The Zombie Rights Campaign Blog

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero Review

Details below the cut, but a short version: from a Zombie Rights perspective, atrocious, insulting, disturbing. From a gaming perspective, limited, brief, at times frustrating, more of the same.

Even if you hate Zombies and love videogames where you kill them (for some disturbed reason) there’s no particular reason to do it in this one.

Dead Rising was a hit in no small part because it married classic American Zombie iconography, the mall under siege, the Undead invasion, the Zombie as metaphor for contemporary social woes, with an enormous dose of well-executed virtual violence. Although carrying an M rating, Dead Rising always had a smirk barely concealed behind its carnage, and had an unmistakable air of self-awareness, even smug self-satisfaction. Sure, it was another ‘Zombie game’, from Capcom no less, but you didn’t just kill Zombies here, you mutilated them in comical fashion and took ‘hilarious’ pictures of your mayhem.

So when Dead Rising 2: Case Zero tries to buy into a more dramatic, perhaps more mature sensibility, it doesn’t just fall a bit flat; it starts to dissociate altogether.

In order to get that pathos that people seem to want in their expansive, Mature-rated gaming experiences of late, Dead Rising 2 goes after the fatherhood element seen in everything from Bioshock 2 to Heavy Rain (inverted slightly in Fallout 3). As discussed by gaming-commentary gods at Penny-Arcade, these games attempt to touch a very different area of the consciousness of adult gamers, people who have grown up with games and now can use them, as art, to cope with feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, to view parenthood from a new, virtual angle, even as many of them become parents themselves.

Dead Rising 2 notices this trend, and duplicates it, crudely. Now, instead of playing snarky, danger-seeking, self-important photojournalist Frank West, your character is Chuck Green, a professional biker of some sort, motocross or something, I dunno, who has been drawn into the Zombie Apocalypse and now fights to protect his daughter from the twin scourges of a Zombie infection and a society that would purge her for being a carrier of the disease.

You know; in between cross-dressing and staging comical Zombie deaths.

Seriously, that’s how this game goes down. One minute you’re assigned a task to obtain the one drug in all the world that can save Chuck’s little girl from Zombiism, which the game portrays as a horrible fate, and the next you’re supposed to jury-rig a hilarious improvised weapon to cause hilarious deaths. You know this is what you’re supposed to do because the game explicitly tells you, with achievements, with experience points, with graphical rewards and sound effects cheering you on to further depravity and detachment.

Then your character’s watch will remind you that 12 hours is almost up (in game) and it’s time to get Katey her fix. Lather, rinse, repeat, alternating cycles of bloody drama and even bloodier comedy. A recurring theme of Dead Rising games is that many people, presented with the end of the world, break down into ‘psychopaths’, aka Bosses, that you must defeat (naturally for a lot of experience points). However, when your main character spends half his time entertaining unseen Gods who reward him for his cruelty with special powers, and half his time caring for his young daughter, the distinction between ‘sane’ and ‘psychopath’ is precarious at best.

It’s a marriage that just doesn’t work thematically. Black comedy and horror is one thing; slapstick and horror is another. But horror and goofball self-indulgence? Exactly how are you supposed to be scared when the world that’s supposed to be threatening takes numerous breaks to give you, say, the schematic to turn a bucket and a power drill into a deathtrap, or to mount two chainsaws onto a canoe paddle and wade into an ocean of blood?

This is of course a horrible game from a Zombie Rights perspective, and no doubt the full game soon to come out will be even worse. Zombies aren’t just marginalized here, they’re barely present, even as ‘monsters’. They’re more like speedbumps with teeth standing between you and your next game-delivered objective, which usually consists of leading around a 2-dimensional NPC who complains loudly about your assistance all the while. Yawn. The Zombies are barely here. They stand around, lunge at you occasionally, and degenerate into fountains of blood on demand. Lawn sprinklers have more personality and are less predictable.

I felt a lot of pity for the poor virtual Zombies, but progressively less and less outrage as I played. These aren’t just stereotypes, they’re reductions, like a sauce that you cook down all day. Are they even Zombies anymore? I wonder. In a world where we hated technology a bit more, would Dead Rising 2 be about smashing the Talking Toasters instead of the Undead?

The gameplay is so similar to Dead Rising that I sincerely hope they did this on purpose to serve as a bridge to players of the first game, and that the actual sequel will be substantially different. Otherwise, Zombie Rights Enthusiasts, I can say without hesitation that I will be very, very bored playing it. I got bored playing Dead Rising, and I was bored by the second full evening of Dead Rising 2: Case Zero. The residual boredom from the first game came back like a tide, because it’s the same thing!

I never thought I’d say this about a five dollar game, but come on! There’s just no meat here. Five bucks for perhaps five hours of semi-entertaining sandbox play? According to the in-game clock, of late I’ve logged 112 hours on Fallout 3 and I’ve barely touched the first of five expansion packs. The Game of the Year edition cost 50 bucks or so on Amazon. In terms of Zombie games, way back when I was a callow and unenlightened youth, the free demo of Resident Evil 2 that came with the Director’s Cut of Resident Evil gave far more than Case Zero does.

Of course, it wasn’t smirking at you the whole time.

In conclusion: yes, this game is a horrible insult to Zombies everywhere, as expected. It also seems to be an insult to Zombie-killing videogamers, serving up more of the same while pretending to be something it’s not simultaneously. Whether Dead Rising 2 follows in Case Zero’s footsteps remains to be seen, but so far I find myself longing for Frank West. He may have been a smart-mouthed jerk with a penchant for weird costumes, but he didn’t put on a halo while he engaged in his mayhem.

About The Author

The role of 'Administrator' will be played tonight by John Sears, currently serving as President of The Zombie Rights Campaign.


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