Dead Rising 2: Off The Record (XBOX 360)
Zombie games... we love them. Few games offer as much potential for carnage as those based around a story involving the undead but their inclusion doesn't always guarantee success. These games stand blood soaked after the battle, or fall into a bite marked mess in the gutter based on their polish and tone. Deliver a half-finished game full of bugs and gamers will quickly switch off. Try for scares and fail... never good. Attempt over the top gore but miss out on the sarcasm and tongue in cheek aspects and all attempts at creating the next Romero' esq masterpiece are in vain.
Capcom with their Dead Rising series have been very much in the "go over the top" camp and in their most recent zombie outing we saw them offer a vast game with thousands of zombies and plenty of hugely ridiculous fun... want to create a paddlesaw (dual chainsaw, oar hybrid weapon), no problem. Want to zoom round the gameplay arena in a wheelchair with machine guns taped to the sides... equally possible.
Now Capcom are back, not with a sequel but a low cost stand-alone expansion of the Dead Rising 2 universe and in it the original character from Dead Rising, Frank West returns. Down on his luck and desperate to turn things round we find ourselves trapped in a zombie infested city with 74 hours until rescue, a crime to solve and that's before we even consider our need for antidote against our own infection...
When some of the first words we see in a game are "Kill Zombies, Earn Money" it tends to set a tone for a game. When that is followed by what can only be described as a royal rumble style battle between ourselves and an arena of zombies complete with baseball bats, folding chairs and meat grinders in the corner of the ring we are left in no doubt that Dead Rising 2 "Off the Record" aims to be a hell of a lot of fun.
And that's before we even get to Uranus Zone with its lazer eyed helmets that burn through zombies, fairground rides that launch the undead into the stratosphere and, well... it wouldn't be Uranus Zone if we couldn't painfully impale some zombies completely inappropriately.
The reason we are in this arena is that Frank West, our main character, needs some extra cash. He was king of the world after the first Dead Rising game but fame went to his head and he lost everything. As a last resort we take part in a reality TV show where killing as many of the infected as possible will gain us cash.
After the fight as we leave the arena our path happens upon some of the key characters in the story taking part in a rather dodgy deal which allows the game to introduce the photo mechanic which was part of the original Dead Rising. Take pictures of events for experience/skill points (such as ratings for Brutality, Erotica etc) and these can help us later as the story progresses... or just work for showing off cool in game events to our friends.
Following this meeting we find ourselves thrown into he main game mechanic which is essentially a fight for our lives against a city full of zombies. Picking up anything we can to use smash, stab, slash, explode, burn and otherwise dismember and kill the undead on our way through a selection of missions.
There is a main plot running through Off the Record, that being our need to find out why the infected suddenly became loose, but mixed in with this we have the ability to take on sub missions, saving survivors and leading them back to safe houses. The main plot also sees us having to find Zombrex along the way as every 24 hours (and there are 3 and bit days to get through) we need to inject ourselves or risk turning.
Sound familiar? Well that's probably because you played through the original Dead Rising 2. As we mentioned earlier this is an expansion of the DR2 universe rather than a new game... a what if the main character was Frank and not Chuck type experience mixed with a few tweaks such as more checkpoints and better in-game messages.
The main change other than the lead character which has been made since the last game is that Capcom have introduced Sandbox gameplay, available from the outset, which allows us to play in an open world completing challenges without the time limit of the standard Dead Rising campaign. In this mode the challenges are ranked as gold, silver or bronze and online leaderboards are available. CO-OP also makes an appearance allowing a friend to get involved in the carnage and we can play in this mode on Xbox live completing challenges as we progress.
Graphics and Audio
Dead Rising 2 - Off the Record looks and for the most part feels the same as the original. The art style is the same, the characters are generally the same with Frank in Chuck's place and cut scenes are also similar. This of course also means we get the massive amount of onscreen zombies which looked so awesome in the first edition... hundreds upon hundreds can be onscreen at the same time and while this looks great there is still some noticeable slowdown when things get really busy. Uranus Zone does add some freshness though with its bright colours and whacky gameplay.
By this point in the franchise it should be no surprise that Capcom have the score spot on. From splats to slashes to explosions to the high pitched whine of a drill as we stab a zombie everything sounds good... mall music is also recreated well, sitting in the background just as it does in real life.
For anyone who played the original Dead Rising 2 this new version will feel quite similar but that isn't the only game which Off the Record brings back memories off. The other is Duke Nukem Forever.
The difference is though that where DNF did things badly, Off the Record does them well and where DNF succeeded, Off the Record betters them. This is a lesson for Gearbox (and the previous Duke developers) on how to take a character from an older title, mature them and drop them into a relevant, up to date game which manages to mix toilet humour, over the top writing and action to create a fun, engrossing game.
Off the Record is entertaining right from the outset because it knows how not to take itself seriously and it offers one of those experiences where we get to turn our brains off and just have a blast, solo or co-op.
Hacking through a load of zombies for hours on end would be tiresome normally but the ability to make our own weapons and as a result of the varied items kicking about the city, the constant battles remain fresh. Something which is assisted by the complete insanity of Uranus Zone. In addition to this the inclusion of Sandbox mode means we can enjoy more of the city than is possible in story mode as there is no time limit and need for Zombrex pushing us from mission to mission and location to location.
There are a few minor issues with the game though, the most noticeable being the slowdown which is evident when hundreds of Zombies are onscreen (360 version tested) but that as we see often these days is the result of a developer trying to push what is possible on current generation hardware. In addition to this there are a lot of load screens, though Capcom tell us time on these screens has been reduced...
The thing that really moves Off the Record from a bit of fun/rental to a must buy title is that Capcom have been very fair in acknowledging this isn't a "new" game and so priced it accordingly. Amazon currently have the PC version listed for £12.99 in the UK (the equivalent of $19.99) with the PS3 and 360 listed for £17.99... Not bad for a game which is arguably better than the full priced version it replaces.
Not in the slightest bit PC but all the better for it. Dead Rising 2 Off the Record is full of over the top fun and zombie based carnage... and we love it. 85%