Version tested: Xbox 360
In 'Wily Travels' it's the PCs and LCD monitors used to book countless budget summer vacations. In 'Marriage Makers' it's the necklaces and bracelets, sparkling pellets on display under the glass counter. In 'Atlantica Casino', it's the tall chairs upon which patrons once sat and played the slots, or the discarded handbags around them, heavy with coins and make-up. In 'Bennie Jack's Barbecue Shack' it's the plastic serving trays, in 'Venus Touch', the bottles of shampoo and hair dye, in 'Knokonutz Sports Town' the dumbbells and basketballs. In 'Toy Manor', it's the RC stunt copter with its sharp, rhythmic blades that can slice the head clean off a man.
Dead Rising 2 changes the way that you shop. In this night-terror rendering of Supermarket Sweep, the question against which any potential purchase is judged is not "Do I need this?" or "Does this product offer value for money?" Rather, it is: "How quickly would I be able to bludgeon the nose from a zombie with this?" In the case of the shampoo bottle the answer is: a really long time.
For George Romero, the shopping centre was the perfect locale for the zombie apocalypse because the routine, civilised familiarity, when used as a backdrop for an uprising of corpses, couched an abstract horror in the mundane and everyday. But in Dead Rising 2, the shopping mall has not been chosen as a commentary on dead-eyed American consumerism, nor even as a clichéd nod to cinematic zombie tradition. Rather, it's been chosen for the smorgasbord of weaponry it offers.
Where else can you find an electric guitar, a rack of ribs and a chainsaw in such close proximity to one another? In a medium that uses guns as its primary means of player interaction, the chance to stave in a zombie's head with a six-foot novelty liquor bottle is something to be celebrated. The mall has been chosen for the benefit it offers the game's systems, not its story. Variety, it turns out, is the spice of death.
So this is a game about hitting, slicing, sawing or shooting groaning mounds of flesh with vicious, ridiculous, amusing or ironic everyday objects. And those interactive verbs - dumb, blunt and silly though they are - provide the short-term gratification in Dead Rising 2. You race to see what treasures of impromptu weaponry are literally in store around each corner before giggling at the silliness of using them against the horde while dressed in a one-piece baby grow or whatever other novelty outfit you've pilfered from the mall. The introduction of maintenance rooms, where you can combine two prescribed items to create a bastard weapon, only adds to the urge to experiment with the tools of undead murder.
But there's a slower rhythm of play, too, an altogether more honourable heartbeat pushing you through Dead Rising 2's veins. There's no denying this is a game soaked in the juvenile: the gauche one-liners, the lingering shots of female characters' legs, the zombie pratfalls and the gleefully immature spectacle of cause and effect, a cycle played out every time you find a new object for your arsenal before trying it out on the nearest zombie's head. But beyond all that, Dead Rising 2 is a game for players with a saviour complex.
At the most basic narrative and systemic level, you must save Chuck Greene. The ex-motocross champion whom you control for the game's 72-hour play-cycle must survive the lunges of a limitless throng of zombies, else there is no game to play. More metaphorically, there is his reputation to save too, as, at the start of the game, he is framed for the zombie outbreak; faked CCTV footage is leaked to a local news channel painting him as the origin of the epidemic. The core seven phases of the game have you chasing the truth behind the outbreak while attempting to clear Greene's name before the military arrives.
Next in need of salvation is Greene's daughter, who spends the majority of the game tucked away in a safe house in the extremities of the mall. While she's completely safe from the zombies themselves, an old wound means that she requires a dose of Zombrex every 24 hours in order to stay a little girl. Fail to find or purchase a new dose of Zombrex each day and she'll turn into a little zombie, and in Greene's subsequent debilitating grief, the story behind the outbreak will remain untold.