What is it about zombies that has the gaming community searching for close-by guns and melee devices? Their brain-eating tendencies and shambling movements are cause for panic in horror movies and occasionally in interactive, digital form. However, hints of comedy tend to sometimes find their way into fictional stories regarding the walking dead. The folks over at Capcom Vancouver have certainly picked up on that, using it well in their latest release: Dead Rising 2: Off The Record. The third installment in the very popular sandbox action series has an unprecedented amount of the shambling brain-eaters, so it’s a good thing that virtual reality sensing technology has not been built into the experience.
A budget release, Dead Rising 2: Off The Record puts a spin on the storyline found in its predecessor, Dead Rising 2. Instead of playing through the fictional storyline of zombie outbreak survivor Chuck Greene, who must keep his daughter human by giving her daily doses of a drug known as Zombrex, gamers get to step into another character’s shoes. That would be Frank West – the arrogant protagonist from the series’ debut, back when it took place at the Willamette Mall. The photo journalist has made his way to Fortune City to participate in the Terror Is Reality game show, much like Greene did a year ago. It’s after the show’s taping that things get red-eyed and hungry, with caged up flesh-eaters being let out of their pens.
The Frank West we all knew and (maybe) loved has fallen onto hard times. After his rise to fame as the world’s number one zombie exterminator, his complacency and arrogance has led to public shame. A failed television show and a loss of fan support has led to alcoholism and personal neglect. Times have been tough for old Frankie, but he’s hoping for a change with an appearance on Fortune City’s most popular reality show. After all, the money is needed. Then again, so is the opportunity to get his face out there, in order to show that he still has what it takes to be the guy that everyone used to fawn over.
One cannot enter Dead Rising 2: Off The Record thinking that it’s a stand-alone sequel, because that is not the case. Think of it as a second take on occurred digital events or an update containing a new character. With this forty dollar release, players can expect many of the same things they may have played through in the series’ last release. There are some story-related differences, but nothing too major. Most of the changes come in the form of new dialogue and the odd Frank-specific quest. For the most part, however, the game is very similar. Most survivor missions and story cases are copied over in an almost verbatim form. Though, some new secondary quests make themselves available for discovery.
Donning Frank’s suit and tie for a second time brings with it one major gameplay addition: the use of a camera. That is, if you would call it an addition, considering the fact that taking pictures was a part of the series’ debut. Being able to utilize it once again is pretty fun, giving players an easy way to earn some extra PP (experience) points. Snapping shots of the varied amounts of zombies milling about will earn you a small set of points. Greater amounts unlock after the player takes varied theme shots. For example, an image with mixed horror (zombies), brutality (deceased humans), erotica (speaks for itself) and humour, will earn you top PP. It’s fun to experiment with the camera, whether you’re taking pictures or using it in combat, with the new snapshot move. It brings buddy close-up pictures to zombie killing.
Whether you make good use of Frank’s camera or forget it’s there, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record continues the series with a familiar premise. The player’s goal is to survive within a zombie-filled environment for seventy-two hours. For a second time, this noted area is Fortune City – a fictional and colourful take on Las Vegas. Malls, food courts, casinos and adult locations are all available for exploration within this large, neon-heavy location. Nooks, crannies, alleyways and rooftops are available for exploration. Sometimes, Zombrex can be found just laying about, which is great considering Frank West’s infected state. For that reason, players are once again bound to the daily dose.
Items picked up within the game world become weapons, meaning that you can use anything from a two by four to a battle axe as a weapon. Childrens’ toys, sports items and other inanimate objects can also be used for creative effect. Some are more for show than standard use, of course. Driving golf balls at zombies’ heads isn’t nearly as effective as hitting them with a sledgehammer, after all. The amount of creativity found within is staggering, being unlike anything else we’ve ever seen on the market. Adding extra flavour are casino mini-games, a driving range simulation and other time passers.
Off The Record boasts new environments, with the most notable being an inter-galactic amusement park, which has been overrun by the undead. This added area packs some interesting new features in, including the ability to participate in shooting and throwing gallery carnival games. The retro space theme adds some variety, colour and extra humour into Fortune City’s slot machine-filled world. With it, come some new items to use in weapon fusion, such as a fire extinguisher and escape pod mixture. Of course, there are also large-scale rides which can be used in order to take out the horde.
In addition to its inter-galactic space creations, Off The Record also features new combo cards which can be unlocked through mission progression. Those familiar with Dead Rising 2 will remember these as hints toward which two materials can be combined for certain weapon-ized effects. For example, a wooden bat and a box of nails can be mixed together in order to create one of the game’s most effective basic weapons. New combo cards help create extra visceral effect during combat. Plus, the game also employs a scratch card system where players can unlock stand-in cards by trying out their own creations. The actual card (which affects achievement and trophy progress) is only unlocked when you complete its attached mission.
While the Dead Rising series is certainly not for everyone, it has been pretty well-received amongst its target audience. Some gamers may not gravitate towards its time-based mission system, which has the clock ticking continuously. If you fail to complete a main campaign case before time runs up, then it’s game over, prompting a re-load of your last save point, a jump back to your last checkpoint, or a complete campaign restart.
The time issue and poor saving mechanics kept me from fully enjoying Capcom‘s zombie-filled debut, but those issues were rectified in Chuck Greene’s 2010 outing. Neither of those had the checkpoint system which Off The Record employs, coming in handy at certain points. However, these momentarily saved intervals are just that. Only one saves at a time and they deplete once the game is turned off. Not to mention the fact that, if you load a save that has next to no time left in a mission, checkpoints won’t aid your cause.
If worrying about time isn’t your specific cup of tea, then the game’s sandbox mode option may be your zombie-filled calling. Instead of forcing the player to battle through a time-limited campaign, this mode allows for tons of zombie killing chaos, without worries. Jump in with a friend and use the varied world to your advantage as you take out thousands of zombies in creative ways. Cooperative play is also available in the main campaign, but it’s more fun when there’s no way a second player can slow you down. Plus, there are quite a few different single player and cooperative challenges to try your hand at. One may ask for a certain amount of brain-eaters to be taken out in a specific amount of time, while another might be related to getting a certain amount of PP. The list goes on.
After not being a huge fan of the original Dead Rising, I enjoyed its first sequel, finishing it within a week. Going into Off The Record, I expected to find another enjoyable experience with added content and extra creativity. For the most part, that is all there. Dead Rising 2: Off The Record is a good, quality game, with a lot of varied content to enjoy. However, it’s much of the same experience as its predecessor with changes that are less than earth-shaking. Those who really enjoyed last year’s effort may want to play this one for more of the same style of action, but some may not. Newcomers can decide whether they would like to purchase the core experience or this expanded re-take, as both games are selling at affordable prices.
Dead Rising 2: Off The Record is fun. It’s also challenging and different from other games on the market. However, it is certainly not a perfect game. You’re going to have to forgive some of its mechanical shortcomings, such as occasionally cumbersome controls, the odd gameplay glitch and less than stellar survivor artificial intelligence. The building blocks of a great game are here, but there is still room for improvement within the series’ formula. The transition from Chuck Greene to Frank West is a positive one in terms of the odd mechanical enhancement made over the last year, though those main problems still remain. Frame rate instability also factors in, occasionally dropping the game’s animation rate to a crawl. There was one time where it seemed like a freeze was incoming, but it was just slowdown.
The interesting and competitive multiplayer offerings from Dead Rising 2 are unfortunately not available this time around. That means you’re only looking at a single player experience, with cooperative play opportunities. It’s too bad that at least one mode didn’t make its way over, because the Terror Is Reality mini-games were quite a bit of fun to compete in last time around. Perhaps they were scrapped in favour of sandbox mode. I personally prefered the multiplayer options, but others may feel differently.
Zombies aren’t known to be a colourful bunch. They tend to come in shades of brown, with colour only added in as accents through clothing types. That is the case here, as a lot of the shambling baddies tend to meld together with the same primary hues. There are a lot of different types to be found (including theme park workers who are new to this release,) giving those who look closely a nice selection of enemies to pummel, dismember and set on fire. Their character models are understandably stiff in movement variety and ability, with some alright animations. Though, considering how many are on-screen at once, it’s not a surprise that their individual animations are somewhat limited while in packs. Frank West is also a bit rigid at times, but that isn’t a huge issue.
Fortune City itself is a nice digital escape, allowing players to at least get a digital version of that trip to Vegas they’ve been dreaming about. It’s made up of many different colours as each building has its own relatively different look. Like in real life, each casino has its own theme – whether it’s of the aquatic or greenback styling. Colour and humour are added in primarily through the environments and their bestowed gifts of pain. Uranus Zone (the space-themed amusement park) brings in a nice jolt of additional colour, using primary tones of purple and green. For a game with so many individual creations on-screen at almost all times, there’s a good amount of detail to be found within the game’s crafted world.
Zombie-slaying isn’t much fun without quirky sound effects and heavy musical tones. Due to that reason, it’s no surprise that Dead Rising 2: Off The Record utilizes an original soundtrack which is heavy on the rock. Being a fan of that type of music, I felt at home with that choice and found that it accentuated the overall experience well. Each weapon has a related sound effect, though some are more comical and noticeable than others, with the more outrageous ones having the best auditory results. All of this works well with the game’s relatively out there storyline, somewhat insane voice work (especially when it comes to the crazed psychopaths you occasionally fight as bosses) and occasionally quirky writing.
With Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, the team at Capcom Vancouver have done a pretty good job of inserting Frank West into a story he didn’t originally feature in. There’s quite a bit of fun to be found in this relatively polished experience, though it doesn’t fix the main issues I had with its predecessor. Overall, Off The Record is a worthy sidebar that will interest hardcore fans of the series who were left wanting more previously. Though, those who are looking for an entirely new experience won’t find that here, considering how similar this outing is to the series’ last release. It’s a solid and variety-filled way to take out thousands of brain-eaters in cool ways, but still has a few flaws which need addressing. The included fun certainly outweighs the negatives though, delivering a relatively addicting gaming experience.
This review is based on a copy of the Xbox 360 game which we received for review purposes.
Dead Rising 2: Off The Record is a fun and variety-filled experience, which does a good job of adding Frank West into previously created fiction.