In the lead up to the release of Dead Rising 2: Off the Record last month, Capcom was stating that the game’s story is non-canonical.
The premise of Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is a “What if” scenario in which Chuck Greene, the combo weaponing protagonist from Dead Rising 2 (read our review), is replaced with Frank West, photojournalist and protagonist from the original Dead Rising.
In this twist on the original plot, Frank West is famous after having exposed the truth behind the zombie outbreak at the Willamette Mall in Dead Rising. West’s celebrity status grows as he is thanked by the President, adored by fans, and given his own talk show. But Frank’s time in the spotlight comes to a grinding halt when a series of bad decisions and binge drinking causes his status to tank. Having no where else to go and in need of money to pay for the zombie plague preventing medication, Zombrex, West accepts an invitation to appear on the reality TV game show Terror is Reality in Fortune City. Unfortunately not all is right with the show, and it isn’t too long until the zombie activist organization known as CURE is blamed for an explosion that triggers an outbreak in Fortune City. With the city quarantined, and in need of Zombrex, Frank seizes the opportunity to reclaim his fame, and get to the bottom of what really occurred.
Right from the start of Dead Rising 2: Off the Record the game creates a strange dissonance. On the one hand, veteran Dead Rising players will instantly know that the story is completely non-canonical, but this only speaks to those players that played Dead Rising 2 (or either of the two DLC games, Case Zero and Case West). Any players that skipped the last few games will be at a loss however to tell the difference, as the game does not at any point show Frank West fantasizing about any of the events occurring before his present experience. In fact, Off the Record starts out assuming that everything that occurs is completely factual.
Needless to say, returning players will probably find themselves constantly asking when Frank is going to stare into the camera in order to offer up some kind of hamfisted, fourth wall breaking speech to perhaps state “I woulda done it like this…” But the game does not do this, and instead opts to play it straight just as Dead Rising 2 did. However, the protagonist substitution makes the tonal shift immediately apparent when Frank starts uttering new lines of dialog while rescuing survivors, or killing psychos. In fact, Capcom really hammers home this point by making Frank utter one liners that Chuck Greene would often shy away from.
However, before getting too far ahead of ourselves, let’s backup and talk about what’s new in this iteration. This time around all of the dialog for the game seems to have been re-recorded for the inclusion of Frank, and this even extends to the messages that would get sent out from the Safehouse periodically by West’s partner Stacey Forsythe, the leader of CURE who is blamed for the outbreak. The fact that these messages have voice now is a welcome addition, especially since it makes it easier to hear them when wading through a big crowd of zombies. However, instead of a push-to-talk two-way West rolls with a bluetooth hands free headset. Another nice change is the way obtaining Zombrex works this time around.
Instead of having to return to the Safehouse every 24 hours to administer the drug to Chuck’s daughter, Frank now must inject himself. Conveniently this means that he needn’t be in the Safehouse at the dosage time in order to take his meds. Rather, a convenient notification will pop-up telling the player to push left on the D-pad. West, then stops whatever he’s doing and stabs himself in the neck with the injector pen before resuming his activities. It’s a nice change that promotes environmental exploration without the constant need to return to the Safehouse.
There are also some tweaks and changes that have been made to the main story cases, obviously owing to how the plot changes with the inclusion of Frank West. These changes manifest as new cutscenes with some altered dialog, tonal shifts in the storytelling, or a complete reimagining of an event. These changes to the story culminate in an ending that is pretty easy to spot from miles away. However, knowing that this ‘twist’ is coming actually makes some of the events in the game really humorous and shows that the developers at Capcom Vancouver (formerly Blue Castle Games) realize how cheesy the entire premise is. It’s actually pretty awesome and the level of self-awareness really makes the whole thing evoke the same feeling that the Undead Nightmare expansion did for Red Dead Redemption.
Another major addition is the inclusion of the theme park area, Uranus Zone, an obvious reference to Zombieland. The name aside, the park offers up some new survivors and carny games to play along with the Fortune City Bank where safe deposit boxes can be opened by finding keys within the environment. It also allows players to kill zombies en mass using the park’s rides as weapons. In terms of the game’s mechanics, Chuck’s assortment of melee combat moves have been replaced with Frank’s moves. Making a return from the first Dead Rising comes the Zombie Walk that will allow players to run on top of a crowd of zombies and the Zombie Hop which allows Frank to jump from zombie to zombie.
Additionally, Frank’s camera also returns as a means of earning PP (read: XP) for special photos. In fact, Off the Record has 75 PP stickers scattered around the world – which offer rewards for being photographed. Psychos and survivors can also be photographed to earn additional PP. Off the Record also features a couple new psychopaths, some new survivors, and some new combo weapons – in addition to all of the combo weapons from Dead Rising 2 and Case West. All of the DLC costumes from the first game are also included in the game world this time, but players can’t mix and match the pieces to get the effects of the full outfits – and no Dead Rising game featuring Frank West would be complete without a Mega Man reference, and so the Protoman costume is also unlockable. Off the Record also features the same drop-in, drop-out co-op that was present in DR2, but this time the second player takes control of Chuck Greene.
In addition all of these changes, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record also features a new Sandbox Mode where players have no time limit or survivors to save and can just run around doing as they please. This mode also features medal challenges that have full leader board support as well. Additionally, all of the psychos and survivors in the game will spawn at random, but instead of asking Frank for help they will all attack on sight. As a result, Sandbox mode is a great way to accrue cash or PP for the Story mode. In fact, anything obtained in the Story mode (with the exception of some key items) can be carried into Sandbox mode, and vice-versa.
The way in which Off the Record emulates Dead Rising 2 also makes it prone to the same mistakes and problems that its predecessor had. Platforming is still a problem this time around as aiming jumps can be a bit tricky due to some control issues. This wasn’t that noticeable in DR2, but it becomes more of a problem with the inclusion of some foot race challenges in Sandbox mode. Up close, textures still look really awful even with some of the engine improvements made to the game. Again this is similar to a problem that DR2 had, but given how many zombies populate the environments in the game its easy to forgive. Load times have been streamlined a bit from DR2, but in some spots can still take some time and can even hardlock a console. There are also a few moments within the game where the number of objects on screen has a noticeable effect on the frame rate and draw distance. These problems aren’t game breaking, but they do mar the experience enough to be noticeable.
However, it’s important to mention that many of the graphical or engine related issues are mitigated, or even non-existent in some cases, in the PC release. Also the difficulty in fighting psychos returns, but the way the returning bosses fight is the same as DR2 so strategies that worked before will work again. That said, the dodge mechanic is still largely useless in boss fights as the recovery on the roll is too long. Lastly, while the audio has been re-recorded, the way this game reuses and repurposes scenes from DR2 is a letdown. In fact, several scenes in the game are shot for shot exactly the same ones from Dead Rising 2 albeit with the character model reskinned as Frank West. The rationale for making the game this way makes sense, but a slight change in camera angles or scripting would have gone a long way.
All hyperbole notwithstanding, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is the best Dead Rising game available – and while it has a few noticeable flaws, most of them don’t really impact the experience. In fact, as clichÃ© as it sounds, fans of previous games will absolutely love this one. However, one major caveat to this is that players that enjoyed Dead Rising 2 may not find enough new stuff here to warrant a purchase.
That said, the humor is over the top and the plot is incredibly self-aware. Moreover, the long list of additions make this release well worth the price. Especially since Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is retailing for $40 instead of the usual $60. So while this package doesn’t do anything revolutionary with the concepts already well established by the franchise’s previous iterations, there is something to be said for a game that allows a player to, literally, mow down zombies using a combo weapon made of a grass trimmer and a chef’s knife. An act that no matter how many times performed, never gets old.
Also, for anyone who ends up enjoying Off the Record, the “Game Break Cheats Pack” DLC is available for $4.99 or 400 MS points. It contains several cool cheats and even a few interesting visual filters, but disables trophies/achievements and prevents the game from being saved. There are also four costume packs now available: the Cyborg, Chef, Fireman, and Cosplay Warrior each priced at $1.99 or 160 MS points.
Follow me on Twitter @VivasKaul
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is available now for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.