The original Dead Rising brought a premise everyone has wondered about in the past, and brought it into fruition: thousands of zombies, a shopping mall full of things to kill them with, three days to do it in. It was good fun, allowing your creativity to reign, and though it had its own little issues, it was popular enought to warrant a sequel.
Dead Rising 2 takes place a while after the first, after the outbreak of Willamette as well as one in Las Vegas. As Chuck Greene, ex-BMX racer, professional zombie killer, and father of a young girl, you're stuck in the middle of Fortune City when a zombie outbreak begins, killing thousands and stranding him and some others in the mall's safe room. Then, framed as the perpetrator of the outbreak, it's up to him to find out who caused it and why.
Like the first game, Dead Rising 2 takes place over about three days. Time proceeds whether you do anything or not, events appear and disappear whether you're there to see them, and that includes story events too. So if you're not at the right place at the right time, the plot will be lost. In addition to following the plot, you must also tend your daughter Katie. A while ago, she was bitten by a zombie and now must be given a daily dose of Zombrex, lest she turn. Of course, this means you must find the life-saving drug somewhere in Fortune City as you play, adding another objective to the game.
Of course, the story is just a small, small part of the game. As you run around spacious Fortune City, you'll find other people that want to be rescued, and it's your job to do so (sometimes requiring you to fulfill tasks for them first) and bring them back to the safehouse. Of course, there are also those that have gone just a little crazy from recent events, and would like nothing more than to kill you or others. Them, you need to kill. Your rewards can range from finding another survivor, to getting access to some new things and areas, or new combo cards.
Like Dead Rising 1, items are plentiful for you to pick up and beat zombies to death...uh, again, with. Baseball bats, lamps, boxing gloves, novelty hats, and more are all available. However, unlike the first title, DR2 also brings in the concept of combo weapons. Find two items that go well together, as well as a workbench, and with the judicious application of some duct tape, you can pull something out that will wreck the undead around you. These range from the simple such as nails and a baseball bat creating a nail bat to the slightly complex like a leaf blower and gems creating a gem-blowing shotgun...thing to the somewhat insane the electric-chair-machine-gun combination, a rolling blitzkrieg of death, comes to mind.
Though all the inventions are available to create whenever you want, using 'combo cards', things earned from either levelling up or gaining them from events around the game, not only gives you the recipe but gets you double the 'prestige points', or PP, when the weapon is used. So there's definitely an incentive to use them as you play the game, and not just because some of them are ridiculously useful. They are pretty unbalanced though, as you'll quickly find that some weapons will be your mainstay, like the useful knife gloves (two guesses as to what the ingredients for that weapon are), whereas others are neat for a couple zombie kills or so, but are too slow or unweildly to be of any real use beyond the novelty factor.
PP is what allows Chuck to level up as you play the game, giving you bonuses in health, attack power, speed, inventory space, or combo cards. The camera that was the mainstay of Frank West's equipment is gone this time around, instead rewarding you for defeating zombies with the combo weapons that you can create. There's a maximum level of 50, but even if you manage to save everyone and kill all the psychopaths scattered around the mall, it's unlikely you'll be reaching that point in a single playthrough. With that said, the game does encourage replayability.
At any time (or if you perish), you can restart the game with all the experience and combo cards you already have, though at a loss of all your items, story progression, survivors rescued, and all that. This is good because the game start out pretty darn hard to begin with. Psychopaths, especially the first ones you meet, are unnaturally hard and will kick your face in if you're not very careful, but being able to restart the game means you can come back, weapons at the ready, and defeat them with style.
There's also the inclusion of money this time around. Money during a zombie apocalypse might seem strange, but there are actually a variety of things to spend it on. Firstly, looters have set up pawn shops scattered around the mall, allowing you to purchase weapons, Zombrex, even keys to various vehicles to allow you to get your road rage fix. You play various gambling games, rescue survivors, even play some poker to earn the cash for anything you need. It's not a huge addition to the game, but adds in something new for you to aim for, and makes sense in a place built around the almighty dollar.
Dead Rising 2 also supports 2-player co-op gameplay, though it feels a little clunky at times. You can't choose what game you want to join, so you're simply stuck looking at a 'looking for game' screen until something happens. In addition, you're required to stay in the same area as each other, which can make running around the mall a real hassle as you struggle to keep up with each other. If you're with a friend, it can be a lot of fun, but playing with strangers just didn't feel very enjoyable, as it was always a question of what one person wanted to do versus the other.
If co-op isn't your thing, there's also the inclusion of an online competitive game mode called Terror is Reality, the television show within the game's world. This is a series of games that pits you versus three other people online, trying to win various games that all involve killing zombies one way or another. It's a decent distraction, though not for too long. Still, whether you win or lose, you get cash that can be used in any save file you decide to deposit it in to.
In almost every way, Dead Rising 2 is a large improvement over the first. There isn't anything groundbreakingly new, but new game elements such as money, combo weapons, Zombrex-hunting, and a 'surprise' later in the game does show you that this is a different title. The engine has also been improved, allowing a larger number of zombies at any given time, and it really does show in the late game as your pushing through massive crowds of the undead.
Still, that also means that any problems with the first game are also present here. Controls are awkward and animation feels stilted. The time limit can feel a little constricting (though it is much less so in this game). Probably one of the biggest issues I have with it, personally, is the complete lack of statistic tracking, which would be perfect for a game like this. There are fewer problems here, but things really come down to if you like the first game or not. If you do enjoy the first, there's a really good chance that you're going to enjoy this one. That said, this game isn't going to change your mind about the series.
The thing about the Dead Rising series is that it's pretty unique. Killing hordes of zombies with a huge variety of improvised weaponry isn't a genre present anywhere else. It's a great game to just mess around in, picking up random clothing, smashing zombie heads in and fighting away psychopaths. It's really got its flaws, but looking beyond those shows a really fun sandbox title to play in.