As well as being bold, unique and interestingly divisive, Dead Rising was one of the most baffling games of its generation. It constantly teetered on the edge of parody. Was it intentionally making fun of America and its zombie films, with its obese lesbian police officers and chainsaw-juggling clowns? Or was it an honest but strange homage, a Western horror staple viewed through a Japanese cultural filter?
Assuming the latter to be true, Dead Rising 2 (developed by Canadian studio Blue Castle Games) is a Western interpretation of a Japanese interpretation of Western zombie horror – which gives it the potential to be even stranger. Alternatively, a Western worldview might temper the bizarreness that made Dead Rising so interesting in the first place. Hmm. Conundrum.
The opening scene certainly marks a change of pace. Instead of running amok in a mall full of the undead you're a contestant on a zombie gameshow called Terror Is Reality, carving through zombie hordes in an arena on a motorcycle with chainsaws attached. We got a good look at these black-humour minigames at Dead Rising 2's unveiling back at TGS last year, but it left us with a lot of questions about the single-player – such as, how on earth do you fit a zombie gameshow into the story?
As it turns out, you only get one round into Terror is Reality before everything goes wrong. The stock of zombies are set free to infect and ingest the living population of Fortune City, the game's fictional Vegas. From then on, it's all comfortingly familiar – whilst other survivors hole up a safehouse waiting for rescue, you venture out into a mall full of shambling ex-humans and hundreds of makeshift weapons to abuse them with.
Instead of Frank West we have Chuck Greene, an ex-motocross champion whose comically fixed, stony expression greatly adds to the amusement value of dressing him up in a halter top. His wife was killed in an attack during the Willamette outbreak, but hatred of the undead isn't his only motivation – he has to venture out of the safehouse to find an anti-zombification drug called Zombex for his infected daughter. She needs a dose every 24 hours at a specific time, otherwise she'll start developing severe skin problems and a taste for brains.
A familiar 72-hour countdown dictates your every action. Spend too much time throwing vinyl records at zombies or setting them on fire for fun and you won't make it through the story. Survivors are dotted around the place and can be persuaded to accompany you back to safety. The more zombies you murder, the more people you rescue, the more PP you earn, and the less meagre your chances of survival.
Dead Rising 2 certainly hasn't made things any easier. There's still no autosave and deep down, the game still hates you and wants you to fail. But that tension was a vital part of Dead Rising, and though changing it would have silenced plenty of frustrated voices, it would also have fundamentally altered what the game was about. There are now, however, three save slots instead of one – a small concession, but a significant one when it's possible to make irreversible mistakes.