Dead Rising 2: Off the Record Review (PS3)

The promotional review disc for Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is labelled with a different name to the one you’ll find in retail stores – one that actually explains what the game is in a better way. The disc, presumably marked with Capcom’s internal name for the game, reads Dead Rising 2 DC – the DC standing for Director’s Cut.

So know this – Dead Rising 2: Off The Record is definitely still Dead Rising 2. The lead character, storyline, weapon line-up and just about everything about the game has been tweaked from the initial release, but this is a souped-up version of the same game in the same vein as Super Street Fighter IV or Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3.

He’s covered wars, you know

The debate about if this trend is good or bad is a debate that has to factor into this review – this is the fourth Dead Rising 2 release now, following on from a cheap prologue and more expensive epilogue on Xbox Live Arcade and of course the main original release.

Unlike the two Arcade offerings this isn’t the same gameplay in an ‘all new’ area but actually Dead Rising 2’s world recycled, and after paying around $10 for the epilogue this being a disc-based game – even a cut price one - feels a bit egregious.

With all that said for fans of the series Off the Record will offer some exciting stuff. Dead Rising 2 protagonist Chuck Greene is out of the picture, reduced to an NPC or co-op partner, and Dead Rising 1’s camera-wielding hero Frank West is taking to the streets of Fortune City instead. It drops Frank into the same sandbox world Chuck wandered around in before with the addition of one mid-sized area, a theme park titled the Uranus Zone. All the other casinos, malls and streets are intact almost identical as they were.

In gameplay terms Frank has bought photography back with him, giving you a chance to pick up experience for taking good snaps of the zombie hordes. Landmark places and items net you extra bonuses, but the structure of the game – which is still similar to Dead Rising 2 – means the bonuses for performing other tasks far outstrip those for photography. Once the initial ‘new feature’ shine has worn off, you’ll likely forget the camera is there.

Frank has a different set of melee moves he’ll learn as he levels up and is animated quite differently to Chuck. It seemed to me that all the crazy clothing options from Dead Rising 2 were in alongside a handful of all new, extra options.

The best way to earn PP to level up is still rescuing survivors, and that’s been made less frustrating by employing better AI and pathfinding on those that you rescue. That combines with clearer messaging about if a survivor in tow will follow you to a new area when you reach an area transition to make rescuing survivors a hell of a lot easier.

The game in general is a lot easier – Frank doesn’t have to stop still to receive calls off people back at base and there’s no daughter to return to base to give Zombrex every 12 hours. While Frank himself needs the drug, he can administer it out in the field, which removes one of the tighter time constraints from the original game.

It’s Dead Rising – exactly as you know it

The biggest offender in terms of making the game easier – or perhaps too easy – is the check point system. Now when you enter a new area, defeat a psychopath or otherwise do something significant the game will respawn you at your last checkpoint rather than your last save. With this it feels that finally, the deliberately archaic and deliberate design of Dead Rising is gone – and that design was a good thing. Like Demon’s Souls, the harsh reality of what happened when you died – back potentially hours - made the game more difficult and in turn more fun to me and many others.

The check point system leaves me really disappointed, and in my eyes is an absolutely unnecessary concession from the team at Capcom. The gameplay can still be as fiddly as ever, and you can certainly die easily, especially in bosses, but the impact is removed when you then respawn right before the battle anyway.

One big positive change in gameplay terms comes in the form of more combo weapons – weapons where you mash two usually everyday objects together to make something awesome. Capcom’s made a lot of the ability to combine a vibrator with a garden leaf blower, resulting in a rocket launcher of sorts that shoots sex toys – that’s the kind of thing you’re looking at here. They’re often funny, and always fun to use.

The story of the game is a retelling of Dead Rising 2 down to the tiniest detail. It’s not a new story set in the same place, but the same story in a ‘what if’ scenario – what if it was Frank instead of Chuck? The most interesting moments in the story come when we see the downtrodden, down-and-out Frank at his worst, because he’s a very different character indeed to Chuck.

Chuck was a family man trying to do best for his daughter, but Drank is a loser, a downed celebrity, desperate for fame, redemption and cash. He’s actually rather unlikable in this form (but was he ever? He was an ass in Dead Rising, too) but I do believe there’s an interesting story to be told with him as a character in this setting.

Some of the rest of the cast have been interpreted in new and interesting ways while others remain the same, and there are a few new psychopath battles in the mix, but this is largely the same story. I found it diverged from Dead Rising 2 a fair bit at the start and then very little in the middle section of the game. The back end finally begins to pull away and become something more unique, but by that point it does feel a case of too little too late.

Past the main story mode options from the original Dead Rising 2 the final addition of note is the Sandbox mode. It’s essentially a free-roam with no time constraints, survivor limits or anything else to worry about – it’s just you, the city, and a ton of zombies to kill in any way you please.

The game will throw random objectives at you to give you some sort of direction, but it essentially puts Dead Rising 2 into autopilot mode – if you just want to kill zombies for an hour with no pressure after coming back from the pub, this will let you do it. It’s mindless and requires no real investment –but it can be bloody good fun.

That’s the best summary of Dead Rising 2: Off the Record there is. Despite all the grumbles and complaints mentioned throughout this review and the disappointment expressed at the changes that have and more notably haven’t been made from the original release, the underlying game is still great fun. Killing zombies with everyday items, creating combo weapons and unlocking more ridiculous moves is still fun.

Conspiracy between reality show hosts and pharmaceutical companies will be exposed – again

The choice to make the game so much easier might be welcomed by some who found even Dead Rising 2’s barrier of entry too high, but for anyone who played the first or second game I can definitely see you being disappointed in the challenge this will offer. The overriding question in my mind is still ‘why wasn’t this DLC?’

I can see why – massive cutscenes with all-new voice and that new area won’t be small – but this being a disc release makes it seem like something more than what it is – an incremental upgrade to Dead Rising 2. It’s still great fun, but just be aware this is little extra than more of the same.

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