Version tested: Xbox 360
Dead Rising 2ís playable prologue, Case Zero, was released at the end of August for 400 Microsoft Points, selling half a million copies by the end of September. Just four months later, its epilogue, Case West, arrives exclusively on 360 for double that cost. Austerity be damned: thatís the price of progress, folks.
Iím only half-joking Ė because, while at roughly three hours for a single playthrough, Case West may only be the same size as Zero, itís also a step forward for the series; an add-on whose improvements to the zombie-splatting formula might well have bumped up its predecessorís Metacritic rating a few notches.
It starts with a surprise Ė at least for those who got the Ďbestí ending for Dead Rising 2, as evidently Capcom is treating that gameís Ending A (rather than the proper Overtime denouement) as canon. Professional Thomas Jane impersonator Chuck Greene is rescued from a future of moaning, shuffling and unusually protein-heavy dietary requirements by original protagonist Frank West, and the two set out to infiltrate a facility belonging to evil pharmaceutical nutjobs Umbrell- sorry, Phenotrans.
Naturally, the factory setting isnít as visually interesting as the dilapidated Americana of Case Zeroís Still Creek, but itís more fun to explore, not least because of the new weapons youíll find lying around. The sickle makes a welcome reappearance after its conspicuous absence from the second game, and itís just one of several new ingredients which Chuck can use to build a handful of fresh combo weapons. Dead Risingís combat system may seem inelegant at times, but when one swing of a deadly sickle/katana combo leaves an average of 12 bloody body parts scattered around your feet, you wonít really care. And thatís before we get onto Chuckís constructive (if medically inadvisable) use of a set of defibrillators and a metal tray.
Despite being made available as a standalone release rather than DLC, Case Westís story wonít necessarily mean much to anyone who hasnít played the previous games. Case Zeroís plot worked as a self-contained story as well as an intriguing lead-in to the events of Dead Rising 2, but here the significance of certain revelations Ė one in particular Ė requires a bit of foreknowledge. If you missed the first game, a quick Wiki flick is recommended.
That said, thereís some nice interplay between Chuck and Frank after their initial uneasy alliance. Again, the barmy plot is played totally straight-faced, which makes it all the more enjoyable to subvert. Chuck shaking his head at a particularly inept bluff from Frank is much funnier when one of our less-than-dynamic duo is wearing a shower cap and the other a mad scientistís hairdo.
As an AI partner, Frankís almost a little too handy in the fight, steaming into kills with relish and providing more than ample backup when youíre surrounded. Give him a half-decent weapon at the start and heís set for the rest of the game. Frankís return also means a return to the photography element of the original, though itís a little undercooked here, used purely to earn bonus Prestige Points by snapping special areas or objects within the facility.
There's no Zombrex to worry about this time, nor is there a safe zone to escort survivors to. Instead, those who need your help will ask for specific items to aid their escape, and you'll receive the bonus PP as soon as you've fulfilled their request. A little more downtime between the story objectives gives you welcome breathing space to explore Phenotrans HQ, and to seek out that tiki torch you need to bat flaming tennis balls at the undead hordes.
So in theory, your transceiver won't be beeping quite so frequently Ė except it probably will, but this time with requests from other online players asking if they can be Frank to your Chuck. There's no option to play as Dead Rising's hero for the lone player, so those who want to make the most of Frank's superior melee moveset (though sadly, he seems to have forgotten that awesome disembowelment attack) will have to join another player's game. There's extra incentive to co-operate, too, as you'll only gain the PP-boosting effects of some of the combo weapons if you play as Frank.
It's all part of a more concerted effort to encourage repeat plays Ė something Capcom's inventive but slightly opaque original design struggled to convey. The series' unusual structure has been much criticised by those who don't understand that it's very deliberately designed to prevent you doing everything in one go. Three save slots is a welcome concession which softens the harder edges of the original's punishing one-save-only setup, while the Achievements are perhaps the best indication that you're going to need to play through a few times, because it's impossible to get the lot in one go. Slaying 1000 zombies is easily possible on a single playthrough Ė I got over 800 without really trying on my first run Ė but doing so while constructing all the combo weapons and rescuing everyone? Not a chance.
Subsequent run-throughs are all about effective time management, and suddenly you find you're working to a tight schedule like a demented party planner arranging some kind of zombie-themed get-together. "Frank, you pick up the floor buffer from the Holding Pen, and I'll meet you in the maintenance room with the electric prod at 2pm once I've thinned out the numbers in the Storage Bay. Oh, and bring the snapshot of that storage tank Ė preferably without the decapitated corpses in the background this time. Cheers."
Elsewhere, Case West benefits from a bit of graphical spit-and-polish, with what appears to be a more solid frame-rate throughout, while loading times have happily been noticeably trimmed. Mechanically, it's just about identical, which means it can often be as clunky as it is entertaining; it's still no easier to pick up the right thing when you're standing over a pile of items, but then there's something grimly hilarious about having to defend yourself with a water pistol when there's a perfectly good assault rifle lying tantalisingly within reach.
A cynical and frustratingly abrupt ending that quite deliberately leaves too many unanswered questions and story threads dangling is about the only real sour note struck by another accomplished downloadable release from Capcom. Solo players might consider this slightly worse value than Case Zero, but Achievement-grabbers and those with friends willing to indulge in a winningly dumb bit of co-operative slaughter will more than get their money's worth here.
8 / 10