This console generation brought with it a lot of promises. Many of these promises were conceptual, or difficult to quantify, like increased connectivity with other gamers, greater gameplay variety, and more engaging narratives. Others, however, were far more concrete, like bigger game worlds, more detailed visuals, and more characters on screen at once. Capcom took that last promise to heart when they made Dead Rising, a zombie game with a staggering amount of enemies and an equally staggering amount of violence. While the core gameplay mechanics of killing zombies and saving survivors worked great, the overall structure of the game proved confusing, frustrating, and unsatisfying for many American gamers. With Dead Rising 2, Capcom is looking to craft a more action-packed experience with a more traditional save system and mission structure, while retaining all the undead ultra-violence that made free-roaming in the first game so enjoyable. To introduce the bew protagonist and the other changes that are coming to the sequel, Capcom has released a downloadable prologue, Dead Rising 2: Case Zero. Can a $5 prologue to a sequel rekindle the love for a series that, while filled with promise (and zombies), left many gamers frustrated and disappointed?
Case Zero takes place after the events of the first game, but prior to the start of the sequel. In the opening cut-scene, we are introduced to our new hero, Chuck Greene, a stunt rider and all-around bad-ass, and his daughter, Katey, who has been bitten by a zombie. Our main characters find themselves trapped in a small town called Still Creek; zombies fill the streets outside their gas station hideout, and Katey, lacking any of the life-saving medicine Zombrex, is only 12 hours away from becoming a member of the shambling undead, herself. Chuck must find more medicine, then begin rebuilding a motocross bike to get them back on the road to Las Vegas. Of course, Chuck finds several survivors along the way, and, being a bad-ass protagonist type, takes it upon himself to save them.
Controlling Chuck Greene feels pretty much identical to the original game’s hero, Frank West, except without the camera. The button layout remains identical, and Chuck’s movement speed and attacks feel pretty much the same. The main difference here, other than setting and characters, is the game’s structure. Instead of constantly receiving updates and missions from Otis (the most irritating character in gaming history), objectives pop up more naturally, with various survivors telling Chuck where to go next. There are still simultaneous missions, a somewhat punishing game clock, a difficult boss fight, and the ability to restart your game with all the experience points, money, and skills you’ve acquired, so it’s not exactly a linear path, and “trial and error” gameplay is still at the heart of the experience, but it’s a lot more focused and easily digestible, and save points are easily accessible, resulting in less frustration.
A small town with an unlimited supply of zombies is a great place to test out new forms of horrifying violence, and Chuck Greene doesn’t let this pass him by. There are plenty of traditional weapons, like 2x4s, pipe wrenches, and baseball bats, to smack around the undead, as well as goofier instruments, like newspapers, saw blades, and the iconic Servbot head. The real fun, however, comes from combining items into over-the-top super weapons. These range from simple creations, like a baseball bat with nails in it, to more complex tools like an IED made out of a propane tank, to utterly ridiculous death dealers like a bucket with three drills stuck in it or an electric rake. Not only do these custom weapons result in entertaining displays of blood and gore, they also increase the experience received from each kill, leveling your character up faster. Leveling up unlocks new abilities, additional inventory slots, and increased health, and these stats will be carried over to the main game when it comes out next month, offering players a head-start of up to five levels.
Graphically, Dead Rising 2: Case Zero isn’t much different from its predecessor, and that’s not a bad thing. Hundreds of zombies still fill the screen, and the town, though small, is detailed, distinctive, and highly explorable. Zombie variety is a bit on the slim side, and the character models don’t hold up all that well in cut-scenes, but for a downloadable title, it looks pretty damn good. The game sounds great, too, with all the creepy, quiet music, zombie moaning, and thick, wet thuds and splats of bloodshed that any good zombie experience should have.
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero does a great job of introducing the upcoming sequel without revealing any of the actual game. We get a good sense of who the protagonist is, but there’s plenty of room for further exploration of his character. Most importantly, we get to kill a whole mess of zombies in brilliantly gruesome ways, using pretty much any solid object you can find. It should provide answers about the sequel to those who with mixed feelings about the original, and provide a nice mid-meal-snack for hardcore fans that can’t wait for the full sequel. For everyone else, it’s a gory, thrilling zombie massacre that costs less than lunch at Wendy’s, and it’s well worth picking up.