When Photojournalism Fails
HIGH The wide array of sandbox zombie slaughter challenges.
LOW How are the boss fights even worse this time?
WTF Frank’s wrestling onesie.
I understand the logic behind this game’s existence. Dead Rising‘s Frank West was a popular character, and the combo weapon system in Dead Rising 2 was good, but not everything it could have been — why not make a few tweaks and combine the two?
Sure, Off The Record is mostly just a collection of reused assets, but it’s got one of those sandbox modes that are so popular with the kids these days, and at a budget price what’s not to like? Well, there’s something missing — a heart. The emotional resonance that formed the core of Dead Rising 2 is completely absent, leaving only quirky zombie killing and annoying boss fights.
It’s impossible to overlook the extent to which this is the exact same game as DR2. Not only does it have a virtually identical plot and just one new location, a surprisingly large amount of the character dialogue is repeated nearly verbatim. This wasn’t noticeable the first time I played Off The Record since it was released a good while after DR2‘s original release, but playing these PS4 reissues just a week apart means the lack of original content is impossible to miss. The only real difference? Frank moves and fights more awkwardly than DR2‘s original hero Chuck, making the bosses even more frustrating than they already were.
To be fair, Frank improves quickly and has a lot of new moves that make fighting zombie hordes more bearable, so long as the player takes the time to level him up before they get into the main game. How? In Off The Record‘s biggest (and best) innovation — the sandbox mode.
Operating under the assumption that anyone coming to Off The Record would have already played DR2, the devs allow players access to the whole map as a playground separate from the campaign. It’s full of zombies to kill and challenges to complete — things like ‘kill X amount of zombies with weapon Z before the timer runs out’ and so on. It’s easy to jump into, has a huge amount of content, and allows players to level Frank up while aimlessly screwing around. I honestly don’t understand why more progression-based games don’t include modes like this one, because it’s great.
The other huge improvement is a change to the combo weapon system. Players are still forced to travel to crafting benches (there are a couple per area) to make the weapons that are the game’s sole reason for existence, but the developers have made tracking down compatible items far easier. All Frank has to do is hold a component in his hand, and any items that it can be combined with will have an indicator over them, making it obvious what can be picked up and experimented with. It’s a great addition, and an intermediary step towards the perfected version of this system that appears in Dead Rising 3.
While Off The Record may have made some improvements, what it gets wrong ends up being much, much worse. Simply put, the story of Frank trying to get his career back (while saving his own life) is far less compelling than the heroic narrative in DR2. Frank is likable enough with his awkward quips and lascivious nature, but he just can’t hold a candle to Chuck — his desperation to save his daughter and herculean efforts to rescue as many people as he could were far more compelling.
Likewise, bringing photography back to the game was a huge mistake. It was the worst part of Dead Rising, and the interim years haven’t improved it. The only real EXP points available come from snapping pics of bosses when they strike a pose after hitting Frank, or of the reactions when certain survivors meet one another. There’s a moment at the beginning of the game when it seems like the player will be asked to take pictures of evidence to put together a story, and had the plot revolved around actually gathering photographic evidence, the camera stuff would have felt worthwhile. Sadly, using Frank’s camera is still superfluous since Off The Record‘s plot is about chasing quest markers until boss fights happen.
While Dead Rising 2: Off The Record outdoes its predecessor in terms of raw playability and the amount of content it offers, it’s just not as satisfying. Both Dead Rising 2 and 3 understand that these are games are fundamentally about helping people in a terrible situation, and they’re richer because of it. Frank West’s jokey manner fits the sandbox mode well, but his detached, ironic worldview doesn’t land the way the rest of the series does. In the end, this effort feels like a minor sidenote before the series put the best pieces together for Dead Rising 3.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Capcom Vancouver and published by Capcom. It is currently available on PS4, PC and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 hours of play were devoted to multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M. It contains Partial Nudity, Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, and Use of Alcohol. At least they noticed the sexual themes this time around! All in all, this is actually far less scandalous than the previous game. Yes, there are some sexualized female characters and some skimpy costumes, but the amount of threatened rape has dropped to zero, so that’s something. In case it wasn’t clear – kids still shouldn’t play this game. Older teens at the youngest.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game doesn’t have any audio cues of note. All dialogue is subtitled — the only thing you’ll be missing out on is the calls of stranded survivors, but they almost always have very visible onscreen nametags which can reveal their locations.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: Yes, there are colorblind modes available in the options.