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Dead Rising 2 Review

March 8, 2013

Dear Reader,

My buddy recently gifted me a copy of Dead Rising 2.  He’d seen it for 5 bucks, and since he’s growing weary of constantly stomping me at MTGO (more on that another day) and getting stomped at League of Legends, he thought he’d spice up our game life with a little variety.

I’m constantly baffled by Games for Windows games.  Why I have to log on to steam, load the game, input the security code, then log on to Windows Live (like Xbox live) is beyond me.  It’s a totally digital distribution through a distribution service; clearly it’s not a pirated copy!  I’m already logged into my steam account; clearly I don’t need a second account verification!

Fine, I’ll go through the minimal hassle.  After the first time, anyway, it’s pretty smooth, assuming all the integrated systems are up and running.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on in Dead Rising 2.  There’s also a lot of really foolish stuff going on.  The UI, for example, is excellent.  It’s very smooth; the movement both horizontal and vertical is easy to control, though I am a little baffled as to why my guy can’t seem to get up to more than a jogging speed.  I’m overweight and could outrun our hero.  Interacting with items and NPCs is smoothly done through a single button: E.  You can pick up stuff, drop stuff, speak to NPCs, and hand things to NPCs all with that button, and it very rarely creates issues.  That alone is a huge step above a lot of other babysitting games.

The setting, too, is well done.  It’s set in a Vegas-like strip with casinos and malls all over the place.  There’s an outdoor corridor that connects all the interior environments as well as interior zone transfers, which makes the environment feel like large, open map that’s full of nooks and crannies to explore.  It’s also very colorful and creative; there’s shops all over the place that are able to be entered and looted – I mean scavanged – for new outfits, weapons, or even money.  It’s a colorful display of a horrifically idealized Vegas that’s very pleasing to the eye.

I also like the integration of Zombies into the game.  There’s millions, quite literally.  Every open space is completely swarmed with them; it’s not a game about killing zombies, it’s a game about not being killed by them.  In other similar games, like Dead Island, there were a lot, but you could pretty easily kill them all.  Not so, here.  Instead, you make second-by-second judgments about zombie density, working to figure out where the safest path lies.

The “weapon invention” aspect of the game is fun, too.  You can pick up virtually everything and use it as a weapon: orange traffic cones, hangers, handfuls of jewelry.  However, you can also find interesting ways to combine those weapons into stronger, better weapons that give you bonus experience.  That’s a smart design for a game that’s essentially just mowing down (sometimes literally with a lawn mower) thousands of zombies.  Some of the really creative choices make that otherwise potentially tedious task a little goofy, like when you put the “drill + bucket” helmet on a zombie and watch it go to town.  Gory?  Sure, but hell, you’re playing a Zombie game; what did you expect?

I also like the game design itself; the goal is to find enough medicine for your daughter to survive; you need to find 4 doses, one every 24 hours.  That emphasizes some exploration and the sandbox nature of the game.  However, you’re simultaneously given timed tasks to prove your innocence, so you’re constrained within that sandbox to getting certain missions done.  It means you’re given a lot of “interesting choices,” each of which has ramifications in the game.

Many of the side quests that you don’t really have enough time for involve rescuing other survivors and escorting them back to the safe zone.  Here, we start to run into problems.  The AI in the game is very, very clunky.  That works just fine with zombie swarms that number in the 1000s, but when you’re on a time limit and the idiot NPC you’re escorting can’t seem to keep up or get close enough to the “door” to the next zone, it can be very frustrating, particularly since if you go to another zone without an NPC, they don’t just sit there and defend themselves, they begin to actively drop health as if they’ve been hit with a damage over time spell.  These are people armed better than the main character who were perfectly fine before we interacted with them who now can’t protect themselves at all.

Look, if you’re going to put tight time limits on quests, fine, then make sure you have NPC AI that can keep up.  If you’re going to have moronic apocalypse survivors that need constant babysitting, fine, then don’t give tight time limits.  Doing both does not make for interesting choices; the choice is clear.  Shoot those morons in the face and go do your quests.

Another issue with the game is the “leveling” system.  There are levels, and you do progress vertically throughout the game.  However, you have no choice as the player how you level.  It seems to be mostly random, since my buddy and I have not gotten the same stat increases as we’ve leveled.  Sure, that makes the game nicely personalized, but it does nothing to help players with a particular play style.  My buddy loves to run and gun; he always plays the “fighter” class that’s durable and does decent damage.  I, on the other hand, prefer avoidance; I just want to crank my speed up and run through the swarms, leaving them confused behind me as they slowly struggle to keep up.  However, I’ve gotten a bunch of health and inventory upgrades, and he’s gotten speed upgrades.  That’s backwards.  That does not reflect our play style, and it makes the leveling a mostly meaningless exercise that happens in the background rather than an engaging decision for players to make.

So overall, the environmental concepts in the game – slow, stupid, zombies but lots of them – match up perfectly with what I like.  The UI is quite good.  However, the NPC AI and leveling design stink.  Overall, it’s a mediocre game, better than Dead Island, but nowhere near as good as it could have been.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (who loves killing zombies with the donkey lamp)

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