All those years I hoped and begged for a Dead Rising sequel. I knew the first game
had some mechanical problems and the story was iffy at best, but I liked what it was trying to do and wanted more of it. Little did I know that Capcom was going to deliver not one, not two, but THREE brand new Dead Rising games in one year. I should be overwhelmed with excitement, however I'm starting to question the direction Capcom is taking this franchise.
This is Dead Rising 2: Case West, the expansion pack of sorts to the moderately successful action game
from a couple months ago. As the clumsy title suggests, this is the episode where Chuck Greene meets the star of the first Dead Rising, Frank West. It's the pairing everybody has been dreaming of, with results that left me feeling a little cold.
The story picks up mere moments after the events of Dead Rising 2. After killing an evil game show host and saving his daughter (and a whole bunch of other people), Chuck Greene is still searching for evidence that will help clear his name. Unfortunately, all of his leads have come up dry and he's surrounded by nasty, smelly zombies. Things do not look good for our hero. But just at the last second, a familiar face shows up to lend some support. Frank West definitely knows how to make an entrance.
The good news is Frank has a plan. He may not trust Chuck, but he's willing to let the former motocross champ tag along. His plan is to infiltrate the Phenotrans facilities (the makers of Zombrex) and rendezvous with his inside source. Needless to say, things go wrong and the two are forced to battle deadly zombies, company soldiers and other baddies as they save innocent survivors. In other words, it's a typical Dead Rising game.
But not so fast. Case West is different in one very important respect - the location. Since all of this Xbox Live Arcade game takes place in the Phenotrans facilities, Frank and Chuck will have nowhere to shop. As corny as it sounds, the one thing that always linked the Dead Rising games together (besides the gameplay, weird leveling system and zombies) is the protagonist's ability to shop. Between the shopping center in Willamette and the casinos in Fortune City, Dead Rising has always been about fighting zombies to elevator muzak. That's definitely not the case in this brand new expansion.
The Phenotrans facilities are nothing like your everyday world, unless you hang out in high tech laboratories that resemble a horrifying cross between a prison and an army base. You will not find a grocery store or a movie theater. There is no item shop to buy Zombrex. At no point will you throw a cash register or buy a hotdog. The Willamette Mall was warm and inviting, while this feels like it's constantly trying to push you away.It's not that you can't find items to you. There are items and weapons all over the place, so you'll likely find comfort in some of the structural similarities of Case West. Before long you'll start learning where everything is, including knowing where the best weapons spawn and the quickest way between areas. The facilities is broken out into a number of interesting areas, such as the research area, housing quarters, security strongholds and more. Plus, the maintenance rooms are still open, so Chuck can duct tape together all kinds of crazy concoctions. This may not look like the normal American locations we're used to, but you'll still find a lot of the Dead Rising trappings.
For the most part Chuck and Frank are doing the exact same thing they did in their two respective games. There are three cases to crack, each requiring our heroes to be at certain locations on time. They can fight as many zombies and save as many innocent survivors as they want, just as long as they're back to the computer at a number of set times. Anybody that has played even a few minutes of a Dead Rising game will immediately recognize this structure and feel at home.
Going in I worried that Frank West would be more of a liability than an asset. Given the way the Dead Rising franchise has handled computer-controlled characters; it's only natural to be concerned that Frank will get in the way. Thankfully that's not the case. Unlike escort missions of the past, Frank doesn't have a life bar and doesn't require any attention. What's more, you can run through doors and not worry if he's close enough, one of the many, MANY annoying things about Dead Rising 2. Frank is just there lending support, smacking people when you're down with his unbreakable baseball bat.
Of course, you don't have to play the game with a computer-controlled Frank. Instead you can hop online and play through the game with a real person. This is not the first Dead Rising game to give us two-player cooperative support, though it is the first to make the players two different characters. Whether you play solo or with a friend, the end result will be the same.
As much as I love Frank West, his appearance doesn't feel very natural. He's introduced out of the blue, with very little backstory to explain his motivation. And just as things are getting started, the game ends abruptly. I was a little surprised when I saw the credits roll, it didn't feel like I got a complete story out of these two characters. That's not to say I didn't have fun, but this felt like a tacked-on expansion pack, not a brand new Xbox Live Arcade game.
I also found that the game was significantly easier than previous installments, though that may have more to do with the fact that I start at level 40. Instead of importing the player's Dead Rising 2 data, Chuck starts at level 40. But it's not the level 40 you might remember, because we're back down to only having a small amount of health and inventory slots. Thankfully he remembers most of his special moves and weapon combinations. As it turns out, I could have easily beaten the game without restarting (a staple of the franchise). I'm not sure how I feel about that.
On the other hand, there are a lot of things I like about this release. I'm a big fan of the way survivors are handled. Just as long as you give them what they want (weapons, food, a human liver, etc.) they'll run away to safety. You never have to escort them to a safe house, all that is done automatically. I also like the final boss battle, which was a lot more fun than your standard Dead Rising boss fight.
I still had a lot of fun playing through this third and final Dead Rising game of 2010. I'm excited at the prospect of episodic installments, but worry that Capcom will stray too far from what makes the Dead Rising series good in the first place. This setting feels more appropriate for a Resident Evil game, which may be why I'm so cold on Case West. Fans of the series will have a lot of fun; just don't expect the same highs of Case Zero.