The Timer Makes Dead Rising 2’s Zombies A Threat

The Timer Makes Dead Rising 2’s Zombies A Threat

Games have a zombie problem. They can be your basic slow shamblers or your fast berserkers, but whatever variation appears in a game, zombies are little more than mindless pinatas meant to be killed in large numbers. Zombies are rarely a challenge to fight on an intellectual level, and an enemy that doesn’t get players thinking isn’t an enemy worth fighting. So how do you make zombies interesting? Capcom’s Dead Rising 2 offered an interesting solution: Add a timer to the mix.

The brainlessness of zombies is a double-edged sword. Action games are meant to provide great audiovisual feedback, and few things are as satisfying as the nice, fleshy splat when you shotgun a zombie in the head. Zombies will continue throwing themselves at you until they die, so you can use your weapons to your heart’s content. But it’s like playing tug of war with a toddler; tugging is fun when you have to try, but it’s not satisfying at all when you’re pulling against someone a lot weaker than you.

This is where zombie games end up disappointing us: A game like Dead Rising 4 gives you a ton of tools to go kill zombies with and lets you slaughter to your heart’s content, but the thrill ends too quickly, because zombies are often so easy to defeat, so lacking in challenge, that a player can burn out after an hour or two and simply stop caring. But Dead Rising 2 makes up for the fundamental lack of tension in fighting zombies with its timer. It uses time as a resource to be managed, creating the tension fighting zombies lacks.

The Timer Makes Dead Rising 2’s Zombies A Threat

Dead Rising 2‘s protagonist, Chuck Greene, is a professional motocross champion who races in Las Vegas-like Fortune City to earn the anti-zombie medication Zombrex for his daughter, Katey, who was bitten some time before the game’s introduction. Of course, society collapses, zombies attack and Chuck and Katey find themselves trapped in a bunker, waiting for help to come. Unfortunately for Katey, they’re out of Zombrex, which means Chuck has to venture outside in order to keep her from turning. In his search for Zombrex, Chuck discovers a conspiracy behind the outbreak.

A hallmark of the Dead Rising series is its timer mechanic. Players are put on a clock, which is always counting down to some big event; in Dead Rising 2, that event is the military’s arrival. Katey needs Zombrex once a day to survive, and players who fail to inject her in time will have to watch her turn into a zombie, prematurely ending the game. Any side quest the player encounters will count down and eventually fail if not completed in time. There are always things to do, and the clock never stops, pressuring players to complete everything in time or risk other survivors dying.

In a series like Dead Rising, where killing zombies in comedic fashion is a big selling point, the timer might seem at first like a pointless nuisance. Anyone who thinks Dead Rising is just about the killing can be forgiven for that: Capcom sells Dead Rising as an exercise in zombie killing. Dead Rising 4 features an achievement for slaughtering over 200,000, with ads featuring comical combo weapons built to murder and amuse simultaneously. “How many zombies can you kill?” may be the marketing angle, but the real question is how best to use your time.

The Timer Makes Dead Rising 2’s Zombies A Threat

In a game with limited ammunition, wasting bullets can create complications later on. In Dead Rising 2, wasting time does the same thing. Knowing when and how to rescue people can be complex, and without knowing the best routes through the world, players can waste precious time and lose some survivors. Limited time and racing against the clock become bigger hurdles than the hordes of easily-disposable zombies thrown your way.

In Dead Rising 2, survivors matter. Many of Dead Rising 2’s survivors have specific tasks that must be completed before rescuing them. Linette Watkins has fallen asleep in a tanning bed during the outbreak and needs to be hydrated and carried back to the safehouse. Tammy Blaine is stuck in a mermaid costume and is unable to walk to safety. These survivors require specific actions to rescue, and their encounters are designed to make you spend time exploring the city. Since time is such a valuable resource, Dead Rising 2 wants you to think strategically about how to spend it, and these missions exist to challenge your critical thinking.

Learning the area while trying to beat the clock creates the tension the zombies, by nature, lack. Players have to juggle missions, followers and finding the toilets throughout the world that act as save points if they want to save everyone and see everything. There’s something awesome about becoming so good at the game that you can complete subsequent playthroughs saving everyone with time to spare, participating in all the wacky adventures that Fortune City has in store for you, because you successfully planned your route through the world. Everything in the game becomes about using your wits to beat the clock.

The Timer Makes Dead Rising 2’s Zombies A Threat

Dead Rising 2 is a great zombie game not because it’s a game about zombies, but because it’s a game about planning. The zombies make the world you’re travelling through dangerous, but they aren’t the game’s focus. Zombies exist so there’s a reason survivors will die without your help, but they’re not meant to be overcome. They’re endless. The real focus is on saving all the survivors, keeping Katey safe and getting out of Fortune City. Zombies aren’t the enemy — the timer is. Dead Rising without a timer is a game without an enemy to be beaten.

The real strength of Dead Rising 2 is a hard sell — it’s easier to market zombie-killing mayhem. It’s a game about the process of mastery, about playing it enough to learn Fortune City and overcome the clock. Like most games about mastery, its depth isn’t always readily apparent on the first playthrough. Capcom seemed to recognise this through their efforts to change the series.

Dead Rising 3 tried to make the timer less meaningful, but that and its poorly-designed open world meant it sold less than Dead Rising 2. Dead Rising 4 outright removed the timer, except for a brief countdown in one mission at the end of the game. Capcom developers suggested that completely removing the timer in Dead Rising 4 was so they could keep making Dead Rising games, because change is important to the series’ continued success. But there’s a difference between evolution and amputation. Dead Rising 2 is the most successful game in the series because it’s a game that provides thoughtful gameplay to thoughtful players. Without the timer, Dead Rising is a game where the zombies are everything, so the zombies are nothing.

The Timer Makes Dead Rising 2’s Zombies A Threat

Dead Rising should evolve, but the timer must retain its primacy in order for the game to remain tense and intelligent. There are numerous potential routes Dead Rising could take without cutting out its single most important design decision, such as borrowing from Dark Souls’ shortcut design or The Witcher 3’s heavy use of choice and consequence.

Zombies aren’t supposed to be central to the story, a lesson we learned with George Romero’s seminal zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Zombies are best as motivators, as things that move people to act, that push people to desperation. The zombies have it all figured out. They want brains. We should too.


  • The thing is though. Nobody plays DR to feel threatened by the zombies. They play DR to have fun killing shit tons of them with amazing weapons.

    Even though you could replay the game, The timer for me kinda ruined the fun. I always felt restricted.

  • Glad the timer is gone. To me it was just a cheap tactic to extend gameplay. The thing about Zombies is that they are meant to be mindless and easy to kill, their danger is in numbers and when you take them for granted as you plough on through them, we saw this in the Romero movies and I think it can apply to good zombie games as well.

    Now you might have a case for DR 4 being too easy (as it is going more for fun than difficulty) but sticking timers back in or escort missions or toilet saves would just make you replay the level a million times until you mastered it and to me that’s not fun. It reminds me why I don’t like the dark souls games it seems all you have to do is make a game so difficult you have to replay it dozens of times and there will be a subset of gamers who revel in it. Give me a game that is hard in it’s mission structure rather than trial and error repetition any day but that is beside the point as DR4 was about exploration and discovery, powering up, having a good laugh and finding amazing weapons.

    Anyway they have just added higher difficulty levels for free so that should keep you busy 🙂

  • Dead Rising 4 is surely the final nail in the coffin for this once great series. God it was bad.

  • Honestly I didn’t mind the timer. The only part I didnt really like about it was that there were moments where waiting got to be a bit tedious in order to progress the story. Granted it might have been helpful have some emphasis on a free mode of some sort, but I agree in that the timer for the most part did add something to the game.

  • Alot of people will say (and have said it) that the timer is a mechanic that restricts gameplay.
    This is just a laugh, the people that say this are probably the ones that say “why are games being toned down in difficulty, and just down right too easy”. Well youre the problem my good friend. Toning down a games mechanic because you believe that your experience is being hampered by time constraints is not a complaint worth hearing, you just either suck at core mechanics or want something easily digested.

    Now, you’re not supposed to be able to do everything in one play through. The game is built around multiple play through’s (mainly talking about DR 1/2 and OTR) with character levels and unlocked content like the megaman mega buster being retained in later game runs.

    Game design like this encourages and rewards perseverance and remembering boss/character and item locations and game mechanics as a whole. Knowing timings and locations is alot more fulfilling than being granted access to everything the game has on offer all at once. Once you under stand this, the game becomes easy very quick.

    I know a recent play through of DR2 recently where i started a fresh game, i had 4 quests plus a boss that i needed to take down within a very tight deadline. I had to chaperone 5+ people plus take down a boss with a tiger, not easy. The game’s time restraints though made that part of my run though tense as i needed the XP from that group plus the boss to get ahead early in the game. High risk + High reward = good game design.

    The game design is very much a Japanese mind set of if you want something you have to work for it. Games like Dragon Quest requires lots of grinding and understanding to get the most out of it.

    As the games became more american-ised as to appeal to the broader market the game mechanics became easier, from DR3 having an optional timed mode and then DR4 having now constraints at all with being able to perform every action in one run.

    My comparison to a modern game that is rather the same as love/hate is the Souls series.
    Requires understanding of where things are and how things work in order to get the most out of it, while rewarding cautious approach.

    Similar concepts don’t you think?
    The people that hate or cant get into the game are the ones who suck at it or again need something easily digestible.

    Not all games are gonna be easy, and should not.

    Prob ranted abit more than i wanted to but just voicing what seems to be a re-occuring annoyance with some gamers.

  • The timer was the game. Fair enough if you don’t like it but it’s like saying you don’t like Mario because of the jumping. Screwing around was fun but if that’s all you wanted to do then there were other modes for it.

    I think the major problem the game had was that it didn’t make it clear to the players that it was ok to let people die. I remember a friend hated it and when I looked at what he was doing he was only failing because he was missing the story missions to save random people. He was pretty bad at the game and he wasn’t organised enough so there was no way he was going to save everyone, but for some reason he thought he had to. He was stressed out instead of just going at his own pace and having fun.

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