Of all the Japanese studios gunning for global acceptance (and at this point it basically is all of them), Capcom is taking the greatest strides. Bionic Commando, Dark Void and Spyborgs have all been produced by Western studios, and Dead Rising 2 is the latest to follow suit, designed by Canadian developer Blue Castle Games. Combined with more widespread use of Capcom's feted MT Framework multi-platform engine technology, it makes for a global strategy in every sense.
You worry though, listening to Capcom R&D chief Keiji Inafune talk about the game, that the publisher is in danger of missing a vital point. "I was actually shocked to hear that a lot of the Western press, as well as Western gamers, were saying that it looks like a Western game on the outside, but on the inside it still feels very Japanese," Inafune says of the first Dead Rising, speaking through translator Ben Judd. "With Dead Rising 2, one of the internal goals that we had for ourselves was to truly make a Western game, to make it down to the core what a Western game is."
This is all well and good, but it's worth considering the context of Inafune's original 'shock': when Western gamers - ourselves included - first took to Dead Rising, Capcom's Japanese-developed Xbox 360 action-adventure, it wasn't just the single-location dynamic, 72-hour time window and non-linear mission structure, nor the brilliant comic violence of the kill counter, and hacking up hundreds of on-screen zombies with props looted from shops in the Willamette Mall, that gave it traction. It was something quintessentially Japanese in the mechanics - the photography hook, the secret bonuses, the caricatured badguys and their indulgent cut sequences. Surely going west risks the loss of so much of what gave the game its unusual flavour?
Fortunately, if he wasn't conscious of it at the time, Inafune insists that his original meetings with Blue Castle boss Dan Brady corrected that. "Dan was talking to us and brought about a very good point: one of the best things about Dead Rising 1 wasn't the fact that it's Western, it's the fact that it seems Western but also has that certain Japanese spice," he says. "We realised this was the kind of company that would be able to make the compromises and work with us to make the perfect blend between East and West that would be necessary for Dead Rising 2."
To this end, Blue Castle began by refining the technology to vastly exceed the impressive 500-zombies-at-once baseline set by the first game. As new protagonist Chuck Greene - a former motocross champion on a mission - slices his way through waves of shambling undead on the Las Vegas-style strip at the heart of the game's new setting, Fortune City, Brady hits a few buttons and fills out the screen. At first with 1,000 zombies - twice what Dead Rising could do, and nowhere near enough to trouble the game engine - and then with 2,000, and eventually 7,000. The frame-rate dips to compensate, but not to unplayable levels. In fact, the greatest threat to the player, as he charges down the strip on a motorbike carving up the crowd, is that the volume of bodies and blood splatter striking the camera and flying across it makes it difficult to see where you're going. You're actually blinded by the carnage.
Mechanically the combat - well, the one-way flood of slaughter - looks similar to Dead Rising 1, with a button-mashing three-stage horizontal melee attack, concluding in an uppercut, and an over-the-head downward smash as the two principle means to batter zombies with objects strewn and hidden around the game world.
Chuck's movements are also similar to those of Frank West, and at first his arsenal looks like the familiar collection of blunt and bladed props that gave the Willamette Mall its raison d'etre. There are baseball bats, guitars, bar stools, and roulette wheels grabbed from the tables of a small casino off the strip. Costumes return too. Like Frank, Chuck is not averse to the odd wardrobe change, but at least this time he does it with offensive intent, donning a moose head, which can be used to mow through zombies, or tusk them into the air. Other improvements include projectile weapons, like an assault rifle - not the game's core focus, Brady insists, but evidently well-implemented, with a tight, Gears of War-style over-the-shoulder fully automatic firing mode and the welcome addition of strafing.
As the demo continues, however, you realise that the assault rifle belongs there not just for the comic potential of kneecapping Fortune City's former inhabitants, but as an enabler. A propane tank with nails sticking out of the sides, for example, can be attached violently to a zombie, who then gets up and shambles around. Chuck backs away and switches to the rifle, targeting the propane tank sticking out of zombie's back and blasting everything in the vicinity to pieces. Dead Rising emphasised zombies as playthings like this - dumping buckets on their heads to blind them, for instance - so Dead Rising 2 goes further. The bucket returns, only this time it has three handheld powerdrills stuck through the sides. When Chuck slaps it on a zombie, it shreds its head in a shower of gore and then falls to the ground once the skull pops.
If you reckon that hints at improvising new tools out of the things you find lying around, so does Inafune, although he stops short of confirming it. But we are shown a couple of examples of more exotic weapons that thrill and delight almost as much in their wider conceptual potential as they do in the fine detail of the violence. There's a double-ended paddle, for example, with a chainsaw strapped to either end, which Chuck swings as though he's rowing through the sea of zombies. And in finale, there's a motorbike with chainsaws attached to each of the handlebars. Driving headlong through the 7,000 zombies, Brady's front wheel squashes while the blades dice for deaths four or five abreast.
The way in which the chainsaws go to work is another technical improvement, with a procedural system designed to cut where you actually cut - best illustrated with the sword, which hacks off limbs and the tops of heads among other protrusions depending on Chuck's position relative to your shambling target. A downward strike cleaves from skull to groin, and the remains peel apart and slump. There's blood everywhere - and the way blood splatters and flies, and seems to slow as the particles thin out in flight, is another subtle pleasure.
It can be disappointing to turn up to see a game and get a tech demo - and the Fortune City strip, from the phallic Yucatan casino at one end to the coaches plugging the other, is designed in this instance to showcase concepts and mechanics, rather than the game itself. But Dead Rising was a game that captured our imagination as much for its possibilities, and the surprise and joy of discovery, as it did in its structure, so today's demo is a natural introduction. I don't feel too hard done by when Inafune declines to confirm many specifics about the rest of the game.
We can infer a certain amount, at least. The on-screen HUD looks similar, which speaks to similar progression - with a chunkified and presumably extendable health-bar, the same Prestige Points meter feeding into a levelling system, a money total and of course the zombie kill-counter in the bottom right. Inafune won't comment directly on the return of photography or mission structure, but says he and Blue Castle want to "keep 100 per cent of what made the first game good, and lose 100 per cent of what got in the way". They are considering using the 72-hour period of the first game again, and the divisive save system is being thoroughly contemplated behind the scenes.
There will also be multiplayer despite the confusion at GDC. "We're at a point in game history that you need to have some form of multiplayer component in a game," says Inafune. "Single-player alone is not going to cut it. So rest assured we are going to put multiplayer in the game, but I can't go into specifics about what type of multiplayer as that directly relates to some of the game systems that we don't want to talk about at this event. It will be online multiplayer, so keep that in mind." He also deflects a question about co-op and other playable characters, but doesn't rule it out.
For all the things we don't know so far though, Inafune's mindful approach and the first visible dabs of innovation from Blue Castle paint an encouraging picture - of a game that seeks to realise the untapped potential of certain aspects of Dead Rising, while remaining true to its strengths. Those principles, and the exchange of ideas between Blue Castle and Capcom Japan, may be unorthodox and complicated - Inafune bemoans problems with timezones, among other things, on several occasions - but it's the soul within the body of Capcom's new-world thinking.
Never mind the mixed parentage, it's good parenting that matters, and for now that seems to mean bringing it up in the West, but giving it a Japanese education. Global acceptance may be on the cards again.
Dead Rising 2 is due out for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC at an undisclosed date in the future.