Though you can currently find my review of Dead Rising 2 in this week's edition of The Mercury, you're now reading the sequel. I didn't feel that the text box the paper offers me was quite enough space to cover all the praise I had to offer the game, so I broke the entire thing up into two sections. That first bit focuses mainly on the singleplayer aspect of DR2, while this review covers the multiplayer gameplay.
Hopefully the first review was enough to convince you to buy the game, but if you're still perched on the fence, wavering back and forth on whether to hand $60 to Capcom instead of wasting it on something like food or a haircut, hit the jump and I'll offer up a few more reasons for you to enlist in the zombie apocalypse.
The game world is bigger, the zombies more numerous and there are enough new weapons in Fortune City to destroy a million walking corpses, yet the biggest addition Dead Rising 2 brings to the series are its multiplayer modes.
There's an old adage among gamers that all games are made better with the addition of cooperative play. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, Contra, River City Ransom, Golden Axe, Gunstar Heroes, Halo, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World; all games that were good to begin with, but once gamers teamed up to cooperatively take on these virtual worlds, they instantly became classics.
Despite my gushing, near-hyperbolic praise for Dead Rising 2, it's too early to call it a "classic." Still, playing the game with a friend is an awesome experience, doubly so since it can be done with friends around the world via Xbox Live, PlayStation Network or your PC's Internet connection.
There are a few caveats, but they are simply that. Describing them as flaws is being either too harsh or having no sense of the reality of game design. Both of which, given the audience, should probably be expected.
As I was saying, the co-op mode will only allow one of the players (the host) to advance their storyline. The other player can still accrue cash and PP (read: the Dead Rising universe's equivalent of "experience points"), but when they return to their saved game, the plot therein won't have advanced, no matter how far they traveled with their pal.
The second caveat is co-op mode's "friendly fire." It is entirely possible to swing a nail bat at a zombie, miss and embed the thing in your friend's back. As you'd expect, this isn't a pleasurable experience for the character, and he'll take damage. Personally, I see the addition of friendly fire to be a step toward added "realism," but if you have friends who are all total bastards I can understand how frustrating it would be to sit through a game where all you do is soak up bullets and Molotov cocktails from a partner who finds it totally hilarious to murder you instead of the encroaching zombie hordes.
Otherwise, co-op is the same game you've recently grown to love with the added bonus of someone else watching your back, making witty comments, or critiquing your white leisure suit/purple Godzilla mask ensemble. Like that adage I mentioned above, it makes the game a lot more enjoyable, and is a huge part of why Dead Rising 2 is one of my favorite games of 2010.
An even more unexpected addition though, is Dead Rising 2's competitive multiplayer modes. I say "unexpected," not because it's all that bizarre that developer Blue Castle Games and publisher Capcom would want the sequel to include online competitive play, but because of how that objective was achieved, and just how much effort its creators put into it.
Those who've played through the first ten minutes of Dead Rising 2 (or paid close attention to the game's pre-release coverage) will be familiar with "Terror Is Reality." For everyone else, TiR is the Dead Rising universe's premier reality TV show. Think of it as a cross between American Gladiators, The Running Man, and Night of the Living Dead.
Chuck Greene, a professional motocross racer prior to the zombie apocalypse has come to Fortune City to take part in TiR XVII. The very first moment you have control of Chuck is during his participation in the show, and after a single event, you're thrust into the undead horror of Dead Rising 2.
Or, at least, that's how the single player game works out. In competitive multiplayer, you actually get to play through the entirety of TiR XVII against three other color-coded competitors. Oh, and when I say "entirety," I mean entirety. You get everything from the faux show: from all 9 events, to color commentary from a pitch-perfect announcing team, to bombastic speeches from TiR host Tyrone "TK" King that are equal parts Malcolm X and Ric Flair.
It's obvious from the start that a ton of thought went into the multiplayer. The developers even let you "cash out" your winnings after you've completed a game, so that not only are you competing for a spot on the online leaderboards, you're also battling to earn cash that you can use in DR2's singleplayer modes. How rad is that?
The apparent dedication to detail would be impressive alone, but it pales in comparison to the quality and ingenuity of the 9 events. No event is much more complex than the mini-games found in the Mario Party series (albeit with copious gore and tons of zombies to kill), but each event is strikingly original and, most importantly, fun on its own merits.
I won't cover each event individually, as being thrust into new events without warning is part of the fun of the TiR mode, but I did want to mention one of my favorites.
As I said above, one of the more obvious influences on TiR is American Gladiators, and it makes sense that one of TiR's events would be modeled after one of AG's most memorable "sports." If you have memories of American Gladiators, you likely recall the "Atlasphere," an event where contestants were stuffed into giant steel spheres, placed in a huge arena and tasked with smashing into one another and the overly-muscled gladiators in a nutso version of King of the Hill.
Likewise, TiR's awesomely named "Ramsterball" has you smashing into other contestants in a game best described (by those willing to brave the imminent hyper-PC backlash) as "smear the queer with zombies and huge steel balls." One contestant has "the power," and by crashing into them you can steal the power for yourself. You earn more points the longer you hold the power, so the event quickly becomes a mad scramble of one player rolling his or her sphere the hell away from three pursuers while squishy zombies get stuck in the middle and serve as little more than slightly mobile, blood-filled speed bumps.
As I said above, there are nine such events, each of which last maybe a minute or two. Multiply that by four, add in the 30-45 seconds for pre-event cutscenes, and a full online game of TiR lasts around eight to ten minutes. Roughly comparable to a match of Halo: Reach or Modern Warfare 2, but with quite a bit more gameplay diversity.
Plus, TiR has a lot of nifty aesthetic and aural bonuses that were created entirely for this mode.
One of the other points where the influence of American Gladiators and professional wrestling is evident is in the announcing team that commentates on the events throughout each TiR session. You have two guys, one of whom is the stoic, professional "straight man," while the other is the vaguely psychotic, homicidal former TiR contestant. The banter between the two can occasionally border on annoying, but only as much as that happens in the WWF (it will never be the WWE). Honestly, it's just terribly impressive that Capcom and Blue Castle Games put so much effort into a mode that could very well have been a throw away addition. As a result, the commentary is on par with Madden 11 and the latest wrestling games.
Aesthetically, TiR also has a full complement of assets seemingly crafted by Blue Castle entirely independent of the work they did on the singleplayer game. Yes, you do witness a single round of Slice Cycle during the intro for the main game, but given that there are 8 other events, all of which needed their own arena layouts, as well as customized zombie hordes and weapons (some of which were recycled from the singleplayer game, but still received new paint jobs or other skin alterations), the effort that went into TiR's looks is pretty impressive.
Oh, and we should not forget the vehicles created specifically for TiR. There is a certain event named for the vehicle used in it that, well ... I don't want to give away too much, but you will definitely be wishing you could somehow drive around in one of these things during the main game after only a few seconds of using it to slay the undead hordes. "Brutal" doesn't even begin to describe it (though "hilarious" sorta does).
I think the biggest compliment I can offer the creators is not that I enjoyed Dead Rising 2 — given my affection for the first game they would have had to murder my cat to lose my support for the sequel — but that I've spent every night since the game arrived on my doorstep playing online. Those who know me know that I simply don't play online multiplayer. It's just not my thing. Even in games almost designed specifically for that, like Super Street Fighter IV or Halo: Reach, I've spent maybe an hour total playing Xbox Live games. Dead Rising 2, on the other hand, has me sitting up at nights killing zombies with teenagers from Guam, and shouting down some assholes from Virginia for pushing my slice cycle into the wall.
Hell, here I am writing an entirely separate, unpaid review for Dead Rising 2's online modes simply because I didn't think my text box in this week's edition of The Merc was enough space to offer it ample praise.
Shouldn't that say something about how good it is?