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May 2024

Dead Rising 2: Off the Record

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Sept. 13, 2016


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Xbox One Review - 'Dead Rising 2: Off the Record HD'

by Thomas Wilde on Feb. 28, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Dead Rising 2: Off the Record sees photojournalist and original hero of Dead Rising's Willamette incident, Frank West, take center stage as players experience a re-imagining of the Fortune City outbreak. Forget what you know about Dead Rising 2 because Frank West is back in the game!

Buy Dead Rising 2: Off the Record

I think Capcom got the wrong idea somewhere along the line. They decided around 2009 or so that one of the primary reasons for Dead Rising's popularity was its protagonist, Frank West. He did turn out to be a fountain of quotable lines, but Frank himself is probably the least interesting part of the original DR.

Even so, he has his fans, and his reintroduction to the franchise as one of the two protagonists of Dead Rising 2's DLC epilogue, Case West, got a lot of attention. As a follow-up, Capcom Vancouver began to plot another DLC, Off the Record, which would explore the events of Dead Rising 2 as they'd have unfolded if Frank had been the main character. As they told me at E3 in 2011, the project eventually grew to the point where they decided to release it as its own stand-alone game.

In the five years between DR and DR2, Frank won the Pulitzer Prize for the book he wrote about the Willamette Incident, but his star's been steadily falling since then. In an attempt to get back into the limelight, he agrees to star in the "Terror is Reality" pay-per-view event as a special guest, taking on an arena full of zombies in what's basically a Hell In A Cell match. As Frank's leaving, he stumbles onto the plot to cause an outbreak in Fortune City, which plays out a bit differently than it did in DR2. Frank is subsequently caught in that outbreak and sets out to figure out the story behind it.

Off the Record is flagrantly non-canon. While a lot of the early game and side missions unfold identically to the main game, it eventually goes off in its own direction, and not simply because it's Frank instead of Chuck. Most notably, the big twist at the end of the game is entirely different, as are the biggest boss fights.

The base game's been reshuffled and updated in a lot of little ways. The Fortune City complex has a brand-new amusement park area to play in, there are a couple of new side missions and boss fights, there are a lot of new combo weapons, a lot of the items in the mall have been moved around, and the mission timeline's been dramatically altered. Once you get past the first couple of hours or so, OTR is absolutely determined to screw with people who mastered DR2.

Most importantly, Off the Record has one of the single most-requested features in the franchise: a sandbox mode. It's available from the moment you install the game, and it lets you roll around the entire Fortune City map at your leisure, earning levels, combo weapon schematics, and cash that you can then import into the main game. This comes in handy, since there's a story mission at one point that requires you to earn and spend a million dollars, which would be a real dick move if you couldn't retreat into sandbox mode to grind for cash. On the other hand, leveling is a lot faster and easier in the story mode, which strikes an interesting balance.

In gameplay, Off the Record is a sort of Dead Rising 2.5, and it remedies a lot of the problems I had with DR2 while adding a lot of little quality-of-life adjustments. Frank starts out with the jump-kick and dodge-roll; you get a huge, unmissable warning on-screen if you're about to leave a survivor behind; you can now track missions from the map, which pauses the action; and Frank is given a hands-free headset, which allows you to answer radio calls without disabling your ability to fight. Most importantly, the game now auto-saves whenever you enter a new area, which takes a lot of frustration out of the main missions.

Many of the old glitches have been smoothed over, such as the wonky hit detection with firearms, although some of them still pop up from time to time; most notably, I keep running into glitched, floaty jumps, where the game takes a few seconds to figure out whether or not Frank should be allowed to land on the platform I've targeted. (You can do this virtually at will by trying to jump onto one of the benches that surround the bar in the Americana Casino.) It's still a more stable experience than DR2, although not by much.

My biggest problem with OTR is Frank himself, who spends the entire game self-consciously winking at the camera. The story is basically one of Frank learning how to be a real person again after spending years high on his own hype, and that much I don't mind, but he adds unnecessary color commentary on most missions and exchanges. There are probably people for whom this is a significant value add, but I'm not one of them, especially when he starts throwing out lines from the original Dead Rising like he's expecting to get applause from the studio audience.

At the same time, Off the Record is still Dead Rising 2, with the thematic dissonance that I mentioned in that game's review. It's even more pronounced here, if anything, as Frank throws out sly little side-long quips on everything like he's starring in both a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode and the movie it's mocking. I don't exactly mind Frank as a character, but you have to be a lot more of a fan of him than I am before this works as well as Dead Rising 2 did. Still, it improves on that game's basic model and adds the much-needed sandbox mode, so call it a wash.

Score: 8.0/10

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