While I was a fan of the original game I have to admit that Dead Rising was not something I saw being turned into a franchise. It’s not that I didn’t think it deserved it, but I just didn’t see it happening. Imagine my surprise when Dead Rising 2 came out and Capcom did the unimaginable: innovate. They ditched the star of the original game and had zero recurring roles, instead creating an entirely new protagonist with a vastly different background and reasoning behind what he does.
Enter Dead Rising 2: Off the Record which presents itself as a fanservice “What If?” scenario. Basically it boils down to “What if Frank West was at the Fortune City incident?” and takes off from there. An interesting premise as far as the game itself goes and people really do like Frank West. But how much changes with the presence of Frank rather than Chuck? Enough to warrant another purchase?
Since the events of the first Dead Rising game, Frank West has become a celebrity of kinds. Surviving the first zombie outbreak and providing first-hand coverage of it as well as revealing the source of it and helping develop the cure/vaccine for the virus will do that. But by the time of Dead Rising 2 it’s been a few years and it appears that Frank has become something of a has-been. Various mentions are made throughout the game in regards to his various attempts to make money and a name for himself all invariably failing to some degree. This leads to Frank coming to Fortune City to take place in the game show Terror is Reality for some cash.
The beginning of the game starts off interestingly enough. Things unfold similar to the way they did in the original Dead Rising 2 albeit with different dialogue from the various parties involved, and it looks like things are going to be a little different. The intro plods along until Frank gets to the safe house and that’s when reality sinks in.
This isn’t a “What if” scenario redesigned around Frank, this is literally Frank West dropped into Dead Rising 2 in place of Chuck.
The opening sequence featured new dialogue of the characters talking to Frank and of course all of his lines are new but for the rest of the game almost everything is exactly the same as it was in the original game. The survivors you meet (as well as their locations and what time they’re found), the psychopaths, the combined weapons and their ingredients, everything. The dialogue they all speak is the same for the most part, with the writing for Frank written accordingly so everybody’s intentions and reactions are still the same.
There’s one psycho fight where everything is going fine in the introduction cutscene until Chuck innocently says the word “slow”, which causes the simpleton of a man to lose control and go full on murder mode. All of his dialogue is the same this time around, and Frank takes a cue from our motorcycle driving friend and drops the same word, triggering his aggression.
However, while everything from the original game is intact as far as gameplay goes a few things were changed and some new stuff was added.
The largest addition is an entirely new zone to Fortune City; the Uranus Zone. This new theme park is accessible from the beginning of the game and offers plenty of mini-games and PP opportunities as well as many new items and weapons. A few new combo weapons were added as well, with a couple of them located in this new area. As for gameplay features the most obvious is the return of Frank’s camera and the ability to take pictures.
The new zone is pretty interesting and is very nice looking visually, though it did lag and stutter a lot whenever I bothered to go there. As I was trying to beat the story and get the best ending I didn’t spend a lot of time just goofing around as the story doesn’t leave much room for that, and nothing significant happens there until the end of the game.
In addition to all of this there are two new psycho fights that happen fairly late in the game, and while I won’t spoil exactly what it is here a few plot points were changed. This results in a drastically different ending and while the true final boss is still the same person, not everybody involved in the plot plays the same role.
One character in particular plays a vastly different role this time around, however most of their early game dialogue wasn’t changed at all and it seems like things are going to play out the same with them. When the different outcome happens it comes completely by surprise, as by all means the story was still building them towards their original goal. In the story it feels like they were just being a jerk for no reason.
Aside from some plot differences, a few other minor things were changed that actually alter the game drastically and certainly for the better. In fact, two things in particular might just be the greatest changes made since the original game and solve the biggest problems the original had that persisted into the sequel.
Rather than a walkie talkie the game has stepped up the technology level quite a bit and Frank is given a bluetooth earpiece in the beginning. At first this just seems like a throwaway change until you get your first call and realize the truth. Frank is no longer interrupted by answering a call and you can tap the D-Pad while still swinging your weapon and keep slaughtering zombies without missing a beat.
The other is the addition of checkpoints. One of the biggest problems a lot of people had with Dead Rising and the sequel was with the save system which was entirely manual. The save system itself is unchanged and when you boot up the game you can still only load your manual saves, however the game introduces soft checkpoints frequently. Upon death you simply reload at the last checkpoint (usually entering a new zone or starting a fight) and try again.
These two changes alone fix some of the biggest problems with the game, and hopefully remain present in whatever future entries we see to the series.
Outside of the main game there’s another drastic change that fans have been asking for since the beginning. The Terror is Reality mini-game from the original Dead Rising 2 is gone and has been replaced by a sandbox mode. Yes, FINALLY the game features a story free mode where you can simply run around slaughtering zombies to your hearts content. Even the constantly lowering health from the original game has been removed. Yes, this is a true sandbox mode with no restrictions or needless distractions.
Your main game and sandbox saves are tied to each other as well, and any money or PP you earn in sandbox is transferred to your main save giving you the opportunity to to power up and earn some extra cash in your spare time without worrying about missing your next mission or having to start over to get anywhere.
Scattered throughout the map in sandbox mode are a variety of challenges which you can complete at your own leisure. These are of course completely optional and can be ignored if you want, but present a nice set of extra objectives to keep you focused if you desire such things.
I’m extremely torn on this game, and honestly spent most of the time not sure how I felt about it. While the game is almost entirely the same as Dead Rising 2 where it matters, it also improves on things drastically to create what I feel is the greatest Dead Rising experience to date. All of the minor changes improve the game drastically and create what I feel is closer to how the team envisioned the series being from the beginning.
At the same time however almost every single thing about it is the exact same as Dead Rising 2. While the sandbox mode is fun and the single greatest addition to this new entry, the fact that almost everything else is unchanged still leaves me with a sour taste. If you never played the original Dead Rising 2 for whatever reason and enjoyed the original despite it’s flaws, this is easily the best version of the game to pick up. However if you’ve already experienced what Fortune City has to offer, I’m not sure I can recommend this in the slightest.
Take everything I’ve said with a grain of salt. Other than the addition of sandbox mode, the checkpoints and the new call system, anything you loved or hated about Dead Rising 2 hasn’t changed. I loved Dead Rising 2 personally and this improved on it in every way in a technical aspect, but it’s also nearly the same game.
Overall, an enjoyable experience with all high points buried beneath that ever present feeling of familiarity.