Review: Dead Rising 2: Case Zero (XBLA)

Developers have come a long way since the abysmal, early dark ages of downloadable content. What started with overpriced horse armor has evolved into a product that can defy typical classification.

Is Case Zero a demo for Dead Rising 2? Yes. Is it a prelude DLC package that adds to the full game with character development and carry-over bonuses for the final retail product? Certainly. To the great chagrin of forum-goers and blog posters, Dead Rising 2: Case Zero is but the tip of the iceberg for the industry, and I couldn't be more pleased with the idea.

Welcome to the future of videogame demos. I hope the critics have developed adequate coping mechanisms.

Let me slow the hype train down a little bit now that you're paying attention. Case Zero was a significant risk for Capcom and Blue Castle Games, the developer of Dead Rising 2. Gamers can act like an entitled bunch, and time after time the community's bratty attitude coalesces when companies test the waters for the sake of higher profits. Even I was skeptical after the news broke that Dead Rising 2 wasn't receiving a traditional demo; instead, the Xbox Live marketplace was going to play host to an exclusive campaign prior to the events of Dead Rising 2, and it would cost 400 Microsoft Points ($5).

It had finally happened: Some suit in a boardroom mustered the gall to charge console owners for a demo of an unproven product. I sympathized with the initial disdain, and it wouldn't be until I played the trial of a so-called demo that my mind was changed.

Case Zero manages to succeed under an enormous amount of scrutiny. Every second the game is working to prove Capcom's experiment on several levels: it persuades gamers to buy Dead Rising 2; it demonstrates that $5 is a legitimate price for downloadable content that many will consider superfluous; and it serves as a well-funded study that developers can analyze to decide if paid demos might become a viable business strategy. Despite its limited scope, Case Zero does an admirable job of converting skepticism into belief.

The three-hour plot is extremely basic. A stripped-down small town on the outskirts of Las Vegas serves as the focal point for players' introduction to Chuck Greene, a badass motocross racer with an infected daughter and little patience for the undead. The game is still Dead Rising, but it plays better than before. Melee hits connect the way you expect them to, and firing guns isn't something to avoid in the sequel — it's actually fun.

I was surprised to find that I don't miss the original game's photography element. Frank West, as fantastic as he was, won't be missed (although he has covered wars [y'know]). Combining weapons in ways that would make Tim "The Tool-Man" Taylor blush is a better gimmick for the series than picture-taking. A handful of combo cards — playing card parodies that show which items are required to make a weapon — are available to collect, and the amount of demented weaponry in Case Zero alone makes me eager to see the full game's arsenal.

However, there are still survivors to rescue and countdown timers to obsess over. I hoped the developers would alter or remove these aspects from the sequel, but it doesn't appear that way. At least the survivors display a modicum of intelligence this time: during three playthroughs of the game, I rarely had a survivor get stopped and chewed on by a zombie — they will actually weave in-and-out of crowds and kill with their weapons.

Everything people love or hate about the Dead Rising series is present in Case Zero; the zombie bees, the bowling ball kills, the day-to-day survival, the painful dialogue, the leveling system and the lack of a run button. Once again this is a game that will be as fun as people make it, an interesting concept that encourages players to craft a unique experience from numerous separate ingredients. I won't say that Case Zero signifies a drastic change to the series that some will have wanted, but for me it proves Blue Castle Games has done an acceptable job of maintaining the spirit of Dead Rising while gussying up a few of its most glaring blemishes.

But I'm not really reviewing the game, am I? I'm reviewing the concept Case Zero is trailblazing.

So, this is my case for Dead Rising 2: Case Zero. Buy it. We gamers should encourage these types of projects, even if we have to pay for them. Where's the harm in funding the development community to craft worthwhile demonstrations of upcoming games? I'd rather fork over $5 than waste $60.

Recommended for:

  • Hesitant gamers not sure what to make of Dead Rising 2
  • Series fans salivating for more wacky zombie mayhem
  • Anyone with 400 Microsoft Points stagnating in their account: Even if you don't want to get Dead Rising 2, Case Zero will provide hours of cheap entertainment

Not Recommended for:

  • Dead Rising nay-sayers
  • Those who prefer their action titles to have fluid controls -- Case Zero is reminiscent of early Resident Evil titles' blocky movements
  • If micromanaging survivors, medicine for your daughter, weapon crafting, door-unlocking and item hunting in a limited time frame makes you anxious

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero is available for a suggested retail price of 400  ($5) exclusively in the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace. The reviewer purchased the game himself and beat its story mode thrice before writing this review. He never put Chuck in a dress, if it matters.

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