If ever there were a sequel that didn’t need a prologue to “bridge the gap” between the tales of it and its predecessor it would be Dead Rising 2.
The first game tossed protagonist Frank West into a shopping mall rammed with zombies and said: survive for three days. Dead Rising 2, by all accounts, is a carbon replica. Except instead of the Willamette Mall, replacement protagonist Chuck Greene has to spend his three days maiming zombies in Las Vegas.
Despite the simplicity, Case Zero is the prologue to Dead Rising 2 and it takes place in the sleepy town of Still Creek, 46 miles outside of Las Vegas. Annoyingly it begins with a cut scene that manages to ratify the pointlessness of this being branded a ‘story prologue’ by dedicating ten minutes to informing you that Chuck likes motorbikes, yellow things and his daughter Katey (in that order).
Obviously a zombie-infested town isn’t going to be half as fun if you’ve got to deal with toilet stops, tantrums and rapidly declining yellow health bars so Katey stays behind in the safe room while you head out on the town. But having been bit by zombie mummy, she’s hours from boarding a one-way flight to zombification.
So you’re told to scour the town in search of Zombrex – the super drug that prevents soon-to-be zombies from turning into walking corpses for a whole twelve hours – and in true Dead Rising fashion you have 12 in-game hours to find the Zombrex, which I think sounds more like a breakfast cereal.
Of course you’re free to tell Katey to do-one and find her own Zombrex, opting instead to run riot about Still Creek having the time of your life while she slowly withers away. There’s no way of failing Case Zero (except actually dying), so if you spend your twelve hours purging the town of its hungry-inhabitants the game will reward you once your twelve hours are up with whichever of the several endings your actions have led to. Probably the one where Katey dies and you have a little party.
But then you can start the story again; with the character traits and level you earned carried across to your new game so there’s major replay value here. You can play through once maiming zombies, play through again and save Katey and then again to save the other human survivors – a feature that, despite being brought over from Dead Rising, bears none of the blood-curdling aggravation that stemmed from the old, awful survivor AI.
However you decide to play Case Zero, your first port of call will inevitably be grinding a couple of hundred zombies into pulp and Blue Castle Games have made that sport more delightful than ever.
Combining weapons is one of the new features of Dead Rising 2 and judging by some of those showcased in Case Zero it’s probably going to be the highlight of the sequel. Weapons are created on workbenches of which there are three in Still Creek. Only weapons with the blue wrench icon can be combined and there’s a strict policy on what can be combined.
Nails and a baseball bat, for example, can only be combined together to make the Spike Bat. But that’s the rookie’s instrument of death. The Boomstick (pitchfork + shotgun), Bucket Drill (bucket + drills, obviously) and Paddle Saw (Paddle + chainsaws) are far more tantalisingly gory. Especially when you start experimenting with their secondary attacks. While it’s certainly a shame you can’t combine nails with an IED for ultimate explosive carnage, Blue Castle haven’t skimped on brutality.
Heads pop, limbs fly and Chuck bathes in the bloody mayhem making return trips back to Katey a little awkward. It’s ketchup, honey. But like a four year old in a jelly bean factory, experimenting with the weapons and their combinations is a timeless joy, as much so, if not more, than in Dead Rising.
The combo weapons also dish out some of their own added bonuses (besides, obviously, the innate joys of putting a bucket full of drill over a zombie’s head and pulling the triggers). Some grant double PP, which is used for levelling up, and they tend to last longer than the standard weapons before breaking. The same goes for drink combinations which return, as does the ability to change Chuck’s outfit – complete with shoddy animation. I only managed to concoct Nectar and a combination of beer and soda which left Chuck vomiting for a good twenty seconds, but the pool of options in Dead Rising 2 will no doubt be deeper.
However the seemingly infinite ways of dispatching the undead (or humiliating them – Lego heads are back) inadvertently means if you enjoyed the photography-angle from the previous game you’ll probably find yourself pining for Frank’s camera sooner or later. It’s the only glaring omission from Case Zero and Chuck, who is already a vacuous douchebag, has nothing to offer in response to Frank’s fancy skill. Leaving one of the finest features of Dead Rising at the door has left an ominous hole and there doesn’t seem to be anything here to fill it.
Visually the game is a little rusty too. The town is masked in a hazy blanket and the zombie skins are repeated every square meter. Hopefully the lackluster graphics are a result of the constrictions of an XBLA title, rather than being indicative of Dead Rising 2.
Elsewhere the awkward save system from Dead Rising remains, meaning you have to travel to save spots to record your progress. But concessions have also been made. There are now three save slots and more save points scattered across the small map than in the Willamette Mall. You still save your progress in restrooms so as well as the safe room toilet there’s a couple of shops that you can save in. A sense of vulnerability remains when you’re caught limping without food because dying means reloading a save, and you still have to weigh up the pros and cons of wasting time traveling to a save point when you desperately need to get to your next objective.
At heart Case Zero is still very much Dead Rising then. The slight concessions that have been made address the most vocal complaints but the game still hates you with twisted glee and Case Zero is all the better for not straying far from the formula.
As a microcosm of Dead Rising 2 then, Case Zero is a success. Even if, as a “bridge” between the narrative of two games spent smacking zombies, it’s utterly pointless.