Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is one of those cases of good things coming in unexpected packages. On the surface, it looks like a cash grab from a publisher taking advantage of a series’ fanbase. After all, it arrives only a year after the release of the original Dead Rising 2, and appears to essentially be the same game with a new hero. Looks can be deceiving, though. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record may be the best game in the series.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is a reimagining of Dead Rising 2, with the primary difference being that Frank West from the original game steps into the lead role. In fact, Off the Record feels like the proper follow-up to Frank's story that players originally expected in a sequel. It picks up the story chronicling Frank West's rise to fame following the events of Dead Rising and an epic fall from grace that leads him to Fortune City.
The structure of the Story Mode remains intact. Players are given 72 hours to complete the main story before the military arrives and effectively ends the game. Time must be managed effectively in order to complete the main cases, while also setting some aside to rescue survivors and gain valuable Prestige Points (PP) used to improve Frank's abilities. Time also has to be made to find Frank his daily dose of Zombrex, without which he will die…well, turn undead. This structure presents the game's core dilemma. There simply isn’t enough time to complete side quests, raise cash, and level up. In many cases, I'd force myself to jump right into the story missions and end up woefully outmatched.
This has often been the case for Dead Rising titles, but Off the Record offers a solution. The new Sandbox Mode can be played through any save file and basically puts Frank West in Fortune City without the confines of the 72-hour time limit. It freed me up to go nuts and whack zombies to my heart’s content. There are also dozens of challenges available throughout the city, many of which open up after a certain number of zombies have been slaughtered. The best part about sandbox is that all the cash I made and levels I gained here can be transferred right over to story mode . So, anytime I felt outmatched in one of the missions, I simply switched over to sandbox and grinded until I was ready to go.
This solution, though, creates a new problem. The game starts to feel repetitious. Slaughtering zombies mercilessly is fun for a while, but the thrill quickly fades. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record tries to mix things up with ample Combo Cards for turning all sorts of everyday items into fun weapons, like a propane tank and a lawn dart. And I admit to getting some big laughs out of taking down zombies with an amusement park ride. But done over and over, for challenges that involve killing as many zombies as possible in a given amount of time and grinding to level up, the fun gets worn out.
The only real sense of variety I had when playing this game was through the return of the photography feature from the original Dead Rising. Taking pictures was one of my favorite aspects of that game, and the same held true here. There are areas in Fortune City that will award bonus PP when captured on film, which affords a nice alternative way to level up. From my experience, however, there weren’t enough of these opportunities.
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Even with the return of Frank West and his camera, there's going to be an undeniable sense of déjà vu in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. The setting is nearly recycled entirely from Dead Rising 2, save for a couple of new areas. The plot, while reimagined, treads familiar territory. And, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the game starts off with Frank West inside a shopping mall. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record won’t do much to alleviate player concerns of the game lacking creativity.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record feels like such a mixed bag. On one hand, it features everything that a Dead Rising title should. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a welcomed feature Sandbox Mode is. I also enjoyed seeing Frank West return with his camera in-hand--although fans of Chuck Greene need not worry, as his presence is felt in both the Story Mode and in the game’s online co-op, as a second player. To me, DR2: OTR feels like what Dead Rising 2 was meant to be--a continuation of Frank West’s story with additional gameplay elements. As a retake on the first run at a sequel from last year, though, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record feels like a "been there, done that" experience. New fans to the series should enjoy this game as a jumping on point, but anyone that's had a full Dead Rising 2 experience prior to this game should weigh whether if they want to take a return trip to Fortune City so soon after the last visit.
[Review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game, provided by the publisher. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is also available on PC and PlayStation 3.]