Seeing as Frank West is the star of the show this time around, the beginning of the game is slightly different to Dead Rising 2. Frank was the hero of the first Dead Rising game (which never made it to the PS3), saving the people of Willamette from a zombie outbreak and gaining instant celebrity as a result. However as time passed people began to forget about him and it didn’t take Frank long to fritter away whatever money he once had. Desperate to make a comeback Frank jumps at the chance to star in the ‘Terror is Reality’ TV show. Straight after his appearance there is a zombie outbreak, and it’s up to Frank to rescue the survivors and figure out who is behind this new outbreak.
It’s important to say this right from the outset – Off the Record is pretty much the same game as Dead Rising 2. The story events are almost identical, though they are told from a slightly different perspective. Most of the psychopaths from Dead Rising 2 return with just a small tweak to their comments and Frank’s one-liners at their demise. There are no significant graphical or audio improvements here, and the same survivors you rescued last time are still in need of help here. The game mechanics remain unchanged; the limited inventory system returns, you can only save the game in the restrooms and you still require prestige points (PP) to level up.
On the flip-side, if you’re new to the series then Off the Record will be a lot of fun. Frank has two main goals in the game; firstly to get to the bottom of how the zombies got free, and secondly to rescue the few survivors scattered around Fortune City. The city is not a particularly pleasant place; to go along with the zombie outbreak more than a few people have snapped, going insane and becoming psychopathic thorns in the side of our man Frank. These psychopaths represent optional boss battles in the game and your reward for taking them out is a hefty PP bonus.
PP is used to level up, which earns you useful upgrades like increased attack power, health, inventory slots and new attacks. Occasionally you’re given combo cards which tell you the weapons you need to combine to make combo weapons. You make combo weapons at any of the maintenance benches throughout Fortune City. Often the maintenance rooms have a couple of weapons in them that can be combined, giving you easy access to select combo weapons. Combo weapons are more powerful and durable than standard weapons and killing zombies with a combo weapon also earns you bonus PP.
Food and drink restores your health and it soon becomes imperative to carry some with you wherever you go. Every bar has a mixer, used to combine any two drinks into a much more powerful juice. Juices have special properties such as damage reduction making them very handy for boss and psychopath fights.
There are various vehicles you can push or drive around town too. Pushing wheelchairs and trolleys lets you run faster, mowing down zombies as you go. You gain access to a motor bike early on, and it is both extremely fast and durable; you can run over three-hundred or more zombies before your bike explodes. Golf carts are less durable but equally effective, and if you have a few million dollars saved you can buy keys to an SUV or sports car which wreak even more havoc than the motorbike. Motorbikes do have the advantage of being modifiable – there’s nothing like adding a chainsaw to your bike to make it the ultimate killing machine (queue maniacal laughter).
If being on the clock is not your idea of fun you can play the all-new sandbox mode which lets you run free around Fortune City with no story missions to complete, and no survivors to rescue. The name of the game here is to unlock challenges by killing zombies in massive numbers, then complete the challenges. Challenges are relatively straightforward – kill x number of zombies in the time-limit, or earn x amount of PP. It’s harmless fun (unless you’re a zombie), giving you ample time to run around and explore Fortune City in a way you simply can’t do when you’re on the clock. The one criticism here is that it’s not a particularly deep or interesting mode. You need to kill lots of zombies in order to unlock challenges… where you kill more zombies. The plus side is that any money and PP you earn here carries over to the campaign, so you at least get something for your efforts.
The only multiplayer component of Off the Record is the ability to join in another’s campaign, or have them join yours. The host player is able to save their story progress in co-op, but the guest is only able to save the PP and money they’ve earned – story progress is lost when they exit co-op play. The fun you have here is almost totally dependent on the host – if they’re happy to run around killing zombies it can be very entertaining. On the other hand if they’re more interested in running from one mission to the next there’s not a whole lot for you to do other than tag along. Boss and psychopath fights are much easier with two players, so teaming up for them is a good plan. If a player loses all their health in co-op they can be revived by their partner with some food or drink.
As mentioned above, the biggest issue with Off the Record is that it is so similar to Dead Rising 2. Aside from a couple of different plot twists, the inclusion of photography, and a the odd new psychopaths or survivor, the rest feels like almost the exact same game. Many of the issues I had with Dead Rising 2 are present here too, including the fact you can only save the game in restrooms, inventory slots are too limited, and heavy weapons must be used immediately rather than held in your inventory. Chuck still seems to run faster when he’s pushing something like a wheelchair or a trolley too which is odd. A sprint button is a must for Dead Rising 3.
The sound effects are well done, zombies sound like they do in movies, weapons sound great as they hack/slice/crunch zombies and other effects like glass shattering, explosions and gun-fire work well enough. The voice-acting is much the same as last time (i.e rather average), though Frank’s one-liners are marginally improved on Chuck’s. Strangely all voices in the game are soft in comparison to the rest of the game, which is a bit of an issue. There’s still plenty of text in the game that isn’t voiced which feels archaic these days. There is music in the game but to be honest I barely noticed it among the carnage being caused.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is an undeniably fun game, but one that hasn’t gone through significant changes in the thirteen months since Dead Rising 2 came out. It may be called a ‘re-imagining’, but in reality it’s almost a carbon copy of Dead Rising 2 with a new character in the lead role. For that reason the game can only be recommended to those who missed Dead Rising 2 last year - anyone with Dead Rising 2 should pass on this game, at least until they find it in the bargain bin. As DLC this would have been very well-received, but as a full-price ‘re-imagining’ it doesn’t make the grade.
Review By: Mike Allison