For about four hours, Dead Rising 2 is one of the most frustrating games ever. It's like looking at incredible fun through thick, soundproof glass. What should be a non-stop parade of gory zombie deaths starts as an exercise in exasperation. The development philosophy appears to have been to come up with a core concept of almost limitless entertainment, and to then think of as many obstacles as possible to put between this and the player. And then it gets better.
The original Dead Rising was never released on PC, so you may not be familiar with the concept, which is to hit thousands of zombies, with hundreds of weapons, while rescuing survivors. It's a good concept. Five years on, there's been another zombie outbreak – blamed upon you.
You're Chuck Greene, a motocross champion forced to compete in zombie-killing contests to raise the money to buy Zombrex – a drug that prevents those who have been bitten from turning – for his young daughter. Managing to reach a safehouse, Chuck decides to venture into the huge complex to search for surviving humans, and to gather enough Zombrex to keep his daughter alive for four days.
Off with their heads
There's a core plot, and many optional sidequests that appear for a limited amount of time. And completing all of these involves running around slaughtering the undead or psychopathic humans with almost any object in the world. An axe, a bin, a beachball, a cardboard cutout of a model, a park bench, maybe a giant robot teddy.
New to the sequel is the superb ability to combine weapons. This allows for more ludicrous attacks. It's hard to express the satisfaction of taking out dozens of zombies at once with an axe taped to a sledgehammer, swung in insane circles. These gain extra Prestige Points when used on zombies, helping Chuck to level up.
And here's the issue. Until you've leveled up to get extra health, many more inventory spaces for carrying weapons and vital health-giving foodstuffs, better attacks and more weapon combos, it's a ridiculous struggle. The decision not to use checkpoints seems to be a wanton act of spite by the developers. Instead you must find a toilet – of which there are few – to save at, and can unwittingly save in an unwinnable position, too far from your next deadline. Boss fights can prove unexpected, and failure means going back to whenever you were last able to find a loo. There's no good reason for it, and it taints the whole game.
However, get through the earlier stages and the game blossoms, becoming the idiotic playground it should have been throughout. Dress Chuck up in children's pyjamas, flipflops and a football helmet, and take out a crowd with a baseball bat filled with nails.
The plot is great. Like the Romero films it's inspired by, the daft theme is used to make some smart social commentary. The multiple endings, too, genuinely reflect the choices you've made.
Much bigger than the first game, and with the daft fun of combining weapons, it unfortunately never quite shakes off a strange desperation to be frustrating. Overall, this tempers what could have been extraordinary, grotesque action. As it is, it's a mixture of immense fun and a sore throat from shouting at your monitor.