Zombies are the most malleable of all monsters. Over the years they've signified a wealth of social disorders from the ignorance and fear that fuelled racial tensions in 1960s America to the unthinking mindset ushered in by mass-consumerism. Given the latter, it's more than a tad ironic that Dead Rising 2: Off The Record should exist at all. Are Capcom simply taking advantage of the zombie-crazed consumer, who will slavishly shuffle out to their nearest store to pick up a copy, arms outstretched like one of its many rapidly-decaying characters?
Before I address that questions, it is worth stating that Dead Rising 2: Off The Record is, indefensibly, the fourth game in the last year or so to contain the words 'Dead Rising 2'. Admittedly, two of those titles – Case West and Case Zero – were decent downloadable expansions, which took the game to new locales. Off The Record, however, is being pitched as a 'reinterpretation' of the sequel.
The action takes place in Fortune City – an iniquitous den of gambling and excess – and it's here that the franchise's original protagonist, Frank West, is seeking a redemption of sorts. In an opening montage, we are given a taste of what it was like for the photojournalist following his heroic exploits at the Wilamette shopping mall. He experienced a meteoric rise to fame, but after a scandal his television show was abruptly canceled and "things got dark" for Frank. A mysterious outbreak in Fortune City, and the suggestion of a larger conspiracy, piques Frank's dormant journalistic impulses; he sees the terrible event as a way to reignite his fading career. When compared to the altruistic endeavours of Chuck Greene, the game's original protagonist, Frank's motivations for braving the undead horde appear shallow and self-serving.
This minor quibble about motivation would be entirely forgivable if there were new areas to explore, new weapons to wield, or new missions to complete. Sadly, little has been added. Fortune City is pretty much how you left it, with the small addition of a theme park called Uranus Zone. It adds little to the overall experience, and is disappointing considering the change in locations offered by recent DLC.
Sadly, there are only a few new weapon combinations to fabricate on the maintenance workbenches – the best possibly being an alien mask with the ability to fire laser beams. The overarching story remains ultimately the same, aside from a few superficial revisions. While certain missions are pilfered directly from Chuck's campaign, other cases have seen a little more extensive tweaking. For those who never played as Chuck this won't be an issue, but for everyone else it might induce a queasy sense of deja vu. Walking around Fortune City, you encounter new survivors, but they add so little to the game they may as well have remained unchanged.
The inclusion of Frank West means that the photography mechanic from the original Dead Rising also returns. If you compose yourself and take a nicely-framed snap, you're rewarded with bonus PP (basically, XP). But frequently the dangers involved in taking a profitable pic far outweigh the potential rewards. So while for some it might seem like a nice or nostalgic addition, I rarely found myself reaching for Frank's camera.
Sadly, several problems that have always plagued the series remain. Although the duration of loading times have been reduced, the game is still littered with loading screens – it makes reaching the safe house frustrating, rather than the relief it should be. The inventory system is still fiddly. You tiresomely cycle through weapons and health items in the same way, so you'll still accidentally drop a weapon when you desperately wanted to pick up some health. And the difficulty spikes still return with each boss encounter. So much of your time is spent blithely bashing ineffectual zombies that when you face a real opponent, capable of dealing out brutal damage, it's a genuine shock. This imbalance appears again with no adjustment.
Visual remains unchanged, and the animation is still wooden. The undead horde, however, is bigger and hungrier than ever before, but it seems nobody informed the game engine – it occasionally struggles under the increased processing pressure.
The other notable addition is the Sandbox mode. It allows you to frolic freely amongst the undead, completing challenges both solo and with a friend (there are 30 co-op missions). If you successfully complete a challenge, you'll be rewarded with PP and money. If you've already had enough of the game, it's unlikely that you'll want to spend too long in the sandbox.