last year, and I felt optimistic.

Set in a small Vegas-like town, you're given the ability to combine two objects and create a new weapon. This replaces the ability to take pictures that was in the first game, which I rarely used. This got me (and a good amount of gamers) excited. Put a shotgun together with a pitchfork and create a 'boomstick'! Put a propane tank with a box of nails and create an IED! Put a coat hanger with a wheelchair and create a rolling abortion machine! Okay, so you can't make the last one, but trust me when I say the possibilities are almost endless. On top of the weapon system, and the new setting, I also assumed that they'd fix the broken save system and the mission delivery method. So how did they do?

I hate it.

While it takes place in a gambling town, most of your time will be spent where? In a shopping mall. That's right. Your safe house exits into a mall, which may as well be a copy / paste job from the first game.

The load times are atrocious. They were bad in the first game, but they're even worse here. The screen freezes up when you're trying to get to the main menu. Every time you walk through a door? Load screen. And you'll walk through doors a lot, so I hope you like loading screens! Every time you save the game, the screen freezes for almost 15 seconds. It makes you think your Xbox is crashing. Not good.

How do you get your missions? Via text, at the bottom of the screen, usually when you're in the middle of another mission. Again, you're fighting for your life against a horde of zombies, while escorting survivors (who admittedly have improved A.I.) and you have to 'answer your walkie-talkie' to hear about some other survivor you need to save. Wait, did I say 'hear'? I meant 'read'. Does someone at Capcom have a problem with voice acting? Other than cutscenes, there's hardly any of it in this game.

The save system? Still shitty. They give you three separate save slots instead of one, but you still have to run to a goddamned bathroom to save. Note to developers: It's 2010. Most games have aggressive auto-checkpoints, or are like Elder Scrolls IV or Fallout 3 (autosaves, and save at any point you want, into as many save slots as you want). Make an effort to keep up with the competition. If you make gamers work to save their progress, you failed as a developer.

Combining items to make new weapons? Yeah, it's pretty cool. However, you have to take these items to a 'maintenance room', so you can't just do it on the fly. This adds to the tedium that the game seems to relish.

They added online co-op, but it's limited and basic. They also added an online multiplayer mode, but it's stupid and feels tacked-on. It's a reality game show where contestants have to kill the most zombies. It ties into the beginning of the single-player campaign, but it's just a set of mini-games that make Fusion Frenzy 2 look like Mario Party. I like that you can carry over your prize money to the single-player, but it doesn't make the game modes fun. I had troubles finding a game, and I was playing on the first weekend after the game released.

I really wanted to like this game. I played for quite a few hours last weekend, but it just kept getting in the way of itself. If you're a fan of the first game, by all means, pick up a copy of Dead Rising 2. If you weren't a fan of the first, stay far, far away.

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