When it comes to the depiction of zombies, there are generally two schools of thought: fast and slow.
The former seems to be more popular these days. In movies like 28 Days Later and the Left 4 Dead games, the living dead can sprint as fast (or even faster than) the humans they chase, and leave protagonists dead, dying, or reanimating before the audience can even blink.
Personally, I've always been more interested in the latter, best embodied in movies like George A. Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, as well as Capcom's Resident Evil games. These slowly shambling creatures may not deliver as many jump-from-your-seat scares as their quicker counterparts, but they allow us a moment to pause and ponder what a zombie really is. And once you begin thinking about how the thousands of shuffling beings on screen are actually dead people made animate, with no memory of their former friends and families and an obligation to engage in cannibalism-one of the most taboo of activities-the horror really starts to set in.
At least it does for me.
I think that's one of the reasons why 2006's Dead Rising, which adhered to the slow-zombie school, became one the most popular third-party games yet released on the then-fledgling Xbox 360. The clumsy creatures that traipsed and tripped toward us were generally easy to avoid as we jogged from one store to another through a dead mall, allowing us the time to see them for what they were-shoppers, parents, clerks, police officers, and construction workers who were oblivious to everything that once mattered to them-and consider the terrifying possibility of becoming like them.
All of this preamble leads us to the release of Dead Rising 2, made by Capcom-owned Vancouver studio Blue Castle Games. Set in and around a large casino/shopping centre/arena complex in the Las Vegas-inspired Fortune City, it retains much of what made the original so much spooky fun.
The zombies in this game are even more diverse than in its predecessor. You'll see cocktail waitresses, transit workers, clowns, bikers-basically all of people you might expect to find in Sin City. This broader range of infected isn't just an impressive technical feat-expect to see up to a thousand living dead on screen at once-but also deepens the scope of the catastrophe. The sheer number of people affected is nothing short of an epic tragedy.
Indeed, it's hard not to get the sense that the real enemies in the game aren't the zombies, who are simply hopeless victims, but rather some of those who are still living who consciously take advantage of the situation to harm others. Like a mad chef who sees the city's lack of official authority as an opportunity to indulge his…darker…recipes. Or the crazed fanatic trying to feed a young woman to a zombie in a bathroom in order to expedite the disaster and help "cleanse the world."
Of course, there's also humour here. As with most modern zombie movies- Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and even Dead Snow- Dead Rising 2 tempers the terror with a hefty helping of gags. The undead are easy targets for pranks, whether it's the online reality game show Terror is Reality, which has players treating the undead like puppets in a carnival game, or the creative ways in which we sometimes dispatch them in the story mode, such as pummelling them with toys. But of course laughter is one of the oldest ways in which humans cope with that which they fear.
Also striking a chord-particularly with the father in me-is that our hero, an aging-but-capable motocross star named Chuck Greene, is in a constant struggle to save his young daughter, Katey, who was bitten in a zombie attack that also took the life of his wife. He has to search for daily doses of a rare and expensive drug called Zombrex that keeps infected victims from turning. The actor hired to play Katey delivers a pretty wooden performance, but the notion of a father doing anything and everything he can to keep his daughter from becoming a member of the living dead still resonates.
Time plays a factor not just in delivering Katey her daily dose of medicine, but in everything we do in the game. Once the localized zombie apocalypse begins in Fortune City we're told that we have three days to kill before rescue arrives, and those days are anything but dull.
For starters, Chuck, along with a zombie activist group called CURE, is framed by the host of a television show for causing the outbreak, and he must venture through the undead hordes looking for ways to clear his name. Plus, scores of survivors are holed up around the complex, and Chuck, good samaritan that he is, is determined to rescue as many of them as possible.
But the window of opportunity for accomplishing these tasks is small, and the clock is always ticking.
This actually leads to one of my biggest beefs with Dead Rising 2, which is that I didn't have time to do all of the things I wanted to.
For example, I can't see any way that players will be able to save all of the survivors stranded outside the safe house. In truth, I'm resignedly okay with this. It makes for some harsh decisions-do you save the hung-over call girl in the casino's back room or the two guys holed up in the knife store?-but it definitely adds to the drama.
What really bothers me that the constant rush kept me from enjoying the sequel's most rewarding new element: Building custom zombie slaughtering gear.
The original Dead Rising allowed players to pick up just about anything they could find-guitars, traffic pylons, trash cans-and use it as a weapon. Dead Rising 2 goes one step further by allowing our handy hero to combine the items he finds into even deadlier implements, like strapping chainsaws to a boat paddle. We can combine a wheelchair with a machine gun, a spear with a leaf blower, a mask with a lawnmower blade…the list isn't quite endless, but it is lengthy.
Thing is, you rarely have time to experiment. Figuring out which items can be combined and then locating those items takes long minutes that you just don't have-unless, of course, you're willing to let survivors perish (which I wasn't).
Frustratingly, it appears this is intentional. Blue Castle clearly wants to force players to play their game multiple times, as evidenced by our ability to transfer all of Chuck's experience points and cash from one game to the next to make subsequent slogs easier. Indeed, the option to "restart the story" looms large in the loading menu, as if trying to lure frustrated players into giving up and beginning again.
And, begrudgingly, that's just what I ended up doing.
Around the middle of the second day, angry that I'd discovered so few combo cards (recipes for making new weapons), allowed so many survivors to die, and was unable to defeat any of the hostage-holding psychopaths I was currently tasked with facing, I restarted the story. And while my increased experience, familiarity with the area, and understanding of objectives is making things much easier this time out, I can't help but be a bit bitter that this seems to be how Blue Castle wants players to experience the game.
They're just lucky that the zombie world they've crafted is so engaging. There's something about Dead Rising 2's reanimated shamblers that brings me back to the nights I spent as a teenager watching movies like Dawn of the Dead and Dead Alive before heading to bed to have zombie-themed nightmares. My fascination with the slowly shuffling living deceased has remained intact through the years, and Dead Rising 2 sates it in a way that few other zombie stories can match. I just hope the next entry in the series isn't ruled by such a merciless clock.