Review: Dead Rising 2: Off The Record

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After stepping aside to let Chuck Greene take over the lead role in Dead Rising 2, original photojournalist and zombie slayer extraordinaire, Frank West, is back in the game. Poor Frankie has endured some dark times since his rise to fame following the Willamette outbreak depicted in the first Dead Rising, and at the beginning of Off the Record his desperation sees him competing in a deadly reality TV game show for cash.

Off the Record isn’t a brand new Dead Rising tale, but rather a retelling of Dead Rising 2’s Fortune City zombie romp, with good ol’ Frankie boy plugged in for the original version’s motocross champ and a few added twists and turns appropriately adapting the story to the personality of its returning protagonist. So be cautioned – if you already own Chuck Greene’s Dead Rising 2, this re-imagining is redundant in spots and may feel like zombie overkill after the full original game release and two DLC episodes within a year’s time. (Although Capcom was wise to release it at a discounted launch rate of $40.)

The zombie hordes Frank faced in his brief time as a game show star have been set loose on Capcom’s fictional Sin City as part of a sinister plot, and he seizes the opportunity to get to the bottom of the incident and reprove his journalistic skills (and maybe pick up a hot new girlfriend in the process). Frank has 72 hours to survive the undead onslaught and get his scoop, tracking down a dose of Zombrex each day to stifle his infection and keep you from seeing a game over screen.

Frank’s zombie slaying escapade sees him mowing through swarms of filthy flesh-eaters infesting the malls, shops and casinos of Fortune City, undertaking timed mission objectives tracked on an in-game watch timer that slowly ticks down as you play. The forced time limit on missions and investigations helps create a sense of urgency that absolutely works in a game with hundreds of hungry brain-gobblers always standing between you and your destination. When there are so many zombies in front of you, the temptation is to chop ’em all down, and when there’s a timer telling you that you can’t always do so, it may seem like an obstruction. But that’s what a sandbox mode is for, and Off the Record‘s got one of those, too. (More on that later.)

Like Chuck, Frank can craft homemade instruments of death and dismemberment by combining other weapons he happens to lift from local shops or scrounge up in back rooms and corridors meant for employees only. Bringing components to the maintenance rooms scattered throughout the play environment, you can craft a wide range of wicked combo weapons. These combinations can be as simple as sticking nails into a baseball bat or duct taping knives to a pair of boxing gloves, or they can be a bit more outrageous, such as strapping a grenade to a football (Hail Mary!) or replacing the strings on a weed whacker with sharp blades. Yard work in Dead Rising is no chore, folks.

And that’s always been the simple joy of the Dead Rising experience. There is something undeniably satisfying about cutting through thousands of shambling zombies with a machete attached to the end of a broom, all while rocking Napoleon Dynamite snow boots, a skin-tight pair of jeans, a Uranus Zone t-shirt, a ninja mask, and a frilly, pink-bowed, woven hat (or any clothing combo you can come up with from the many available fashion choices). Now with Frank’s grand return to stardom, you can once again snap photos of the mayhem as well, earning bonus Prestige Points (experience points for increasing Frank’s skills) for capturing the horrifying, silly, and erotic events that are part of everyday life in Fortune City. This game’s sole purpose is to put a bloodthirsty grin on your face stretching from ear to ear, and it succeeds…most of the time.

Parts of Off the Record, however, still haven’t evolved or improved from previous installments. Frank’s controls and movements, for one, are still pretty stiff and unwieldy at times, particularly when attempting to dodge roll or keep the crazed boss psychopaths in view without aid from a lock-on mechanic. Zombies are slow and dumb, so they are easy enough to cut down free-handed. But human enemies are more agile, and attempts to kill and evade such opponents can become excruciatingly difficult.

The forced downtime is another returning annoyance. For most of the game, the clock is used to increase tension and pacing, but a few periods throughout actually slow progress to a screeching halt, locking main story mission behind time of day barriers that prohibit further advancement. During these times, you have free rein to kill zombies, hit the casinos to score extra cash, face off against psychotic bosses, search for numerous (and often hilarious) Easter egg-like surprises hidden throughout the game world, or undertake the many escort missions that have you tediously backtracking across the map to rescue survivors – sometimes perform a fetch job – and then safely guiding them back to the safehouse. These give huge PP bonuses, but by the time you’ve performed escort duty for four or five survivors, you’re ready to avoid the rest.

All that would be – and is – great in the context of a sandbox mode, but in a story mode it’s lame that you are often forced to play at a pace the developers set for you, rather than one you set for yourself. One time gap became so long, I actually found a safe place to rest Frank and left the game running, allowing the time to pass by while I checked emails and did some other work until I was able to proceed with the next case file. Fortunately, Capcom did address the load times, which there are still a lot of, but now they are snappy enough that they never become an impediment as you trek back and forth across the city. Checkpoints are also now saved automatically whenever you change locations on the map, so there is much less chance of losing and having to replay a large chunk of progress after a death.

As previously mentioned, a significant new feature in Off the Record is a true sandbox mode. On top of the 15-hour story mode (which also supports New Game + for return visits), sandbox play allows you (and an Xbox Live buddy) to roam about Fortune City killing zombies, experimenting with different combo weapon recipes, and snapping pictures without any time or story constraints to slow you down. As the kill counter increases, optional challenges, such as killing a certain number of zombies within a time limit or racing to reach designated areas on the map, become available, rewarding you with bonus cash and bronze, silver, and gold medals based on how well you perform. What’s also great about sandbox play, is that all PP and money is shared with the story mode, and vice versa. That way you can switch between the two and contribute to a collective sense of progression and accomplishment.

With sandbox play, more combo weapons, and the return of Frank and his trusty camera, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is Dead Rising 2 the way it should have been in the first place. Like the two previous installments, this game is chock full of mindless zombie slashing, disturbing imagery, dark humor, bad jokes, cheesy dialogue, annoying control inadequacies and frustrating time restraints — and did I mention it is also really damn fun? Well it is! Dead Rising doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. Just play it and enjoy it. Now with more Frank.

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Pros:
+ Frank is back, baby! (And so is his camera)
+ Sandbox mode finally allows timer-free zombie slaying
+ Killing zombies with so many crazy weapons never gets old
+ Improved checkpoints and load times
+ Great value for $40: 15-hour story, unlimited sandbox play, shared progress and New Game +

Cons:
– Controls are still clunky in spots
– Time restrictions bring progress to a halt
– Escort missions and constant backtracking become tedious
– Retreads familiar ground

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Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360; also available for PC and PS3
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Release Date: 10/11/2011
Genre: Zombie Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1 (online 2-player co-op)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!