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Pressing our luck in Dead Rising 2

In Dead Rising 2, players must face the zombie apocalypse again, this time in a city that's like Las Vegas.

Now playing: Watch this: Game trailer: Dead Rising 2

It's been four long years since Xbox 360 owners fought the living dead in the original Dead Rising. Though it had its flaws, and an infamously frustrating save system, the game had a dedicated cult following.

The zombie apocalypse is upon us again, as we assume the role of new protagonist Chuck Greene, who must slash his way through the casino town of Fortune City, while finding enough Zombrex medication to ensure his daughter doesn't turn into a zombie.

Does Dead Rising 2 reinvent the series, or is just more of the same? Read on for our thoughts.

Fans of the original Dead Rising have nothing to worry about. If more zombie-killing anarchy is what you crave, the sequel delivers tenfold. At its core, Dead Rising 2 is almost the same exact game we played four years ago, with a few new elements sprinkled on top. Unlike Dead Rising's photojournalist Frank West, Chuck Greene can create weapon combinations that make for some really clever results and brutal kills.

We love hacking and slashing zombies just as much as the next guy, but we're not sure Dead Rising 2 brings enough new gameplay to the table to attract gamers who may have been turned off by the original. Sure, saving is improved, but the occasionally clumsy controls, frustrating combat, long load times, and time-constricted missions are a lot swallow.

There's fun to be had in Dead Rising 2, but we wish more of an effort was made to evolve the game, rather than add a series of lateral additions that fail to distinguish the two from each other.

I'll vent this now: there are too many zombie games. Far, far too many. This counts as the first strike against Dead Rising 2: a rising sense of unoriginality. Besides being a sequel, the original Dead Rising felt like a clever take on the Resident Evil series, almost as if it was Capcom laughing at itself. The second time around, Dead Rising 2 is less impressive, less eye-catching. Is it a fun time? In a way, yes.

The first Dead Rising emerged as a notable, original next-gen title. There was no next-gen Resident Evil yet. It stood out as a sign that Capcom (and Japanese developers) were perhaps starting to change their ways.

An often-tossed-about trope is that of "Eastern" games versus "Western" games. Dead Rising 2 is meant to be an East-meets-West genre mash-up, a chance to freshen the formats. Really, the whole idea of consolidating games into "East" and "West" belittles developers and orientalizes/occidentalizes the industry unnecessarily. The biggest strike against Dead Rising 2 doesn't lie in its being too Eastern or Western: it lies in the existence of Left 4 Dead. Fighting hordes of zombies is no longer a unique experience in gaming. Both Left 4 Dead games upped the ante of fast-paced survival horror, albeit in a shooter format. Dead Rising 2 seems a lot slower in comparison, less scary, more kitschy. I appreciate the dedication to world-building and humor, but is it enough? In the end, it's simply hard to enjoy endlessly obliterating zombies. It's time for a zombie fast. Next time, may I suggest golems?


Imagine we come to a fork in the road. Down one path is a school of thought that equates interactive entertainment with film, television, and other forms of traditional entertainment; down the other path is the idea that games are essentially a set of mechanical challenges, and must retain gamelike qualities, such as high scores and bonus points, no matter what characters, scenarios, and art styles we use to dress them up.

It's clear which direction most game makers are going in, with cinematic offers from Mafia IIto Heavy Rainto Red Dead Redemption, but games from Japan, the traditional birthplace of the art form, have struggled recently with the transition, as documented in this recent New York Times feature on the challenges for Japanese game publishers in the larger global marketplace.

The Dead Rising series has been promoted by Capcom as an attempt to bridge these two philosophies, or at the very least, build a more American-feeling action franchise. In liner notes included with a deluxe version of the game, executive producer Kenji Inafume says, "The challenge this time was to bring together East and West."

To some degree the game succeeds, built around themes instantly recognizable as American: motorcycle racing, TV game shows, and a Las-Vegas-inspired town called Fortune City. But at the same time, the needle still points too far down the "game" fork in our road, emphasizing scores, bonus points, collectible cards, and rigid timers (gone at least is the original Dead Rising's sadistic single-save system).

Perhaps the cultural differences are too great to bridge. The undercurrent behind that fork in the road is concept of self, and how the player psychologically engages with the game's characters. In most Western games, the protagonist is a largely generic blank slate, who literally becomes the player--a concept further enhanced by the trend toward games with moral choices and branching dialogue trees that reshape the game according to user input.

The Japanese default is more about setting up a distinctive, often over-the-top character (such as DR2's extreme motorcycle racer Chuck Greene), and taking the player along on a predetermined wild ride. That journey often includes fantastical things (see: Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, etc.) far outside of the audience's everyday understanding, whereas Western games are often limited to military and crime scenarios that might as well have been copped from a nightly TV newscast.

In this hybrid, we get a game that--though certainly delivering a great deal of entertainment value--was forced to choose between these left- and right-brain approaches to interactive entertainment, and ends up look looking more backward than forward. Take the colorful characters and settings, and the inventive combinations of items in the game's crafting system, and edit out the point multipliers, timers, and other nods to the mechanics of traditional gaming, and you'll truly have captured the elusive East/West hybrid.