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The Games Of Christmas ’10: Day 6

It's something better than chocolate. It's words!

Are you sure you want to open today’s window? You shouldn’t be opening any windows or doors. It’s not safe out there. Listen- do you hear the moans? They hunger. If you insist on going in there, take this knife, but be careful. Because today’s game is…

…Dead Rising 2!

Oh dear.

Quinns: Dead Rising 2 was a Christmas miracle in October. The first Dead Rising’s structure was a fascinating, inventive, wilfully brutal thing that only could only have been conjoined with AAA production values in Japan. Checkpoints hours apart meaning you, the player, must remember to save your game? A shorter 6-8 hour single player story that you’re forced to abandon on your first run-through and later defeat using foreknowledge of plot twists? That’s lovely, strange design. It’s wonderful playing a game that you know will keep on rolling if you fail at anything. It gives your successes weight.

When word arrived that Dead Rising 2 would be developed by American developer Blue Castle Games using a whole new graphics engine (because Capcom wouldn’t allow use of their tech outside of their Japanese HQ, incidentally), I got the fear. It was obvious what was going to happen. They’d redesign the game’s unique structure in an attempt to address the tens of thousands of confused gamers, and hundreds of mediocre reviews. Blue Castle Games would re-imagine Dead Rising for the modern market. Why would they do anything else?

But they did do something else. This year, Dead Rising 2 proved itself to be an astonishingly devoted sequel that kept everything intact, right down to the brutal, inescapable boss battles which I wouldn’t even have minded if they’d changed.

All the new additions Blue Castles were hyping, namely co-op, competitive online modes and the weapon combination system all clicked neatly in place on top of the ideas that were here before. Knowing that Dead Rising 2 is built in a different engine boggles the mind. They even recreated the slightly disturbing faces of all the NPCs, and your character’s tired, waddling run. It’s all here. Dead Rising lives on, and long live Dead Rising.

I think I’m so happy about this because Dead Rising is a game that actually makes you feel like a hero. Not because you spend the game rescuing people, and not simply because the game’s hard, but because it so clearly doesn’t care about you.

It’s like a neglectful parent. Of course the game doesn’t stop when you fail, and of course it lets you waltz unknowingly into hellish boss encounters or spend hours batting baseballs at zombie groins while dressed like Magnum PI. The game just doesn’t care. So when you do man up and complete the story mode, or overcome the odds and rescue another batch of jittery survivors, you do so knowing that you might have failed. You might have been killed. You might have spent the night doing laps of the food court on a skateboard. But instead, you chose to drink down the terrible stress and be a hero. That’s wonderful. That’s Dead Rising 2.

Alec: I’ve found it curious whenever I’ve heard Quinns’ pre-release sentiments about Dead Rising 2, those quasi-puritanical fears about its fundamental Japaneseness, how hard its core was. It’s a gaming world, and a gaming philosophy, I just don’t know. Or, frankly, care about. I’m the modern, dumbed down, Western molly-coddling that Quinns and Quinnslikes so despised. I’m the sickness. I wanted Dead Rising 2 because I wanted a game about slaughtering tens of thousands of zombies in absurd comic fashion, with my interest dictated by my freedom to dick about rather than by the underlying challenges. I am everything that’s wrong with modern gaming.

What a load of frigging bullshit. Everyone’s wrong. Everyone’s right. While I happily accept that many people loved it for its brutality, Dead Rising is/was not a beautiful precious flower of purest gaming honesty, and nor is/was it an idiot’s GTA-lite – and Dead Rising 2 is smart enough to recognise that. Neither worshipping slavishly at its predecessor’s feet or catering mindlessly to the masses, it just gets on with being a game about surviving a zombie invasion in a shopping mall on its own terms. That’s what it’s about, that’s what it wants to be and that’s what it does so very well. Both the brutality and the playfulness of that timelessly absurd concept is captured with confidence, charm and enough choice of challenge that anyone who cares to can derive satisfaction from it.

Hell, even the story actually has some gravitas this time around, albeit alongside puddle-deep supporting cast characterisation. You’re not playing it through purely to beat it, but because it wants you to have some investment in Chuck and his daughter’s destiny. The characters are sketched crudely, but that they remain characters even while the main guy’s running around in a clown suit whilst weidling a luminous green dildo is a hell of an achievement.

I also admire how Dead Rising 2 does zombies – not in terms of how utterly, ludicrously outlandish its famed range of re-murder possibilities are, but in its cool, almost aloof distance from both zombies-in-games mania and zombies-in-games ennui. It doesn’t seem terribly interested in catering to either camp; it just gets on with being a zombie game on its own terms. Regardless of anyone else’s expectations.

John: I really wish Dead Rising 2 had begun with a message on screen saying, “You won’t be able to win everything on your first play through.” I’m not used to that in gaming. I’m far more familiar with games offering you challenges you should be able to complete when faced with them. And while I know this is standard for a whole market of games, I still think it’s incredibly stupid.

But blimey, I had fun.

There’s something about slaughtering 70 zombies with a kayak paddle with two chainsaws on the ends that is hard to describe without poetry. It’s an opera of stupidity, a stupendous display of purest videogame.

I’d love to have been in charge of it, however. To have been the person with enough authority to say to the development team, “Put other routes back to the safehouse, just for the sake of variety.” I could be the man who said, “Have the special weapons last just 20% longer. It’s just a tiny amount more, but they fail a bit too quickly.” I’d have fed back to them, “Include far more toilets in these malls – people need to save if you aren’t including checkpoints, and frankly, malls have an awful lot more toilets than that.” Oh, and the biggest mistake of all:

At the start of the game, when you’re the most vulnerable to the zombies, you’re given barely any health and very few weapon slots. The weapons you can carry are weak, and it’s very simple to die. Progress and your health and weapon/health slots hugely increase in number, and it’s far easier to get around. It’s an odd approach. It makes the first four hours of the game unnecessarily frustrating.

I’d love to have fixed it just a bit. But I still had a very splendid time getting to its ending. (Well, one of its endings. I couldn’t even get close to completing one of the alternatives.) I loved the deadlines, because they were bigger than deadlines, they were about protecting my daughter. That’s an incentive: stopping the hamster-faced child from turning undead. It removes the arbitrary artificiality of the restrictions.

It’s a smart, funny game. There’s so much to do, and so much is optional. You don’t have to rescue survivors, and if they especially annoy you, you can leave them behind. Clearly there’s advantages in bringing them to safety, but the lack of obligation once more releases you to enjoy yourself far more.

But this is videogaming. And delightfully aware of that. It’s high scores and ludicrous hyperbole, vast numbers of enemies and the mad pleasure of picking up anything at all and hitting the undead with it. Sure, there’s a lot of room for improvement for the third game, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the gross fun of this.

Jim: There isn’t much more to say about Dead Rising 2, I think, other than my personal take, which was one of genuine surprise. With zombie fatigue having hit pretty heavily, and a general feeling of cynicism towards the premise of the game, I had expected to slog through some overly long cutscenes and then kill some zombies, before losing interest, having not really got much out of it. Hours later, I was half right – those cutscenes turned up – but the rest of it was a medley of awesome silliness. Sometimes you just need to knock a dude’s head off with a hammer. Sometimes.

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