Dead Rising 2: Off the Record Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3
Despite dodgy AI, as well as a tough and unforgiving story, the original Dead Rising ended up being one of the best games of 2006 when it was released exclusively for the Xbox 360. It handed over the keys to a vast shopping mall full of zombies and a variety of amusing ways to pick them off using whatever object you could lay your hands on. It was the game everyone wanted since first seeing Dawn of the Dead. The sequel, which finally appeared on PS3 as well, a few years later followed much the same formula but threw in some amusing weapon combinations and moved the action to a Las Vegas style resort. In between Capcom released the 360 exclusive demo prologue for the sequel called Case Zero and afterwards, Case West. These gave players a new location and a new story to play through. However they never made it to the PS3 which is why Dead Rising 2: Off the Record ends up being something of a let down.
Smelling ever so slightly like a walking corpse Dead Rising 2: Off the Record has shuffled its way onto shelves. The re-imagining of Capcom’s 2010 zombie bashing sequel smells just as off as the dead which inhabit it thanks largely to the fact that this is virtually identical to the previous release of the game. A sandbox mode and a change in character is the only real difference here. In fairness to Capcom they made it clear what gamers would be getting this time around. Regardless it makes Dead Rising 2: Off the Record a difficult proposition and an awkward game to review. The chief problem being that Dead Rising 2 was an enjoyable affair. However, packaging a near identical game into a box a year later feels just a tad cheap given that so little has changed. There was a great opportunity to wrap up the sequel with all of the DLC that has been released. In the end it is a huge missed opportunity.
It wouldn’t be too bad were it not for the fact that this is, whichever way you slice it, the fourth game in just over a year which has the words Dead Rising 2 in the title, two of those games were downloadable options but Capcom have certainly squeezed every bit of juice from their franchise. A lot of the negativity could have disappeared had Capcom decided to bundle everything they’ve released over the last twelve months into one package. Unfortunately they haven’t, they essentially just repackaged the sequel with a different character, a new area and a handful of new weapons, and it leaves you with the nagging feeling that, even despite the relatively low price, they are being a bit stingy. Capcom could easily have decided to release this for existing fans as some new DLC rather than making them fork out for another box. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record may claim to be a re-imagining but there is so little new content in the main story it simply feels like a repeat of the sequel. There are barely any changes here at all.
One of the few significant changes to Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is the removal of Chuck Greene and the return of the series’ original protagonist Frank West. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means a new story to play through because it doesn’t. Aside from a few superficial changes anyone who played the sequel the first time around will be retreading a vast amount of a recycled storyline. It is kind of ‘what if’ scenario in which Frank, who has seen his fame slip away following the events of the first game, tries to get himself back into the big time by getting to the bottom of the events at Fortune City. Despite the inclusion of a different, albeit old face and some new motivation (even if it a dubious motivation) there is a serious sense of deja vu here.
As a result the game follows the same flow of the previous entries in the series. Frank is deposited into a sea of walking dead (which do seem slightly more aggressive this time around) and has three days before the military arrive to find out how the outbreak started. Aside from the case missions which move the storyline forward Frank is largely free to spend his time in Fortune City how he wants. He can try and bring survivors back to the safe-house, defeat the many psychopaths who roam the place or simply kill as many of the walking dead as possible. Doing this gives Frank prestige points (experience) which allows him to level up, gain more inventory spaces and new special moves. Unfortunately the game never allows you to select which skills you want to upgrade and instead just doles them out on a seemingly random basis. As well as the special moves (a collection of throws, kicks martial arts moves) which Frank can gain the game also upgrades things like your attack range, jumping ability, number of inventory slots, health bars and speed.
Doing it all however is easier said than done. All of the objectives appear at certain times throughout the course of the game and Frank only has a limited amount of time to investigate them. Completing them all requires some serious time management and the game never really lets you run free. It is a mechanic which is actually one of the cleverest things in the Dead Rising series. The tight deadlines keep you rushing about and moving from one objective to another. You’ll spend as much time battling time as you will the undead. It is also one of the reasons that the added sand box mode fails to grab your attention. Letting the player off the leash and taking away the structure means things get very boring, very quickly. Without the objectives the game’s limited combat options start to become more noticeable. There are challenges to complete and money to collect in this mode but it is a shallow experience. Whilst killing as many zombies as possible is initially fun it begins to get tiresome after a while and you’ll quickly find yourself heading back to the story mode.
Bringing back Frank West also allows you to play with the picture taking feature from the original outing. Taking pictures gives you another way of levelling up but given the associated risk of snapping the shot you will probably find yourself not bothering. Besides Dead Rising has always given more rewards for helping fellow survivors and that is once again the case here. Bringing them back to the safe-house is by far the easiest way in the game to unlock the new moves.
The only other new thing Dead Rising 2: Off the Record throws at you is the amusement park called Uranus Zone and a handful of new weapon combinations. The new area is a nice idea but hardly worth exploring if you’ve already ploughed through the game when it was first released. Thankfully the co-op mode remains intact allowing players to drop in and out of your game to lend a hand. It is fun but even that was included in the sequel the first time around.
Thanks to the fact that the game is nearly identical to Dead Rising 2 it means a large amount of the old problems have also found their way here as well. The wooden animation is once again present and correct as is the annoying inventory system. Cycling through weapons can be a painful experience and you’ll often find yourself accidentally dropping things or eating food when you wanted to select a weapon. Elsewhere the zombies offer little in the way of serious trouble to yourself but it does lead to some serious difficulty spikes when facing the various psychopaths - especially early on when you haven’t levelled up yet. The game piles on the zombies this time around but the frame rate occasionally takes a massive tumble whilst load times (which are improved) are still frequent.
Summing up Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is difficult. The original sequel, with its unique weapons, was hugely enjoyable when it first came out. Given that Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is virtually identical you can have just as much fun with it. The time chasing objectives which knock you from pillar to post help cover up the shallow combat and the serious difficultly spikes. If you’ve never played through the story before there is a lot of fun to be had from uncovering the events and bashing a few zombies about in the process. Unfortunately if you’ve played through it already there is little point in picking this up - you may as well play Dead Rising 2 again.
Capcom have missed something of an opportunity with Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. They could easily have bundled up the original sequel with the downloadable content but instead they simply added a new character to the existing story. Had they added all the available content together it might have felt a bit less stingy. Reading between the lines this was probably always to be expected of Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. However it was billed as an “all new Dead Rising 2 experience” and in reality it isn’t. As it stands there is not really enough new content to justify it being placed in a box (even at its relatively low price tag). All that said if you are completely new to the Dead Rising series then this is as good a place as any to start. If you’ve already dipped your toes into the undead then don’t make the mistake of thinking there is anything new here because there isn’t.