For a game that contained so many wonderful elements, Dead Rising 2 was hard to love. Any given moment could find you building a homemade lightsaber, beating zombies to death with a fluorescent dildo, or breaking into a shop so you could try on women’s clothing. On the other hand, the overall fun factor was stymied by several recurring annoyances – notably some rock hard boss battles, and the late-game arrival of a new enemy type that was a pain in the arse to fight.
One year on, Capcom has given us Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. As Capcom Vancouver’s Jason Leigh recently explained, this is more or less a Director’s Cut of the game we played last year. The major changes arrive in the form of a supplemental Sandbox mode, and a new protagonist – or rather an old one, since motocross star Chuck Greene has been switched out for photojournalist Frank West, star of Dead Rising 1. Frank’s reinstatement also means a return of the first game’s camera mechanic, allowing you to earn XP (or PP, as it’s called here) by snapping pics of dolled-up zombies, posing psychopaths, and busty NPCs.
While the plot has undergone a minor facelift to account for Frank’s presence in Fortune City, the overall structure is extremely similar, with the game re-using quests and cutscene material wherever possible. As before, you’ll settle into a rhythm of balancing core story missions, rescuing survivors, and pratting around with the many diversions that Fortune City has to offer. In the main story you’re still working against the clock, ever ticking away in accelerated real time, but Sandbox mode now offers an easy way to escape the pressures of a strict timetable.
Unlike Dead Rising 1’s Infinity mode, which took a bite out of your health bar at 100 second intervals, Off the Record’s Sandbox is an intentionally relaxed affair. Infinity was a gruelling test of player resilience – one that awarded an Achievement if you could survive for 14 real-time hours – but here the game is happy to let you explore Fortune City at your leisure. As you slaughter zombies you’ll gradually unlock 30 timed challenges, which pop up all over the map. Predictably, many of these challenges encourage you to slay vast numbers of zombies in specific ways, but other variants include photography assignments, PP scoring contests, and time trials that find you clambering up the scenery, revealing secret nooks and crannies that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The new play area, Uranus Zone, provides a multitude of fresh ways to pulp the staggering dead. It’s an amusement park packed with the kind of enormous rides that make your stomach heave just to look at them – and that’s certainly the effect they have on the game’s poor old framerate, already a frail beast at the best of times. Like a visit to the Addams Family, a trip to Uranus Zone begins with a giant lurch – but thankfully things seem to settle down after a moment or two. Once this happens, you can use fireworks to lure zombies into path of the hulking, gaudy rides. It’s incredibly satisfying, recalling every nightmarish daydream you’ve ever had while queuing at the likes of Alton Towers.
Along with the new zone there’s also a smattering of new Combo Weapons, including a mask that fires lasers from its eyes, and the Pegasus – a rocket-powered hobby horse that punctures a zombie’s torso, and then launches them into space. Search hard enough, and you can find the four DLC costumes that were released for last year’s game, allowing Frank to dress as a soldier, ninja, psychopath, or sports Viking (must be an American thing), and granting him new powers in the process.
In Sandbox play, you have all the time in the world to explore this new content. There’s enough here to keep you occupied for ages, and yet the lack of urgency strangely robs the experience of any real meaning. The creative zombie slaughter never gets old, but somehow it seems more fun to do these things when you’re supposed to be doing something important, like rescuing a helpless young woman or stopping a casino heist.
One of the key quirks of Dead Rising is the fact that the game routinely tempted to go off the beaten track, even though this can be disastrous. It’s simply less fun to mess about when there’s nothing at stake; it’s like bunking off school when you’re already on half term. Sort of.
It’s the Story mode, then, that persists as the main attraction. Thanks to the fact that you can power level and gather cash in Sandbox mode and then re-import the data back into Story, it’s all but impossible to screw up your progress with a “bad” save; veterans of the first Dead Rising will remember that this wasn’t always the case. Capcom has finally seen fit to include a waypoint marker, making it a good deal easier to get about the map, and this time you also get a checkpointing system that comes to the rescue on the rare occasions when you get cocky and forget to manually save.
Purists and longtime fans of the series may turn their noses up at these concessions, but the bottom line is that this is the most accessible Dead Rising yet. That said, this is still a game that stubbornly refuses to explain some of its most important systems, and one that seems hell-bent on spoiling your fun at select moments. To put it another way, you’ll still need a Painkiller cocktail (two identical spirits, blended together) and Knife Gloves (Boxing Gloves and a Bowie Knife, fused at a workstation) to have a chance of beating most of the bosses. Even when you’re well acquainted with the game’s most useful secrets, you may still find yourself struggling against the harder psychopaths.
It’s also worth stating that while it’s brilliant to have Frank in the leading role – older and wrinklier, but still utterly badass despite his bad back – the plot doesn’t really make an awful lot of sense with him as the hero. That’s not a huge problem, since narrative isn’t really one of the game’s strong suits in the first place, but it’s certainly another reason why a newcomer might plump for the vanilla version of Dead Rising 2, rather than this re-cut edition. Off the Record can be pre-ordered for about £20 at the time of writing, but last year’s game can be found for a tenner if you shop around.
Besides, you’ll probably get more out of Off the Record’s knowing humour if you’ve already played through Chuck Greene’s story. The story is largely the same, but it’s surprisingly entertaining to watch how Frank reacts to things differently. He’s sardonic, fairly seedy, and he has a receding hairline – in short, he’s a far cry from your standard video game hero. If you know Dead Rising 2 inside out, you’ll also be pleased by the few occasions where Off the Record remixes the plot, as there are one or two surprises waiting amid the repurposed material.
But does all this enough justify another £20 if you already own last year’s effort? No, probably not. That’s the chief problem with Dead Rising 2: Off the Record: it’s perfectly enjoyable, but it’s hard to know who it’s for. Newcomers can get by with the original, and old hands have played most of it before. If you’re a massive fan of the series – and of Frank West in particular – it’s still worth picking this up, but even at twenty notes, there’s little to make this an urgent purchase.