"Frank West is back in the game." - Frank West
Back when it was still known as Blue Castle Games, the Vancouver-based studios shipped Dead Rising 2 less than a year ago. Now that it's been fully integrated into the Capcom family (and known as Capcom Vancouver), its next title is… Dead Rising 2. Well, sort of...
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is a fresh take on the tale that detailed events of an outbreak in the fictional Vegas-like Fortune City. But "Off the Record" takes the story and turns it on its head with a "what if?" scenario that features the original Dead Rising protagonist, photojournalist Frank West, as the game's central hero.
With an old face as the new hero, Off the Record (which will ship as a physical product, not downloadable content) looks like it'll be a completely new spin on last year's undead-slaughterpalooza.
Dead Rising 2: Off The Record (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Release date: Fall
"Originally, the plan was that we were going to do a 'Director's Cut' of Dead Rising 2," explains Off the Record executive producer, Jason Leigh. "Capcom has a long history of successful 'Director's Cuts," especially with the Resident Evil series, and we wanted to bring that treatment to the Dead Rising franchise."
But when Dead Rising 2 was first announced, something strange happened, says Leigh. Fans of the franchise were excited for its return, and the development team was confident players would click with the game's strong new hero, Chuck Greene. But the feedback was clear. Many felt that something was missing. That "something" was Frank West, as fans asked, "Why did you take our hero away?"
"What this did for us and for this product was to create an incredibly interesting opportunity," he explains. "What if, instead of doing a director's cut, what if we re-invisioned the outbreak in Fortune City with Frank West as the hero. What would that do to missions? What would that do to story? What would that do to the gameplay, bringing him back with his camera?"
As it turns out, quite a bit.
Following the events of Dead Rising, West becomes somewhat of a celebrity, having survived the zombie outbreak incident in Willimette, Colorado. He writes a successful book and even gets his own talk show. But like many "flash in the pan" celebrities, he squanders his opportunities and soon finds that his fifteen minutes are up.
Desperate to get back on top, or at the very least earn some scratch, West is offered an opportunity that he hopes will things around. The producer of Terror is Reality -- an American Gladiators-style zombie-killing television show -- invite him to appear as a special guest. Down on his luck and thinking things couldn't get any worse, he heads to Fortune City to get back in the spotlight. He'll soon learn that, yes, things can get worse.
The opening moments of Off the Record parallel that of Dead Rising 2 in one way and one way only -- it starts off with the hero participating in a Terror is Reality event. But from the jump, things are noticeably different.
"TK has a very special surprise for you," announces flamboyant Terror is Reality host Tyrone King to a shouting mob of rabid fans. "He is the original zombie killer himself. The one, the only… Frank West!"
West, dressed in an embarrassingly tight wrestling singlet, rises up from an elevator where he's dropped off at the entrance of an MMA-style octagon. Fireworks explode as he enters the ring, at first alone, but quickly joined by a group of bloodthirsty ghouls wearing Luchador masks. The bell rings, and the action begins.
With a two minute timer displayed on top of the screen, the goal here is to earn cash for killing as many zombies as possible within the set limit. West immediately begins to fight off the horde, throwing beefy punches and combos, knocking zombies heads off as he fight for his life and cash. It's obvious that, from the start, he's a bit more of a bruiser than Greene was -- he's dropping creatures with running bulldog moves, suplexes, and even a spinning lariat.
Weapons -- a staple of the Dead Rising universe -- are dropped into the ring before long. West devastates his attackers with everything from a chair to a largely ineffective foam finger. Soon, the gates on the ring fall, and he's swamped by the undead from all sides, using everything he has at his disposal to snuff out anything that moves. Four posts sitting around the ring also offer charming ways to take out the ghouls. Standing on one sets in motion a collection of blades that you can then toss zombies into for bonus points. Another triggers flames that burn any living dead still in the ring to a crispy pile of bones and dead flesh.
When the dust clears and Frank is declared victorious, he doesn't feel like much of a winner. His self-respect is in the gutter, and he just wants to take his money and get out of Fortune City as soon as he can. Things don't go quite as planned, when he runs across Terror is Reality host TK and a young stoner planning something suspicious. His instincts as a reporter immediately kick in.
The camera, as always, is around West's neck and here's where we see it come into play. He quietly watches from scaffolding as a devious discussion unfolds, and an equally mysterious set of packages are exchanged. Pulling up the camera, the game shifts to the familiar first-person lens mode, and West snaps a picture. As fans of the original Dead Rising would expect, he earns "Prestige Points" (or PP, the game's experience currency) for the photo documentation.
If you missed the photo system in Dead Rising 2 (it's like Pokémon Snap with zombies!), you're in for a treat with Off the Record. It's back, and it's almost exactly how you remember it.
Frank finds a pile of stuffed unicorn heads on sticks and earns additional PP for finding something humorous in the world. There's a poster advertising Fortune City's family fun restaurant, "Jugg's Bar and Grill," on the wall; snapping a photo of this earns you bonus PP in the "Erotic" category.
When Frank is inevitably discovered snooping by TK's goons, he's forced to fight back, taking out the three suited monkeys with a series of melee attacks. Soon, everything goes to hell -- zombies get loose, the infection breaks out in Fortune City, and Frank soon as to fight for his life. The demo ends in a fashion that's typical to Dead Rising games: the hero pushes through throngs of zombies -- watching survivors who simply can't be saved dying by their hands -- in an effort to survive.
A good reporter (he's covered wars, you know), he takes pictures along the way. He captures images of the chaos, earning "Horror" and "Brutality" category photos along the way. Frank's not without a sense of humor, though. In one instance, he grabs a zombie from behind and essentially "photo bombs" his own image, snapping a photo of him grinning next to a zombie before he throws her aside.
Off the Record isn't just changed in terms of adding photography to the mix. The entire world has been transformed to reflect our new story. Posters of Chuck Green promoting his appearance on Terror is Reality are now covered with advertisements of Frank doing the same, for example.
But because Frank is the center of attention here, that doesn't mean Greene is out of the picture. While Capcom isn't ready to explain how Greene will fit in, there were obvious hints strewn about the demo. When Frank enters the backstage green room, he spies an empty backpack and a portable gaming system lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Fans of Dead Rising 2 will immediately notice it as belonging to Katy, Green's infected daughter. Greene will also be playable as the second character in Off the Record's co-op mode, although how that fits into the story is unclear.
Listening to fans and critics was key in helping the team build Off the Record, we're told. The save system, for example, has been further improved for the new title. A checkpoint system has been incorporated, which will have the game save progress after major story points, after fighting off the game's psychopath sub-bosses and upon loading into a new area. Speaking of load times, we're told these have been reduced; the idea that Dead Rising fans might spend fewer seconds looking at load screen is certainly welcome.
There's more in store, although Capcom is obviously keeping some information close to its chest before the game's release later this year. We know that Frank, infected by the zombie virus as part of the Dead Rising canon, will need to find and use Zombrex at regular intervals. We also know there will be an entirely new area/zone that Capcom will only say is "not a casino and not a mall." Combo weapons will also make a return, along with a slew of new weapons previously unseen in the series.
There's also an entirely new game mode, and -- shocker! -- Capcom isn't talking about it yet.
"The one thing that I can say about the new mode is that it's big," says Leigh. "I think it's the biggest addition to the game, and it's something that [Dead Rising] fans have been asking for since Dead Rising 1."
Also not being talked about yet: pricing. But as Leigh points out, this is a full disc-based game and not downloadable content. It's also, he says, "bigger game than Dead Rising 2." With that in mind, it's going to be "appropriately priced"; take that how you will.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is slated for a release this fall for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. We'll be seeing more, including some of the game's mysterious new components, at E3 in June.