Dead Rising 2: Off the Record Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: October 11, 2011

Since it has the Capcom name pasted on the box art, it was only a matter of time before Dead Rising 2 got the “Director’s Cut” treatment. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is this new and slightly improved version of vanilla Dead Rising 2, but this “what if” version finds itself in a tricky situation. How much does it add and how much does it keep the same? It doesn’t strike this balance in the best way, but it still reminds me of all the fun times to be had in this zombie killing universe even if it lacks substantial new content.

This might be the thesis for this whole review, but the story, aside from the last hour, is basically unchanged from DR2. Someone has freed the zombies in Fortune City and your main character must find a way to expose the guilty soul responsible and a way to escape this wretched city. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still found it to be an enjoyable journey and wasn’t bothered by seeing what was basically the same content again. It’s paced well, but the loony characters really help the narrative presentation. I would have wanted something completely new, but it’s acceptable in some ways that it is extremely similar.

Instead of Chuck Greene keeping zombies at bay and hauling survivors to the Safe House, a familiar face has returned to star this time around. This Dan Aykroyd look-alike is none other than photojournalist Frank West and I can definitely see why he was chosen. I never played the original Dead Rising, but I was almost immediately sold on his way of handling business along with his cheesy, smartass one-liners. He was a likable guy with just enough sarcasm and seriousness to really sell him as someone to root for.

The other cast members also share a similar fate, although they take a bit longer to warm up to. During their introductions, almost of them show themselves off as one-dimensional “blah” characters with cringingly corny dialogue. This quickly fades as you get to interact with them more, which gives them time to show their other emotions through solid performances coupled with interesting story beats. Even the nearly voiceless survivors are pretty funny, with insane situations and “WTF?” scenarios that help mask the fact that they are essentially escort missions.

Escort missions, however, still make up the bulk of the gameplay. Survivors still need your wise pathfinding to help lead them to the Safe House and it hasn’t really changed much. There is now a notification at the top of the screen that lets you know if anyone is lagging behind (trust me, they will be), but it still doesn’t hide that you still have to wait for their slow asses to catch up. Once you get them to the safety vent, you still need to load into the Safe House, then immediately back out of it, something that should have been remedied. It would have been such a helpful improvement just to send them to the vent, get your PP, then leave because the system they decided to leave in has only gotten more tedious over time. If you didn’t like moving crowds of people through the zombies, it hasn’t changed much but it isn’t as bad as it could be.

On your way to saving these liabilities, hundreds upon hundreds of zombies will be aimlessly wandering around and begging for a good debraining. Like Chuck, Frank can combine weapons to slay the undead with. It’s the same mechanic as in the last game: find two compatible weapons, go to a workbench, and voila, you have a ridiculous armament in your arsenal. Ten new combo weapons add on to the already existing bunch and remain to be one of the highlights of the game. Yes, the spiked bat is still the go-to in almost every situation, but looking around and goofing off with the items that surround you keeps combat interesting knowing there are new toys to figure out. This feeling is kind of spoiled if you already know the combinations from the last game, so unless you literally forgot everything, the sense of discovery is only relevant to the new combo weapons.

Slicing through zombies is satisfying, but this joy doesn’t carry over to the boss fights at all. Psychopaths are psychotic human character fights that litter throughout the world at certain times and they all have one thing in common: they are all terrible. While these psychopath fights are thematically interesting, with odd quirks and equally crazy voice acting, they just aren’t any fun to fight. Zombies are slow, meaning the normal combat is just as slow to match them, so it doesn’t always stick out. Psychopaths run around with speed that far surpasses that of a zombie, so it is beyond infuriating that the slow moveset can’t keep up with boss’ pace. I always felt cheated when I got hit and never felt like I had a fair shot at the fights. I’ve completed the original Dead Rising 2 twice, so I know the most exploitative way around most of these fights, and I was still having trouble.

Back in the old Dead Rising 2 days, dying led to teeth clenching and gratuitous swearing due to the lack of a checkpoint system. Checkpoints weren’t even present in that game, so if you died you’d better hope your last manual save wasn’t too long ago. Not only was it archaic, it was just a horrible design decision. Now death is not as permanent, thanks to the addition of checkpoints. Every time you enter a fight or room, you restart there instead of your last save, which is a lifesaver in a game like this. I was willing to risk a bit more knowing I wasn’t completely boned if I would happen to keel over. I feel like an old man saying “Back in my day, we had to manually save every five minutes!” but that is completely true. This lone feature would give newbies reason enough to start here for the Dead Rising action.

Checkpoints can only do so much, because the timer can screw you in more ways than one. Whereas most games give you an infinite amount of time per objective, there is an ever-present clock dictating when missions start and end. Tension arises when multiple objectives flood your mission log and the vital cases are close to running out of time, and if you fail to finish those missions, you have to start the game over or load a save. Sometimes you must choose on what you must do. Do you rush and try to get as many survivors as possible but risk losing the case mission? Or do you leave a survivor or two in order to make enough room to continue the game? This unique sense of urgency plays well, as it leaves you reasons to revisit it on New Game+ and keeps the game moving at a swift pace. There are a few times where you can screw around, but that time is fairly limited.

If you do want to screw around endlessly without a fear of running out of time, the new addition of sandbox mode might be for you. Zombies and psychopaths permeate the world without any sort of nagging clock telling you what to do. Optional objectives also have spread themselves out to give you some sort of challenge so you aren’t just wandering around aimlessly. This mode is a cool addition, something some fans probably wanted, but without the clock, it doesn’t really click for me. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t have the structure that I find fun.

It is impressive how many zombies fill the screen at any given time, but it seems the framerate can take a hit due to this. Even during cutscenes, the game can chug when events aren’t even hectic. I understand that it is probably hard to render that many zombies, but at what point does it hinder the game? Also, the new area has an even harder time keeping its frame count up. The new last boss takes place here and was like a slideshow almost the entire time. Loads have seemingly been shortened a little bit as well, but they still are too frequent and lengthy and quickly lose any sort of momentum. Saves also take a long time, making it even more tedious to go out of your way and save. Maybe my memory is off, but it seems Off the Record has more technical issues than its predecessor. Seems backwards, right?

As funny as it sounds, I wouldn’t recommend Dead Rising 2: Off the Record to anyone who has already played Dead Rising 2 because of the extreme similarities they share. Being the fourth Dead Rising 2 product (Case Zero, regular DR2, Case West, and Off the Record) to be released, it would seem to need a girth of new content to separate it from the rest of its brothers. Sadly, it doesn’t but it’s still a unique game that doesn’t really have a peer outside of its own franchise. The new stuff is good and enhances the experience, but it is the same game (until the last hour) with slightly different cutscenes. I definitely encourage anyone curious in this franchise to start here, but people who already had their enjoyment in Fortune City can just leave Off the Record off the radar.

+Creating weapons leads to having plenty of inventive armaments to kill zombies with
+Story is engaging with good performances from the characters and gives the player reason to move on
+Timer adds an interesting tension not found in many games
+Checkpoints help alleviate some frustration
-Basically the same game as Dead Rising 2 until the very end
-Psychopath boss fights are horrendous
-Lengthy, frequent loads and saves
-Minor annoyances pepper themselves throughout the game
-Framerate can chug frequently

Final Score: 7.5/10

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