Sunday 21 August 2011

Dead Rising 2: Case 0

Time for something new(er). Dead Rising 2: Case 0, a downloadable prequel to Dead Rising 2. Join Chuck Greene on his merry adventures through the land of murky reds and loading screens.

My stalkers will know that my experience with Xbox 360 "must haves" hasn't really been that pleasant thus far. BioShock I've mentioned before, and the original Mass Effect I tried to write up in great detail but doing so may have caused me physical harm. There are sadly quite a few overrated games for the Xbox 360, especially those from the early years.

So with Dead Rising, another supposed classic, I felt it would be better to jump straight in to the sequel, or at least the cost reduced prequel to the sequel. There's a four year gap between the release dates of Dead Rising 1 and 2, so logically you would expect four years of improvements, thus surely breaking the chain of mediocrity and making me happy. You would expect the games of today should be better in every conceivable way - regression makes no sense.

But regression is also what Capcom do best it seems. Dead Rising 2: Case 0 qualifies under the title of "video game" in the sense that it's playable, it's reasonably well made, and some effort was put in to try and make it unique... but it's not great. Some could even say it was terrible, though with a 79 score on Metacritic, many seem to believe it's fantastic.

This is not a review of Dead Rising 2 - this is a review of Dead Rising 2: Case 0, a different, smaller beast with problems of its own. And the reason this distinction must be stressed is simple - Case 0 offers a new set of missions in a alternative environment on a smaller budget. If they're cutting corners here (which they are), they may not necessarily be cutting corners in Dead Rising 2 full. They're not the same game.

Unlike Mass Effect whose RPG nature rung alarm bells from the beginning, I had always expected Dead Rising 2: Case 0 to be excellent. But regardless of what your opinions on video games may be, chances are you'll find at least one gaping flaw with this release. Remember, some gaping flaws don't manifest themselves until an hour or so into gameplay, so if this is your idea of perfection, you have extremely low standards, or, more likely, you've jumped on a bandwagon before finishing the game.

Dead Rising 2 unique selling point is its decision to house up to hundreds, possibly thousands of zombies on-screen at once. From a technical standpoint, it's probably quite impressive, even if I don't quite believe the figures (they say the original game could only cope with 800 zombies, while this one can do 7000). The problem is, zombies are the only well-executed feature Dead Rising 2: Case 0 brings to the table. Almost everything else is lacking in some way.

At its heart, this Dead Rising 2: Case 0 a generic hack and slash game. The remnants of the beat-'em-up genre which we tossed aside long ago, except without taking note of the features which made the beat-'em-up genre great - the music of Streets of Rage, the colourful graphics of Konami's arcade attempts and perhaps most importantly, the multiplayer aspects. Here you pick up weapons and attack with X. If you hold X, sometimes you'll attack in a different way, so yes, even though it's published by the creators of Final Fight and Street Fighter II, gameplay is incredibly simplistic.

Dead Rising 2: Case 0 follows the pointless quests of Chuck Greene, trying to escape the fictional Still Creek within a set time limit. We don't know why Chuck Greene is on the run, nor do we know why the world is littered with zombies - these are questions due to be answered in the full release. In many ways, there's not much point in Case 0 at all - you're not missing out on anything important by skipping this game, only the origins of Chuck's stupid bike.

Zombies roam the streets, but dealing with them is the living dead equivalent of doing errands in strong winds - you're not there to stop the weather, you've just got to make sure you don't get blown into incoming traffic. Chuck collects things and escorts people to a safe house, all the time fighting off the zombie hoard to stay alive.

Dead Rising 2 features spelling mistakes, such as your daughter "Katey" (Greene) who you have to medicate with "zombrex" in order to stop the zombie virus from spreading. The story strikes me as unneeded noise, and it's another one of those "who is the game aimed at" moments, where it's difficult to feel sympathetic to a pile of polygons when your secondary task in life is to kill people. I don't understand why it opts for serious tone - it's far from being a serious game, and as the plot seems riddled with holes, certainly no movie critic is going to take it seriously.

Case 0 is set on Mars, as everything has been given a red or orange tint and the sun sets at about nine o'clock in the morning. Looking out this window on this pleasant August afternoon I can see blue skies, green grass and sunlight shining on my lovely light blue car, but Dead Rising 2: Case 0 reminds us that everything in life is dusty, dank and dull. The North East of England is the exception to this rule. Oh and of course, nobody is ever happy in this game, but that goes without saying.

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero could redeem itself at this point by throwing high intense combat into the mix, but that's not quite what happens here. In Case Zero, all the enemies move slowly, and they moan, and coupled with the dull lighting means it's tiring for the wrong reasons. It's one of the most uneventful zombie situations you'll ever experience, so Dead Rising 2: Case 0 has really out-done itself in that regard.

On top of this already messy collection of features, the game breaks a rule of Squirrel by not supplying us with audio. Silent title screens and menus coupled with very little coming out of the speakers during play - not even "ambiance" this time! The bosses have music, as does the credits sequence, but you'll be hard pressed to find any more. Again more evidence that it's struggling to decide if "realism" is the best way forward - yes the real world lacks a soundtrack, but it also lacks zombies.

It's not fair to single out Dead Rising 2: Case 0 for being confused - it's a nasty trend that's been going on for the last decade. But by 2010, bland gaming experiences should have been a thing of the past and shouldn't be accepted in the modern age. The Commodore Amiga must be spinning in its grave.

Did I mention the loading times yet? Because Dead Rising 2: Case 0 has a lot of those! They're the fun sort - those which are completely disinteresting, and spring up at every available opportunity to ruin your day. We're dealing with a small world with no music, low resolution textures and a hard drive installation. I'm no expert but something seems amiss here.

Loading times become more of a concern as the game progresses. The boss fight is perhaps the worst example - I counted at least five loading screens between entering the safe house where the boss would be activated and beating him. This is because cutscenes require loading times, and even though we appear to be sharing the same textures and models, the game still needs to make interruptions. And while we're here, because we're not actually loading better assets, the cutscenes look pretty awful. So much for a worthwhile wait.

One slightly better aspect of Dead Rising 2 is the ability to manufacture weapons. Capcom for example, like to stick two chainsaws on the ends of a canoe paddle, and there's plenty of other combinations. I can't really fault the concept (even if it's a bit picky about some what can be stuck together).

But sadly, Case 0 is the watered down variant of Dead Rising 2, so many of the options aren't there. No moose heads, for example. The other issue is that every weapon, whether you built it or not, will degrade after a few dozen hits, rendering it unusable, so the entertainment is short lived. You need to be a specific location in order to build these contraptions, so once your fancy weaponry runs out of juice (which it will) you'll be back to attacking with poles and boxes.

I'd vouch more damage in this game is done with chunks of wood than any of the combo weapons the game boasts about (or at least in Case 0 - I'm guessing the full game is much better in this regard). If you're looking to get a kick out of death, there's not actually all that much to see here - the likes of Grand Theft Auto seem to do better and it's not even a priority there.

We're not done yet! The game is also extremely short. There are effectively two missions and a boss (plus a couple of side quests), leading to a total playtime of about an hour or two. And don't forget, the game is timed - you can't go out of your way to extend the experience by much. As I got about ten of the twelve achievements on my first playthrough, there's not much replay value here either. We're really doing well here aren't we?

From what I gather there's over ten times the amount of missions in Dead Rising 2 full then there in Case 0. Fair enough, but also interesting is that Dead Rising 2 isn't ten times the price. Even with a price cut Case 0 fails to be good value for money.

As you can see, the game seems to be doing everything wrong, but I suspect it all really bottles down to one big issue - age. Perhaps the workstations at Blue Castle Games are a generation behind the rest of the pack, or maybe the development cycle wasn't so clear cut, but Dead Rising 2: Case 0 feels old. Like an early Xbox 360 game, or perhaps a middle-of-the-road Xbox one. This game is not fit for the modern age, so don't treat it as if it is.

Again, it's not a terrible experience and if the original Dead Rising was up your street, Dead Rising 2: Case 0 could be in the same neighbourhood. But it's difficult for me to recommend - the full version of Dead Rising 2 strikes me as a much better deal and Case 0 offers a player nothing of value that he or she couldn't see on the disc release. 200 Microsoft points max is what I'd say, and yes, that does mean I think your money is better off in the hands of some Pinball FX 2 tables

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