Review: Dead Rising 2: Case Zero

September 29, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan

Dead Rising, despite my love of all things Zombified, was a game that took me two bites of the cherry to appreciate wholly. With it winning me over eventually, I have had no fears of a repeat stutter with the upcoming sequel, where Capcom return to the Dead Rising series entrusting Blue Castle Entertainment at the development helm. This time, rather than releasing a demo that didn’t really give a true impression of the opening portion of the full game, they decided to package it in the form of a prologue set three years prior to the events in the upcoming sequel. Available now at a modestly priced 400MP exclusively on the Xbox Live Marketplace, this beefed up taster provides more than enough bang for your buck.

Daughter of the dead!
Okay, so Capcom darling Frank West has been ditched for this iteration, replaced by Chuck Greene; a celebrity motocross racer and father to an infected little girl known as Katey. Luckily for Katey, in the aftermath of the Willamette incident, the other survivor from the Willamette mall, Isabella (the one with boobs), managed to make a formula that would hold off the zombification process by twelve hours and has been put in to mass production in the form of Zombrex. When we pick up the story, Chuck is quickly driving towards Fortune City in Las Vegas to find some way to keep Katey dosed up with the good stuff. Taking a momentary stop in Still Creek to refill his blood-drenched truck, some low-life chancer steals it while his attention is taken with the sound of distant gunfire. Things get worse for Chuck as he realises that his daughter’s medicine is sitting on the dash. The inevitable happens and they both get attacked by an oncoming horde. Chuck manages to barricade himself and Katey in the garage’s main store while he goes to investigate, try to find his cherished littl’un some more Zombrex and find a way to get the hell outta there.

The tone in this sampler is notably darker than the story of Frank West, although the game still does retain its trademark humour in droves. Alongside the silliness, in Chuck’s daughter they’ve provided a greater motivator to be doing the things you’re tasked with throughout. Once again, Capcom have managed to pull together a nice little cast of characters and Chuck is easy to warm to if a little stone faced next to his previous counterpart. His daughter, although occasionally annoying vocally, is his one weakness and one of the main factors that drives the more likeable parts of his character. Overall it’s good work and sets a decent bar ahead of the full release of Dead Rising 2.

Fun gameplay has risen from the dead!
Those who played the original Dead Rising to death (guilty!) will feel pretty much at home here straight away, although the original was fun, it had one or two faults that many decreed as ‘deal breakers’. The first came in the form of an awful save system, allowing only one save at a time, preventing a lot of people from experimenting as they felt the game allowed. Thankfully here, Blue Castle have spotted that and allow you to have up to three saves at any one time, along with some regular checkpoints at key intervals throughout. The only problem with saving actually occurs at these intervals, where it stops the game dead, asking if saving is something you’d like to do and breaking up the gameplay a little. Why there couldn’t have been an auto-save system implemented at these points is beyond me, as I can’t think of a single person who would choose not to save their progress at these junctures. Like before, whenever you die, whenever you save, or just whenever you like, you can choose to restart the game keeping your new level and abilities into the next new game.

Uh oh...

The second major issue was that aiming with firearms was a complete shambles, requiring you to go against your natural programming in using the right trigger to zoom, the left analogue stick to aim and then pressing X to attack. This time everything has been a little more westernised with aiming mapped to the areas you’d be used to in action games and shooters alike, with the option to change these back if you did prefer the original system. In just this one improvement, Blue Castle have fixed nearly all my major issues when trying to get into the first game and it makes the combat far more enjoyable as a result, especially against the end boss (your first example of a ‘psycho’).

So what’s new? For the most part the game still acts as a hack n’ slash until you get your hands on firearms and you still earn Prestige Points. These go towards levelling you up and earns you new abilities, plus health and item slots. In the previous title a lot of the PP were earned through the photography aspect and I have to say that I do miss this system. In its place, however, the most major addition and most exciting to someone like me who grew up watching Zombie flicks, is the ability to combine different items to make new wacky and wonderful weapons. The first example the game gives you, is the baseball bat that you can combine with a box of nails. The weapons that can be combined have a wrench logo appear as you approach them, in a system that is intuitive but simple and effective. You simply need to pick up both items and place them on a workbench in a maintenance room (usually behind big red double doors) to trigger the creation animation.

There are about ten weapons to be created in Case Zero, my personal favourite being the bucket with drills in that you place on zombies heads. Other possibilities include an oar with chainsaws strapped to the ends, all the way to something as ridiculous as an air horn made from a traffic cone and a can of spray paint. You can learn how to build these by acquiring ‘Scratch cards’, although as long as you have an inkling on what to do, you can pretty much build them anyway. Along the way you can also earn ‘combo cards’ which when earned in gameplay will double the amounts of PP you can earn by using that particular combination. This is a nice system overall, that injects a lot of fun and experimentation into proceedings.

The combat is generally greatly improved over the last game, with some extremely nice touches such as slightly more cinematic and bloody finishers that never get old over the course of the game. There are some issues, though. Chuck’s general animations can come across a little clunky, in fact a bit clumsier than Frank West in the previous game and that is really saying something. Thankfully it doesn’t suffer in gameplay as a result though and maintains that fun factor in spite of it.

Some might still groan that the game still has you on a strict time limit and Chuck is bound by several of these throughout the game. First of all, he has twelve hours in which to find and administer some Zombrex to Katey, he can’t give it to her before 7:00 or after 8:00pm or the game will end. Secondly, after finding your initial batch, you have seven hours in which to complete all your objectives and escape before the military arrive to clean up. Thankfully, the mission system in Case Zero seems far easier to navigate simply because it’s presented in a simpler and cleaner fashion. Lastly, the side quest system is improved over previous interactions with my real nemesis from the original game, Otis. Rather than carrying around the radio that won’t allow you to jump or wield a weapon during use, you go directly to a source for your side and rescue missions. In this instance it’s a gunman on top of a shop roof who is keeping an eye on the goings on while looking for his daughter. The rescue missions are far less the chore they were, as the survivors can now actually look after themselves when given weapons, making escorting them a more fun and rewarding experience.

As you can tell, alongside the real major change in the weapon creation system, Case Zero is more about subtle improvement than recreating the wheel and in gameplay terms that’s all the title needed. Playing Case Zero will also benefit those who go onto pick up Dead Rising 2 as you’ll be able to import any money, abilities and your level into the new game. A nice move that almost makes Case Zero worth the admission fee alone.

It wouldn't be Dead Rising without the gratuitous cross-dressing.

What a bloody mess!
I won’t lie, when I first saw the visual delights that Case Zero had to offer I was a little disappointed but I warmed to them as I progressed. Like with other areas, the tone is grittier, darker and this means more detail and has a detrimental effect on a game in which the huge number of zombies on screen is deeply important. To try and get around this, the first thing that you’ll notice is the newly implemented field of depth, causing a little bit of a blur in the distance. Sadly, this does affect the initial visual impact and especially early on can be a little distracting; however, it does keep the level of detail up close extremely detailed. This is no more prevalent than in the zombie designs. Here, there has been a huge step up, with decaying flesh and deformations that have a far greater effect on the player. Thankfully, the way that the zombies come apart through attacks is also improved on the original, now adding satisfying amounts of blood soaking into Chuck’s clothing.

That sounds deadly…
While the general soundtrack is pretty much the same as in the previous game, with eerie highs the order of the day (along with fitting country tunes in some areas), the voice acting in Case Zero also continues to sell that feel of the Romero era zombie movies. There are some niggles, while Chuck’s voice perfectly suits his character, Katey’s can begin to grate a little but their relationship is something I’m looking forward to see develop in the full sequel. Again, the darker tone is prevalent here but mainly only on the key characters; the civilians that need rescuing often hark back to the lighter themes in the previous game. The zombies themselves are all vocalised brilliantly and the varied noises that come with taking them apart will keep you smiling throughout.

More demos in this format? Yes please.
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero succeeds on two levels; the first as an appetite whetting demo and a taster of what’s to come, but more importantly it succeeds on being a great little game in its own right and is completely worth splashing the MS Points on. I’d love to see more companies take this route with demos; instead of simply releasing a level to play, offering a way to flesh out their respective universes for those that want that deeper interaction for what is a nominal fee. Whether you’re a fan of the original or just after a few hours worth of zombie killing, maybe not even that interested in Dead Rising 2, at 400 MS Points, Case Zero is definitely worth a look for anyone.


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