For Chuck Greene, it's going to be a rough 3 days. In an America still reeling from the zombie apocalypse detailed in the first Dead Rising, this one-time motorcross champ has come with his young daughter, Katie, to the casino resort of Fortune City, to take part in a grisly reality game show for cash. It's bad enough that zombies over-run the show and, shortly the city, but it's not long before Chuck has other things on his mind.
For one thing, he's framed for the outbreak, giving him 72 hours to clear his name before the army arrives and he loses his chance. For another, Katie has been bitten and infected, and if she doesn't get a drug called Zombrex every 24 hours, then Chuck's going to be faced with a zombie daughter. Sadly, Zombrex is in short supply, so if Chuck wants to save his daughter and prove he's not the man to blame, then there's only one solution: to go out into the zombie-packed chaos of Fortune City, find the necessary drugs and follow the trail that will lead him to the truth.
And that means killing an awful lot of zombies. As in the first Dead Rising, they're a slow moving, comically inept bunch of brain-munchers, but they're out in huge numbers and just about everywhere. You might find the odd handgun, shotgun or assault rifle, but with tiny quantities of ammo you're better off relying on melee weapons and - as also in the first Dead Rising - that means getting creative. Just about anything and everything you can find in the casinos, bars, restaurants, parks and shopping malls of Fortune City can be picked up and smacked repeatedly into zombie heads.
Frankly, it's all a bit sick and juvenile, and the chief pleasure of the game, like it or not, is trying out different items to see what kind of damage they do. With a sledgehammer, a fire axe or a golf club it's all a bit obvious, but what happens when the rotor blades of a toy helicopter meet zombie flesh, or you push a lawnmower through the shuffling hordes? How about the ornamental spear? The handbag? The gumball machine? The enormous stuffed rabbit? And that's before we get to the sequel's major new idea - combo weapons. Take a drill and a bucket to your maintenance room, and it's not long before you've concocted a new, lethal form of zombie headgear. And that's before you start mixing nails, chainsaws, propane tanks, oars, baseball bats, boxing gloves and numerous sharp or heavy implements together. Yep, killing zombies is a grisly business. It's also a whole lot of fun.
Yet Dead Rising 2 is also a game with hidden depths. Not only has Chuck got Zombrex to acquire and a mystery to solve, he's also got people to rescue. Find uninfected types and talk to them, and you can persuade them to follow you back to the safe house. Some need shepherding or even carrying, but some are pretty handy with a sledgehammer or gun, and there are even advantages to getting a posse together and taking them with you on a mission. Throughout each day an ally in the safe house will keep you informed of events, potential rescuees and looters who you might want to take out and completing these missions, like successful rescues and killing zombies in inventive ways, earns you points. Points make you level up, and levelling up earns you extra helps, bonus abilities and new combo cards, which can then be used to construct new combo weapons.
All this works together to make what appears to be a pretty superficial - even monotonous journey - into gore and ultra-violence into a surprisingly compelling experience. Blame the tension caused by the constant, almost overwhelming zombie threat, the steady stream of tasks and rescues or the childish joy of finding new ways of turning the walking dead into the limbless/headless/splattered dead, but Dead Rising 2 is a hard game to turn off.
Unfortunately, there are times when frustration and fury will make you want to do just that - though probably after you've thrown your controller across the room and sworn repeatedly at the screen through gritted teeth. Dead Rising 2 improves on the first game by (a) having more than one save slot and (b) not imposing such draconian time restrictions that, halfway through your game, you'll realise that you can't actually complete the next section in time and you'll have to go back and start the whole damn shebang from square bloody one.
However, there's still no automatic checkpointing, save points (in the form of restrooms) are still too few, too spread out and too poorly signposted, and it's still all too possible to accidentally walk into a boss battle with minimal health and weapons, get killed instantly and have to retrace the last 15 minutes of play. In fact, the boss battles are a real bugbear all around. Most featuring psychotic human beings, they add horrible difficulty spikes for the game, and woe betide you if there isn't a restroom in the immediate vicinity (or if you're unable to find it).
There are ways past this. For one thing, you can abandon a game and start afresh with your previously earned levels, abilities and combi weapons intact, giving you a better chance if you're prepared to do a little work. For another, you can use the game's excellent drop-in co-op facilities and hope a friend or stranger will lend you a hand. However, there's no question that Dead Rising 2 is still a bit of a hardcore gamer's game. If you like a smooth ride through a game, enjoying the story and playing around in the world, then Dead Rising 2 might not be for you. In fact, you might hate it. If, however, you're the sort of gamer who's prepared to work a bit, experiment and analyse what just went wrong, then you'll love it, and keep coming back for more. After all, in a game with so much to do and so little time, there's no shortage of replay value to be had.
Dead Rising 2 is a fine sequel, supercharging the absurd, experimental zombie-slaying that made the original so much fun, and doing something about the issues that made Dead Rising so spectacularly frustrating. That said, it's still not a game for casual gamers or those who hate grinding, back-tracking or having to replay sections over and over again until they get things right. To the more obsessive-compulsive type of gamer, it's a potential game of the year. The rest of us? Maybe not.