For most gamers, Dead Rising has always been a love it or
hate it franchise. The first game gave players a volatile mix of creative
zombie slaying with a very strict time table for objectives. Last year’s sequel
softened the series up a little and added a ton of fun new ways to kill zombies,
but still had its fair share of annoying foibles that made the game more
hardcore or frustrating depending on your disposition. Now the devs behind Dead
Rising 2 have updated the sequel, with new modes, new weapons, new challenges,
and a familiar face in the lead. While it doesn’t leave behind all the problematic points of the original
version, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is the closest the franchise has come to
fulfilling the potential of its premise.
Above: You better
believe Frank mentions covering wars
Taking place in a different reality where Dead Rising lead
Frank West was around for the events of Dead Rising 2 instead of sequel hero
Chuck Greene, Off the Record closely follows 2’s plot. After a zombie outbreak
decimates Las Vegas, it’s remade as casino/adult fun palace Fortune City which
hosts the game show Terror is Reality where West is a contestant. The layout of
Fortune City is unchanged from the first version, save for a new kiddie park that reminds us of
Toy Story’s Galaxy Pizza. Soon enough a zombie outbreak occurs and evidence says a group of zombie rights protestors is responsible, though Frank, ever
the journalist, smells a bigger conspiracy and is going to dig deeper, no matter
how many crazy and/or undead people get in his way.
Much of Dead Rising 2 remains unchanged, just slightly
reshuffled and playing out differently now that Frank’s there, like how Frank is the one needing once a day Zombrex injections to fight off the undead plague instead of Chuck's daughter. In the years
since his first adventure, Frank’s become a more comedic character, with people
constantly mocking him as fat, balding and washed up, not that West lets it
bring him down. That same lightheartedness permeates the whole game, as most of
the events are a little goofier now that the developers are doing them for the
second time around. It’s not a full-on parody, but ratcheting up the sillier
elements helps Off the Record since the series is at its strongest when not
Rising’s most off the wall when it comes to the huge
collection of items you can kill zombies with, something 2 expanded on with the
item crafting system, and Off the Record builds on that by adding new combinations.
Simply using spray paint, fireworks, or stuffed animals against hundreds of zombies
is fun enough, but adding machine gun wheel chairs, boomerang knifes, and gun that shoots dildos (seriously) makes for a great time. However, just as in the original version it
can be a hassle using precious inventory space on the items to make the badass
combo weapons, with some combos being more trouble than they’re worth since they
break as fast as any other item. No matter how you kill the zombies, when you’re
taking down swaths of them with improvised weapons is Off the Record at its finest, but you’ve got to work hard to earn those flashes of enjoyment.
DR2:OTR’s main game preserves Rising’s controversial time
management system, as events and side quests happen at set time periods and if
you miss them, they’re gone for good. Just like previous games, when you’d
rather be killing loads of zombies or searching an area for secret stockpiles
of cash or life-saving Zombrex, you’re instead running off to the nearest
hostage or repetitive, drawn-out boss battle as time ticks away on the clock.
This leads to incredibly frustrating moments like the one we experienced where
we started a story event but ran out of time halfway through and had to revert
to an hours-old save, planning our time better the second time around.
Fortunately time management is one of several things Off the
Record at least improves upon while not outright fixing. Before you only had that one save slot
you were forced to revert to whenever you died or missed a story mission, which
DR2:OTR adjusts by introducing a checkpoint system that softens the blow of
failure. Whenever you enter a new area (and the load times in OTR remain crappy),
the game creates a checkpoint you revert to upon losing, normally replacing a
few minutes of progress instead of a few hours. You don’t choose when the checkpoints are
created, so they could still be in annoying spots where loading an older save
would be preferable, but it’s a big step towards addressing one of Rising’s
If you want to totally sidestep the clock-watching of the
campaign, Off the Record also adds the new Sandbox mode, which almost makes the title
what many gamers dreamed the series would be. In it you can run around and kill
zombies for as long as you like, take on challenges whenever you want, and
unlike the first game’s Infinity Mode, your health isn’t constantly decreasing.
It’s a nice, low impact way to enjoy the game, and you can use it to level up
Frank outside the campaign, decreasing the need to waste valuable time grinding
in the main game.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is a great game for those out
to revisit Dead Rising 2 and those who avoided the series until now. It fixes
or at least improves on several major issues with the series, making Capcom’s
zombie slayer more fun than ever. It may not be perfect and we’re intrigued to
see how the developers build on these improvements in the inevitable
Dead Rising 3, but for whatever it’s worth, Off the Record is the best Dead
Rising game to date.