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Dead Rising 2: Off the Record review

Dead Rising 2: Off the Record may just be the best, and most complete DLC ever released for a console game. Unfortunately, it is not a DLC at all, but rather a $40 rehash of last year’s Dead Rising 2 that happens to have a new(ish) story and a different protagonist in series star Frank West.

When I first began playing DR2: OTR, I began to wonder whether or not Capcom was trying to drive me mad, because I could swear that I played this exact game just a year ago with a different character. It is more than just a similar game, it is the same game with a few minor tweaks. And it’s $40.  

DR2: OTR isn’t a bad game, far from it, but it sits in something of a limbo area, floating between full retail version and DLC. This game will be perfect for people that enjoyed the first Dead Rising but never played the second. A new story is just the framework to exploit the game’s powerful engine which allows up to 7,000 zombies on-screen at once, and the weapon combinations are still incredible. If, however you played Dead Rising 2—and if you are a fan of the series odds are that you did—than you are essentially playing the same game again, just with Frank West and a new area called The Uranus Zone Amusement Park–which is a good inclusion, but not a significant one.

So it really comes down to how much you enjoyed Dead Rising 2. If you loved it, can’t get enough of it, maybe even got a “DR2 4Life” tattoo, then maybe the $40 price tag is easily justifiable. A new sandbox mode which does away with the timer is an excellent inclusion as well, but it alone isn’t enough to justify a new game, even with a $20 cut off normal retail price.

The Story Redux

The big draw to DR2: OTR is that it features the return of the series’ original protagonist, Frank West. Following his escape from Willamette, Frank had a brief fling with fame, but it was short lived. He screwed it up, and found himself heading straight for rock bottom when he headed for Fortune City, Nevada (aka faux Vegas) to appear in an episode of the zombie killing reality competition, “Terror is Reality.”

After the show, Frank finds himself in the middle of yet another outbreak, and he is trapped in Fortune City with only his wits, his camera and several hundred customizable zombie-killing weapons at his disposal. A quarantine has been issued for the city, and the survivors must hold out for 72-hours before rescue is a possibility. Frank must travel though the town, rescuing survivors and smashing zombies, while attempting to discover the origin of the outbreak. 

With the 72-hours comes another time limit-heavy series of missions. This forces you to move ahead, but it also means that you will have to make some difficult choices regarding which missions to handle. The best addition (and really the only gameplay addition) to DR2: OTR is the sandbox mode, which does away with the time limit and lets you kill zombies to your black little heart’s content, but it does not offer a story mode.

The story itself is a bit of a mixed bag, and it feels a lot like a slightly watered-down retelling of DR2, just from a different angle. You will run into Chuck Greene, the protagonist from Dead Rising 2, and the interactions somewhat contradict, or at the very least limit the ending possibilities of DR2. It is never a major issue though, and for those that skipped DR2, the plot works fine. The story has never been a major part of the Dead Rising series, and that doesn’t change here.

The More Things Change

The gameplay mechanics for DR2: OTR are essentially the same as those of DR2, and so are the problems. The zombie-whackin’ good times of last year’s DR2 were solid, but nothing has changed, at all, which just adds to the feeling that this is an expansion pack that is being marketed as a semi-new game. A few new tweaks would have gone a long way, but the core mechanics are sound.

A few new weapons and possible workbench combinations have been introduced, but there were so many in DR2 that weapon selection was never an issue to begin with. The new area, The Uranus Amusement Zone is a definite plus, but again, it isn’t really anything more than a new area to kill zombies in and take on the odd boss battle.

One major issue for the entire series returns—the difficulty. The game itself isn’t insanely hard, but the lack of save rooms and absence of any form of autosave can make every death incredibly frustrating. Capcom and Blue Castle address this by introducing the occasional checkpoint, which does help a bit, but these checkpoints are not save points so you will need to keep playing until you find a place to save your game. The checkpoints are there as a safety net if you die, not a replacement for the frustrating save points—or lack thereof.

The sandbox mode is perhaps the highlight of DR2: OTR. Instead of being forced to run from location to location to avoid the time running out on missions, you can now just satiate your inner monster and go zombie killin’ for as long as you want. There are challenges to be found in the sandbox mode as well, but you can choose to access them or not, and you are under no pressure to do anything but beat the undead to death.

But while the sandbox is a great addition, it is a limited one. Doing away with the missions and timers makes sense, but repetition can quickly creep in without them. It is fun for a while, but becomes little more than a shallow amusement. You can earn money and experience in the sandbox mode, then use it in the story to give you a bit of a boost which is a good addition, but there just isn’t enough to do in the sandbox mode to justify adding it to an expansion and calling it a new game. It will make for a great addition to Dead Rising 3 though, as long as there is more included with the package.

Co-op also returns, and it is the same as with DR2. The host controls the story while the guest joins in. It is fun, but it is the same as last year’s game.

Conclusion

Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is a great game.  Just like it was a great game when it came out last year with a different protagonist.  DR2: OTR is just Dead Rising 2 with one new area and a new story. That’s it, and it costs $40. The sandbox mode is fun for a limited time, but not really revolutionary, and the gameplay is the same as before—exactly the same. The graphics are identical with no improvements, the save system is still aggravating and the plot is almost an afterthought.

Part of the problem with DR2: OTR is that Dead Rising 2 is just barely a year old. If there had been more of a gap, perhaps it would have been more exciting to see this game fill the void until the next full sequel is released. Or even if they introduced a totally new mode or gameplay style, other than sandbox which is just a free mode to run around in. There just isn’t enough to justify calling this a new game.

If this had been a DLC, it may very well have been the best DLC ever. For $20, the expansion pack would have had fans laughing and high fiving each other with joy. Instead it is hard to justify the expenditure, unless you skipped Dead Rising 2. If so, then maybe the value is there. For everyone else, unless you are a hardcore fan and can’t get enough, you are essentially paying for the same game again.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

 (This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Capcom)