If you think your job sucks, spare a thought for former Motorcross champ Chuck Greene. His current employment involves riding a motorbike that's been kitted out with chainsaws on either side of the front wheel. At speed he drives this lethal contraption around a sports arena, through crowds of the shuffling undead. The zombies get diced into itty-bitty bloody chunks, and this pleases the baying mass of morons who pay to watch. The TV Networks call this atrocity, 'Terror is Reality'.The only perk is that he gets a bonus if he splatters more corpses than his three rival riders.
So yes, it's a pretty bad job - but today it's about to get a whole lot worse. Firstly, one of Chuck's opponents makes fun of his dead wife; I'm sure we can all agree that this is poor taste and even outright mean. Then, despite the fact that he wins the day's competition, one of the Terror is Reality glamour girls makes fun of his performance - implying that he is bad at sex because his penis is small. Finally, and most probably worst of all, a bomb goes off at the Fortune City Casino; zombies spread across the entire resort, munching everyone they come across and generally creating a lot of fuss and bother. And who gets the blame for this unfortunate atrocity? Mr Chuck Greene, of course!
Three additional woes on Chuck's misery list: 1) His daughter was previously bitten by a zombie, and if he doesn't sort her out with Zombex (expensive medicine) each day, she'll turn into one too. 2) His name sounds like a euphemism for throwing up. 3) He has to follow in the footsteps of Dead Rising 1's Frank West - one of the coolest heroes in the history of video games. (He's covered wars, y'know?).
The thing is, I have a feeling that things might turn out alright for Chuck. I doubt that he'll eclipse the mighty Frank as a leading man - how could he, when Frank has covered wars (you know)? - but in all other areas, both he and Dead Rising 2 seem to be doing okay. Having now spent a decent length of time playing the game, I'm delighted to say that it's showing every sign of being a worthy sequel. The staple ingredients are all correct and present: masses of zombies, loads of weapons and toys with which to attack them, and a rather hardcore structure - one that limits your ability to save and that forces you to follow a strict schedule if you want to make any progress with the core plot. It's just like the old days, and indeed my only real criticism at this stage is that the game feels almost identical to its predecessor. If you loved the first Rising as much as I did, even with its undeniable flaws, this probably won't be too much of a problem.
The new game kicks off almost exactly as I've already described, with Chuck taking part in a bloody episode of Terror is Reality. The first Dead Rising began with an atmospheric helicopter tour of the area surrounding Willamette Mall, but here you're immediately dropped straight into a blood-soaked action sequence - albeit one in which it's impossible to die. The player must steer Chuck and his bladed bike around a arena with curved, half-pipe edges; you earn points for each zombie you slice, and some of the shufflers are wearing silly hats that grant you an additional bonus. Three other riders, similarly decked out in coloured suits, are vying for the top prize, and all four scores are displayed in the top left of the screen. It's a fun little sequence that introduces the concept of Reality is Terror; in the final game you'll be able to return to the show for multiplayer contests, and any cash you earn will be usable by chuck in the single-player campaign.
Aside from showcasing Terror is Reality, the intro sequence does a neat job of showing off the improved dismemberment system - resulting in a shower of bloody arms and legs. It's not just the chainsaw-bike that has this effect either: any heavy bladed weapon will lop off stray limbs, and if you're so-minded you can keep hacking away at fallen bodies until they're explode into mush.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the early sections of Dead Rising 2 underline Chuck's status as a guy who's picked on. He's abused by the staff of Terror is Reality, and when everything kicks off and he and his daughter head to the casino's emergency shelter, the overseer seems to treat him with distrust. When a news broadcast fingers our hero as the prime suspect for the bombing, it makes perfect sense in terms of the overall plot. Chuck Greene is a classic underdog, abused by all and sundry, and that makes him easy to like as a character.
Like its predecessor, Dead Rising 2 works on a real-time basis, set against the backdrop of an accelerated clock. To uncover the truth behind what's going on Chuck will have to be in the right place at the right time. You can look at your watch to check the time, and a series of on-screen prompts will always be around to guide you to your objective, but the fact remains that it's easy to permanently lose the central plot thread if you're not careful. This may annoy some people, particularly newcomers to the franchise, but everything you do in the game helps to level up Chuck - boosting his health, dispensing special moves and allowing him to carry more stuff. If you abandon or fail the story there's still an entire casino resort to explore, packed with things to do. When you eventually decide to restart the game you'll do so with a levelled-up hero, making things much easier.
This is the weird thing about the Dead Rising: it's always at its hardest when you're new to the game. This sequel graciously allows you three save slots (we only got one last time), but since you can only save at set locations, it's easy to come a cropper. It's a hard game and it requires patience, but it's very rewarding when you put the effort in. That's the Capcom way.
And while Chuck himself may be having a miserable time, the game actively encourages players to have as much fun as possible. The early plot missions find Chuck desperately searching for Zombex, tracking down the reporter who's slandering him and then working to clear his name - but I've not gotten very far into the story, because I keep getting distracted. My daughter died the first time I played the game because I'd spent too much time pissing about: I dressed Chuck in a gaudy suit and deerstalker, put on a pair of massive boxing gloves, and then ran about punching zombies in the face (complete with a comedy 'DING!'). I went skateboarding, fell off and had my neck bitten. I put a zombie in a wheelchair, pushed him to the top of an escalator, and then pushed him over the edge.
In short, I had a right old laugh. As I say, the game does feel extremely close to its forebear - even down to the fact that much of Fortune City looks like the Willamette Mall - but I really can't complain too much about that. The game may break into newer ground later on, and even if it doesn't there's the promise of multiplayer and co-op play.
If any of this is taking your fancy, and if you own an Xbox 360, it may well be worth taking a look at Dead Rising: Case Zero, a standalone DLC pack that's due for release next week with a price of 400 MS points. It's a precursor to the events of Dead Rising 2, one that uses the same engine as the main game, and any progress you make there will be carried over to the sequel. We should be taking a look at this ourselves, so stay tuned for more thoughts.
Dead Rising 2 is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on September 24.