Dead Rising 2: Off the Record – What’s new and is it worth it?

Sometimes it feels like I do nothing but kill digital zombies all day.  I am a one-man zombie apocalypse reversal squad, and in all honesty I never really get tired of it.  That is just one of many reasons that I am a huge fan of Capcom’s Dead Rising franchise.  The original game was one of the main selling points for me getting a 360, and subsequently an HDTV when I realized the in-game text was virtually unreadable on my venerable CRT set.  Since then I’ve eagerly purchased and played every new installment in the series, with the exception of the ill-advised Wii port, Chop ’til You Drop.

So when I was still playing Dead Rising 2, and Capcom announced that they were already planning to remake it with original series hero Frank West as the main character, I never even questioned it.  As a longtime Street Fighter fanatic I do sometimes get tired of Capcom’s business strategy of selling me the same game multiple times per year, but this time I didn’t even care.  There is no such thing as too much Dead Rising, and since the game was only going to be $40 at launch, even minor changes would be justification enough for my purchase.  So I preordered it, and once that whole mess was cleaned up I set out to see what they added, tearing the game apart from top to bottom.

Dead Rising 2 was set in the fictional Nevada tourist town of Fortune City, and put you in the shoes of former motocross star Chuck Greene-now a participant in the zombie-slaughtering game show “Terror Is Reality” (TIR).  The “What If” scenario posed in Off the Record brings Frank West into the Fortune City outbreak, washed up and haggard after a few years of fame brought on by the events of the first game, and now making a living wrestling zombies on TIR.

And by "wrestling" zombies, I mean "shoveling them wholesale into giant meat grinders".

Like Dead Rising 2, the story here still focuses on shady TIR promoter TK, and his connection to Phenotrans, manufacturers of Zombrex-a 24 hour vaccine of sorts for survivors of zombie bites.  In that game Chuck Greene’s daughter Katey had been bitten and he needed to return to the safehouse every 24 hours with a painfully rare dose of Zombrex to keep her from turning.  This time around Frank is the one infected,  so there’s no need to return to the safehouse for injections.  In addition the methods of obtaining Zombrex have been expanded, so already the gameplay feels much more streamlined, if lacking the same drama as keeping one’s daughter alive.

And that’s not the only story difference here, by a longshot.  Many people, myself included, were under the impression that this would be the exact same story as before-just with a different hero cut and pasted in for fanservice purposes.  That has proven to not be the case at all.  While the overall arc is the same, the plot twists have been changed, leading to a few unexpected surprises.  In addition there are a couple new survivors and psychopaths, including some callbacks to Franks adventures in the original Dead Rising.  Characters returning from DR2 have had their appearance times altered as well, so you aren’t just following the same patterns through the game as before.

Off the Record also marks the return of Frank West’s legendary photojournalist skills, allowing you to earn extra experience points by taking photos of unique locations or just random zombie carnage.  Frank can also take advantage of the weapon crafting skills introduced for Chuck Greene in the second game, obtaining cards with recipes for everything from nail-studded baseball bats to deadly electrified wheelchairs.  The developers have also added a few great new combos-my favorites being a weed trimmer outfitted with kitchen knives and a car battery powered sledgehammer that will delight any Thor fan.

Dead Rising 2 had several downloadable costumes available for purchase.  $2 would get you a sports fan outfit that increased your gambling skills and alcohol tolerance, or a ninja costume that made zombies far less aware of your presence, as well as a couple others options.  These costumes have all returned in Off the Record, but now they are obtainable for free in the game itself.  You find them piece by piece, and once you do they are yours to keep for subsequent playthroughs on that save file.  New DLC costume packs are also on the horizon, including a cardboard cosplay outfit and a Terminator-themed getup.

Fortune City itself is largely unchanged, if you played Dead Rising 2 you will still find all the same stores and casinos in all the same places.  They did add an entire area that was cut from DR2 though, the Uranus Zone amusement park.  It’s about the same size as the other main sections of the game, and features a few stores and a two-story restaurant.  Also there are some rides that can be used for fun environmental zombie kills, and a few carnival style minigames that can be played for rewards.  Fortunately for anyone that was tired of getting mauled by zombies when they tried to gamble in the casinos, the developers had the presence of mind to put these new minigames in a zombie-free safe zone, so you can play at ease.  Uranus Zone also features a bank vault with various safe deposit boxes inside.  The keys for these are scattered throughout the game, and finding them will be rewarded with cash, weapons, and precious Zombrex.

I hope you like butt jokes. Honestly, who doesn't?

The multiplayer Terror Is Reality format has been axed from this installment, and I doubt too many people will miss it.  The game was fun enough, and allowed you to make money to carry over into your main game, but this was assuming you had the patience to wade through long queue times and frequent disconnects.  Co-op is back, and in my opinion this is the best and only necessary form of Dead Rising multiplayer.  Instead of the bizarre “Chuck Greene Clone” co-op from DR2, they have brought back the much more popular “Frank and Chuck team-up” from downloadable installment Case West.  Chuck even gets a camera, which should lessen arguments over who gets to be who.

These changes I’ve listed would have already been enough to make me content with the purchase, but I’ve saved the best upgrade for last.  Most Dead Rising fans will tell you that the most frustrating part of these games is a seemingly complete lack of balance.  You are pushed through the game by a time limit, which will often leave you horrifyingly under-leveled for the challenges at hand.  Inevitably, you will have to restart the story, maintaining your character level from before.  You’ll often make it a bit further the second time, and be forced to start over yet again.  These issues have finally been addressed with the inclusion of a sandbox mode.

Sandbox mode lets you start a save file that is adjacent to your story save.  You have access to all areas of the game, with no time limit whatsoever, and no need for daily Zombrex dosages.  Story missions are removed in this mode, replaced with a wide variety of challenges that unlock as your zombie kill count increases (this count is maintained separately between the two modes).  You are free to earn as much money and experience as you’d like, all of which carries over between modes.  You can also take out your frustrations on the survivors of Fortune City, as they all attack you in sandbox mode.  Hopefully they keep this around for future games-I had gotten used to the forced story restarts over the years, but it’s so much better this way.  Granted, it is now possible to make the game way too easy, but there’s nobody forcing you to over-level, and I would much rather they remove what was likely the biggest hurdle for new fans of the franchise.     

To summarize, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record should be considered as “totally worth it” for existing fans of the franchise.  The development team added even more than I felt was implied by their initial pitch.  Really the words “sandbox mode” should be enough to get any fan interested, we’ve all been begging for it since the beginning.  In addition, this would be a great jumping-on point for new players-especially if you played the first game and found yourself scared off by the difficulty and “unique” time limit structure.  The non-canon story and lower difficulty level make this an ideal place to test the waters, hone your zombie-killing skills, and see if the rest of the franchise would be right for you.

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About Ryan Searles

I like watching movies, and then talking about those movies. Sometimes I write things about them, which you should read. Other interests include boxed wine, video games, the works of Harlan Ellison and HG Wells, and being a general curmudgeon.

Posted on October 24, 2011, in Reviews, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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