A scene from Dead Rising 2.
When did zombies become so unthreatening? Night of the Living Dead scared me silly when I was a kid, but in movies like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, it's the zombies themselves who have gotten silly.
They haven't fared much better in video games. Yes, the walking dead in Resident Evil were frightening. But in today's most popular zombie game - Popcap's Plants vs. Zombies - you can take them out with some well-placed cabbages.
Dead Rising 2 (Capcom, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99) continues that trend, making zombies fodder for comedy rather than the stuff of nightmares. They're the same stumbling, lurching brutes we've grown accustomed to; the slapstick comes from the increasingly creative ways you can send them to a second death.
The hero is Chuck Greene, a motocross rider who's devoted to his 7-year-old daughter, Katey. The girl, alas, has been bitten and needs a daily injection of Zombrex to stay human. To pay for the medication, Chuck signs up for Terror Is Reality, a zombie-slaughtering game show just slightly more gruesome than Dancing With the Stars. Naturally, the carnage quickly gets out of hand.
The setting is Fortune City, Nev., a once-thriving resort filled with casinos, shops, and other venues for adult amusement. The mall provides hundreds of objects that can be turned into makeshift weapons; the twist in Dead Rising 2 is that you can weld them together to create even deadlier tools of destruction. Why not combine a pitchfork and a shotgun? Or a wheelchair and an assault rifle? Or a toy helicopter and a machete? It'll cut through undead flesh like a hot knife through butter!
A little of this goes a long way. Once you figure out how much of a mess you can make with a bucket and a power drill, you're likely to go back to your reliable old spiked bat. The less gimmicky weapons tend to be the most durable - an important factor when there are hundreds of zombies between you and your goal.
Once the novelty wears off, you have two motivations: Finding Zombrex for Katey and learning who unleashed the undead. There are also dozens of uninfected humans trapped in Fortune City, so you can rescue as many as time allows.
And the clock is a consideration: You have just three days before the Army shows up and settles things for good. That isn't anywhere near enough time to finish every mission, so dedicated fans will need to play through the campaign several times if they hope to see everything.
Most players won't bother, though, because once you get past the gory flamboyance of Dead Rising 2, it gets tedious. And, technically, it's a mess. Graphical glitches abound. The dialogue is awful, even by the genre's campy standards. And long loading times between areas of Fortune City kill any suspense.
Most frustrating are the boss battles. They tend to pop up with little warning, so you don't have the chance to save your progress or upgrade your weapons. And since these enemies - typically human psychopaths with their own ideas about how to profit from the uprising - are considerably more powerful than what you're used to, your next stop is almost inevitably the "game over" screen.
You could argue that the flaws of Dead Rising 2 - the cheap deaths, the cheesy writing, the erratic production values - merely reflect its roots in low-budget horror movies. But this is one of 2010's most anticipated games, and it doesn't deliver on its promise.