Dead Rising 2 Review (Xbox360)

I guess it's safe to assume that if a terrible virus did spread throughout the real world, infecting people and turning them into zombies, we'd have a fairly good idea of how to deal with them by now, thanks to the plethora of movies and games that teach us various ways to dispatch the shamblers. As if Dead Rising hadn't taught us well enough the first time around, the mall action is back for a second round in Dead Rising 2, and it's all looking mighty familiar.

If you loved the first game, you'll most likely get a kick out of number two. Not a lot has changed in terms of gameplay and concept, although the controls feel much smoother this time around, and the added co-op mode is plenty of fun. There are some horrible difficulty spikes involved, and you'll need to spend a ridiculous amount of time with the game to see results, but otherwise this is the successor that Dead Rising fans have been longing for.

The available costumes to change into are even more hilarious this time around

New guy Chuck replaces Frank West as we witness one of the most awesome openings to a game in a good while - a motorbike with chainsaws attached to it, and an arena full of zombies. For the get-go, it's obvious that you're going to be killing a hell of a lot of zombies, and in lots of lovely, utterly mental ways. Very soon the setting becomes rather familiar, as you discover the arena is part of a huge shopping mall.

Initially, I found Chuck to be a difficult character to care about. He's rather lifeless, and as he escorts his daughter Katey to safety, you don't exactly get the feeling that he cares all that much for her, thanks to his forced dialogue and blank expression.

However, as the story progressed I began to feel for the guy, and the writing became a little more solid. Katey was bitten by a zombie when she was very little, and now needs to take a drug called Zombrex every 24 hours so that she doesn't 'turn'. Now trapped in this mall, Chuck must go out and find the drug so that his daughter will remain safe, while also attempting to clear his name and prove that he had nothing to do with this particular zombie outbreak.

Since you're killing for a child's life this time around, there is a lot more feeling to it. You really do find yourself caring for the child and wanting her to be OK, and whenever it is time to administer the drug, without a doubt you'll be there ready.

With formalities out of the way, let's get down to the slaughtering. Throughout the huge mall, there are tens of thousands of zombies all ready to taste the backend of whatever weapon you decide to sling their way. Nothing has changed much since the first game - you can pretty much pick up anything in the shopping centre, from plant pots to billboards to cash registers, and swing for a zombie's brain.

In fact, quite possibly too much of Dead Rising 2 is plucked straight from the original. Health is represented by squares, with PP collected by killing zombies and escorting survivors to the safe point, allowing you to level up and take on more zombies at a time. Although there is once again a time limit, the action doesn't feel as urgent this time around, and you'll find it's roughly around twice as long as its predecessor.

Punching zombies in the face? That's not very inventive, Chuck

As with the original, the game doesn't appear to expect that you'll complete all the missions in one playthrough. When you die, you're given the option of restarting the entire game but keeping all your stats. You'll find later on that this is pretty much obligatory, as side quests and boss battles are ridiculously hard unless you've leveled up quite far.

Even so, the difficulty spikes are really quite absurd. One minute you'll be cutting down hordes of zombies and barely losing any health, and the next you'll be fighting a boss battle and getting your ass handed to you. Eventually I got sick of even attempting side missions, and found they were far more trouble than they were worth. If you're looking for a long haul experience in which you restart the game multiple times over, Dead Rising 2 will be your thing. If, however, you're looking for a more simple 'once through and you're done', the action provided here will not bode well with you.

It doesn't help that, once again, saving the game can be a total nightmare. You need to hunt down the toilets again, but there are barely any around, and I found myself longing for a simple 'save wherever you want' method. Why this idiotic system is still being used, I really have no idea.

The main pull of the original game was the unique and sometimes hilarious methods for killing zombies, and Dead Rising 2 does not disappoint in this particular field. There are even more fantastic ways for knocking them down this time around, thanks to a new combo weapons feature. Collect combo cards, and you'll be able to strap certain weapons to others and create ultimate killing machines. My favourite so far is the Drill Bucket, which you place on a zombie's head, and then the drills inside tear out their brains. There are so many different combinations, and you'll spend hours simply checking them all out.

So what else is different in this second outing? The NPC characters are slightly smarter, and will actually follow you rather than standing around and getting eaten all the time. It can still be a nuisance to get them to follow you through doors and into other areas, and I found that sometimes I had to keep jumping between areas until they eventually came with me.

The controls are far better too. Aiming and shooting with firearms in the original game was horribly tedious, but it's much easier in Chuck's world. In fact, killing zombies in general feels a lot smoother in this instalment, and hence a lot more fun too.

Ah yes, that's more like it - the old paddle/chainsaw combo

By far, however, the greatest addition to the formula is the co-op multiplayer. Grab a friend online, and the two of you can slice, chop and smash your way through the hordes together, with plenty of missions to complete. The action is very entertaining with a second person keeping you company and you'll spend hours simply exploring and clearing out entire areas of zombies together.

Dead Rising 2 doesn't exactly build that much on the original game, but then again many would argue that it didn't really need to. If you were a big fan of Frank and his zombie-smashing ways, prepare to make good friends with Chuck and his very familiar journey. If, however, you didn't enjoy the previous action all that much, you're not going to have a ball here either.

Top Game Moment: Driving a car straight through the mall and mowing down hundreds of zombies in one go.