When Dead Rising 2 released last year, there were two very loud criticisms from gamers who felt that, yet again, they weren't getting the zombie slaying title they really wanted Capcom to deliver. The game failed to make Fortune City a totally open and unrestricted world by elminating the time-sensitive quests, a demand left over from the first Dead Rising. Fans were further outraged by new protagonist Chuck Greene, decrying him for not having covered wars like previous hero Frank West.
Capcom has deigned to give in to those demands with Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. While lawyers might quickly surround any comparison of Dead Rising to the film which was clearly its inspiration, Off the Record is to Dead Rising 2 as the European release of Dawn of the Dead is to Romero's original cut. One contains slightly more content than the other, but that doesn't necessarily make it a better product.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record (PC, Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3)
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Released: October 11, 2011
I've already reviewed the original Dead Rising 2 to an exhaustive length and Off the Record is pretty much the same game, mechanically speaking, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much here. The plot of the story and mission content is almost identical, save for a few tiny changes. There's a new sequence where Frank spies on TK early on, while a motorcycle chase has now been removed and one of the primary objectives has been relocated to the new Uranus Zone theme park area. There is also a new ending which reveals itself in the final chapters, so there is a reason beyond just liking Frank West to try and save Fortune City again but not a terribly good one.
Frank fits well into the story of Dead Rising 2. Hell, you could fit Frank West into Siddhartha if you really wanted to because he's little more than a caricature. Compared to Chuck Greene's motivation of keeping his daughter alive, he's just a shallow dude with a camera and Capcom doesn't attempt to give Off the Record an emotional angle (unless you count lust as an emotion). The cutscenes have just the slightest tinge of sleaze with West in them but are never particularly interesting because all of the dramatic stuff went away with Chuck.
That said, from a gameplay perspective, it's just as good as it was the last time around. Along with Frank's return comes his camera and the ability to earn experience by taking photos. This time, the camera is an entirely optional aspect of the game and you can complete the story without ever snapping a shot. That said, it's still great fun to use and the game provides plenty of opportunities to earn bonus experience using the system. Completionists will have fun poking through every nook and cranny of Fortune City looking for camera icons to snap photos of and add to their collection.
The biggest change to Off the Record is the long-awaited arrival of Sandbox Mode, which replaces the Terror Is Reality multiplayer mode in Dead Rising 2 as an alternate means of earning cash for use in the story. Sandbox allows players free reign over Fortune City to kill zombies for as long as they wish. There are no survivors to be rescued, only slaughtered as (similar to Survival Mode in the first Dead Rising) they now provide a more intelligent opponent to find wandering about and drop piles of cash when they die.
Capcom wisely realized that simply making the world open for exploration and filling it with zombies isn't really enough, despite what their critics might say. Sandbox Mode also features a series of challenges littered through the city, unlocked at milestones in the number of rotting corpses destroyed. Most challenges will have you trying to kill as many zombies as possible within a time limit, but there is some variety found in the occasional footrace or being asked to collect as many "personal massagers" as you can. Success in challenges is measured by bronze, silver and gold medals with corresponding cash rewards and all the money, experience and unlocks you acquire in Sandbox Mode carry over with you into Story Mode (and vice versa).
The Sandbox Mode is fun but it doesn't really hold a candle to the Story Mode for me. I've always liked the structure of Dead Rising and enjoyed the pressure of its time-sensitive elements because they gave purpose and urgency to my actions. By comparison, the challenges in the Sandbox feel like quaint diversions. Great in small doses, it's a good way to hop in and let off a little steam after a long day but becomes pretty monotonous over an extended period of time.
Having a friend along to engage in hijinks together helps to spice things up. Both the Story and Sandbox portions of Off the Record allow for a second player to join your game in online cooperative play. Options can be set to allow anybody to join your game, keep it limited to people on your friends list or go private. When someone wishes to join your game in progress, Frank's transceiver will ring and you can choose whether or not to allow them in.
The co-op functions well. Players in your game can limit you in some ways, preventing you from moving from one area to another unless they are close enough to the door as an example (a griefing opportunity if ever there was one), but there's no debate over whether it's more fun to kill zombies with a friend. It just is and Off the Record's multiplayer was both painless and enjoyable to play.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is not a better game than its predecessor. It's the game that the audience demanded, however, and ably delivers on those demands. If you've already played Dead Rising 2, the question as to how much you need to play Off the Record should be based almost entirely on your desire to play the unrestricted, open-world of Sandbox Mode. Frank's contribution is negligible at best and the other additional content (such as Uranus Zone) barely merits mention, let alone justify the purchase. This is still a great game but it might be an unnecessary one.
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