Nearly two weeks ago, I previewed Dead Rising 2: Case West and ranted about how much I liked it and how it felt different for the franchise (I also went into a lot of detail, so check that if you want some nuts and bolts about this download). Now, after playing through the whole Xbox 360-exclusive title, I stand by my first look. If you feel like killing some zombies with a buddy, have at it; this is good stuff. However, if you feel like reading a bit about what you're getting into, scroll on.
If you missed Dead Rising 2 -- or my thoughts on it -- the game followed Chuck Greene as he tried to clear his name and keep his daughter alive during a zombie outbreak in Fortune City. Case West opens as another ending/epilogue to that story with Chuck still framed -- although this is a standalone download that doesn't require the Dead Rising 2 disc and doesn't interact with any Dead Rising 2 save you might have. Here, Chuck runs into Frank West, the hero of the original Dead Rising, and joins the photojournalist as he heads to a Zombrex plant to meet a source that could blow the lid off of what's really going on with all these zombie outbreaks and clear Chuck's name.
If the two heroes didn't give it away, this is a co-op adventure. Player 1 is always Chuck and Player 2 is always Frank. There's no local co-op, so you'll have to team with a friend on Xbox Live. If you're in the mood to just play by yourself, the computer will take over for Frank. I've played this game both ways, and I actually dig'em equally.
With someone, it's easy to come up with attack plans, distract larger enemies and share supplies. If one of you goes down, the other player has a set amount of time to revive the fallen friend. You have to stay in the same area -- that is, you can't go anywhere that requires a loading screen on your own -- but the spaces are quite large and give you plenty of freedom. Alone is just as much fun if not a bit easier. Frank can't die, so you don't have to worry about whatever trouble he's getting into, and he's actually helpful and active. When I was running around and trying to come up with a plan for the hulking boss at the end of the game, Frank was attacking him and keeping him busy.
Having a partner involved in the story -- unlike Dead Rising 2's unexplained Chuck clone for co-op gameplay -- is a welcome change of pace, and the banter between Chuck and Frank both in the game and in cutscenes is fun to watch and play through.
Taking down this three-case story plays out with the in-game mechanics Dead Rising fans already know. The Zombrex plant is littered with sickles, baseball bats and other items that you can pick up and use to bash in the faces of the undead. There's food to eat and heal with, concoctions to make in blenders, and even photos to take.
Just like in Dead Rising 2, you can combine certain weapons to make combos that rake in extra experience points and do a hell of a lot of damage. The classics from Dead Rising 2 such as the hand-grenade football are here and are joined by beauties such as the Lighting Gun (stun rod and a frequency gun) and the Sterilizer (chemicals and the syringe gun). Just like last time, these weapons are fun to use and it's cool to see what unlocks as you go through Chuck and Frank's character progression -- you start with at Level 40 but can earn experience points and the combo cards that come with them until Level 50.
You still save in the bathroom and deal with time-based missions, but Case West does shake things up a bit. Sure, we're in a contained place that's filled with zombies, but there are also security guards and zombie wranglers to deal with. There are survivors to save, but they don't need to be escorted back to a safe house; you just need to help them out of whatever jam they're in. All in all, this stuff is refreshing. It's what I wish Dead Rising 2 would've done rather than staying so close to the formula of the original. Case West also runs better than Dead Rising 2 and the aforementioned loads aren't bad.
The Dynamic Duo of 2010.
My major criticism for Dead Rising has to do with its pacing. The three cases here are interesting and move the story along, but there's a lot of downtime in between them. I'd complete a mission with Frank, and then we'd have to wait a few in-game hours before the next big moment. I'd roam the building, pad my kill count and look for survivors to help, but I was really just killing time. My first playthrough took about two and a half hours, but most of that time felt like it was spent waiting to tackle the story. It gives you the chance to Achievement hunt, level up and explore the compound that does have a lot of secrets (Find the Left for Dead Easter Egg!), but I could've done for more quests and content.