As the download services have matured there’s been a certain degree of blurring of the line between full retail releases and download games. While most companies have been happy to dabble around the periphery with things like Fable II’s Pub Games, or next year’s tie-in’s for Dead Space 2 and Red Faction, with Dead Rising 2: Case Zero Capcom are quite happy to smudge this metaphorical line beyond all recognition.
The game is currently something of a mixture between novelty and oddity. While it’s an XBLA title with all the usual trappings that implies (such as achievements, leaderboards and a trial version) there’s no escaping the fact that it amounts to a paid demo.
We could spent the rest of this review arguing around and around in circles about the merits (or otherwise) of this approach, but the fact remains that until Dead Rising 2 gets an actual demo, then it’s hard to justify Case Zero’s existence as anything more. Thankfully Capcom have been pretty shrewd in its pricing, and at 400 Points the game is cheap enough, and weighty in its content, so that it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re being ripped off.
For those unfamiliar with Dead Rising, it’s best summarised as being as close to a zombie sandbox title as you’re likely to get. The original was something of a love it or hate it game that was very particular about how it wanted to be played. Now that Blue Castle Games have taken over development duties they haven’t changed the formula much – the only slim concessions seem to be some adjustments to the shooting mechanics and multiple save slots. Not that these additional saves actually make much difference due to the structure of the game; the levelling system and tight time limits make this a game that’s impossible to complete in one sitting without the use of a guide. And where’s the fun in that?
Set three years after the original title, Case Zero introduces the new protagonist, Chuck Green. Fleeing from Las Vegas with his daughter when a zombie outbreak strikes, Chuck finds himself trapped in the small roadside town of Still Creek. Chuck’s daughter’s been bitten and if she isn’t provided with an injection of Zombrex to inhibit the transformation, then she’ll be joining the ranks of the undead within the next 12 hours. This means the game is played against the clock with Chuck not only having to find the drug and make sure he administers it at the right time, but also finding a way to escape. Oh, and the military are turning up at nightfall to quarantine the whole town, so no pressure…
In fact the whole backbone of Dead Rising’s gameplay is about that element of pressure. Those who felt confined by the original’s mechanic of requiring you to be in certain places at certain times in order for events to play out, will find this is no different. Certain people, tasks and places can only be accessed during certain hours or conditions, and it’s this which stops the game from feeling like a total sandbox outing. This pressure is actually an essential ingredient because it means you can’t just stroll around without consequence. But the sense of urgency won’t be to everyone’s linking and if you aren’t the sort of player who doesn’t like working to the games schedule, then it’ll drive you to switch off and never come back.
Where Case Zero works well is in continuing the zombie slaying fun which made the original so memorable. Blue Castle has certainly done their homework and running around Still Creek through hoards of zombies is a blood soaked joy for anyone who’s ever wanted to get `hands on` during a zombie apocalypse. This is in no small part because of the range of weapons at your disposal – there’s nothing quite like jamming a scissors or showerhead through a zombie’s skull, or ramming a Hobby Horse through its chest. Dismemberment and gore is still as big a part of the title as it ever was, and now Chuck can use workbenches to cobble together new weapons from various items scattered around the environment.
A rowing boat paddle with chainsaws on either end, buckets with hand drills through them to decapitate zombies, and IED’s made of gas cylinders and nails are just some of the things on offer. This element of morbid invention adds that extra essential element to the exploration and also serve an additional purpose; they give the player additional Prestige Points, the element which allows them to level up and unlock new abilities. This is certainly worth doing for those who intended to purchase the full release of Dead Rising, since this level and skills can be carried over.
While Blue Castle have done enough to the game to stop it feeling dated, there are some bits which were desperately in need of attention and have been overlooked to the detriment of the finished title. During our multiple playthroughs there were several times when the game did not trigger certain events when they should have. For example, survivors did not show up in the environment and this meant key parts of the game could not be completed before the Army rolled into town.
The game also suffers from a disruptive amount of loading at times. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it requires you to constantly trek back and forth to one area in particular which results in a lot of time sat looking at boring loading screens. Seeing as Case Zero wants you to play through it multiple times it also delights in throwing the same prompts and tutorials at you, which get in the way and become tedious.
Dare we say it, but the release could have done with a bit more thought and time to be polished off in this respect and it’s pretty much a given that the same frustrations will carry over to the full release of Dead Rising 2.
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero is enjoyable and Dead Rising fans will lap it up as the appetiser Capcom clearly intended it to be for the full game. However their attempt to market this as bridging the gap between the first and second retail titles is pretty wafer thing, since there’s little in the way of plot and exposition. That certainly doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of things to see and do for the asking price, coupled with a large element of replayability. But there’s absolutely no way this will persuade anyone who didn’t get on with the first to part with the cash.
Ultimately only time will tell if Capcom’s zombie oddity actually provides a successful benchmark for other studios, bridging the gap between full retail and download title. Whether this proves to be a positive or negative thing for gamers, where paying for glorified demo’s becomes standard practice, is another matter entirely.