Survivor AI has improved immeasurably, to the extent where you can rescue a whole bunch of stragglers, arm them with weapons and then tour the casinos as a ramshackle gang of zombie-killers. If you did this in the last game you'd have to keep a constant eye on your companions, but now they're more than capable of taking care of themselves. Running about in a large group tends to make the frame rate even choppier than normal (and it's hardly smooth at the best of times), but it’s worth it just to watch your new friends gunning down one of the boss psychos in a matter of seconds. Again, the fact that you can do this doesn't say much for the boss design in general, but it's fun to do all the same - and that pretty much is the game in a nutshell.
For all its stumbling points, Dead Rising 2 offers an awful lot of fun - especially when it's allowing you to do wilfully silly things like making a lightsaber by duct-taping some gems on to the end of a torch. There are multiple endings to see, and the general structure ensures a tonne of replay value, and on top of that there's the option to invite a mate into your game for a bout of co-op laughs. Regrettably we've not had an opportunity to test this out properly, but the basic thrust is that only the host player can choose the active quest, gather survivors and so forth. The other participant appears as a second Chuck, but while you can earn PP and cash as a tourist, you can't make any progress with your own campaign; the visitor also has to stay within the same game area as the host. It has potential to be fun if the netcode holds up, but for the time being it's not something we can comment on.
In addition to co-op, there's also a fun but rather limited multiplayer mode, in which up to four players battle through an episode of Terror is Reality. This pans out as a four-round point-scoring contest, with players taking part in a variety of zombie-tormenting mini-games. One finds you racing to dress up the undead in humiliating costumes; others find you frantically sniping at the shuffling masses from the top of a tall tower, or mulching them up in combine harvesters which then fire liquid zombie into large, mouth-shaped receptacles. Matches are accompanied by a rather droll commentary that spoofs the excesses of American sports coverage, and at the end of each contest you can cash out your winnings and transfer them to any of your three game saves, allowing Chuck to buy some of the more expensive toys in Fortune City's pawn shops.
So, where does this leave us? If you're a PS3 owner with plenty of patience and a taste for hardcore gaming, you should certainly consider giving this a go; there's nothing else like it available on your console. If you're a 360 owner with similar qualities, you should also give it a chance - but if you've not played the original, you should get that first. Dead Rising veterans should feel safe about jumping straight in, provided that all they're really looking for is more of the same. Whatever your relation to the game, be aware that you're buying into a challenging and at times flawed experience - one that serves up plenty of frustration along with the rampant good times. Because no matter how hard you try or how carefully you plan your outings, you're almost certain to hit some kind of wall.
The maxim to remember here is, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." If you were feeling cruel, you might assert that the same advice applies to Capcom with its handling of this franchise - but in all fairness, this wouldn't quite be accurate. Dead Rising 2 isn't a failure; on the contrary, it's a fun and highly rewarding game that is held back by a handful of unfortunate design choices. It's a worthy sequel in many ways, but despite all the innovative weapon combinations, Dead Rising 2 suggests that Capcom has yet to find its perfect blend.