Dead Rising 2: Off The Record Preview

Frank West, huh? We had a feeling you'd show up.

Capcom has been releasing enhanced versions of a lot of their games lately, so it shouldn't be that shocking to see Dead Rising 2 get the same treatment. As its subtitle implies, this particular edition of the zombie-slaying, time-managing, kill-zombies-with-anything-you-can-find series is non-canonical to the Dead Rising mythos. It's not a prequel or a sequel, nor is it just the same game with more content.

Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is an alternate take on the story of its 'vanilla' counterpart, swapping out motocross champion Chuck Green and replacing him with everyone's favorite photojournalist, Frank Westthe protagonist of the original. Many fans, myself included, were let down when we realized Frank was a no-show in Dead Rising 2 (apart from the DLC), and while Chuck turned out to be a more serious but certainly likeable character in his own right, his melodramatic 'Big Daddy' syndrome took away from the zany humor that made the original Dead Rising different from many other zombie games. It seems that good ol' Frank was the missing factor.

In this alternate universe, Frank's fallen from the glory he received after exposing the truth of what happened in Willamette. The guy's developed a beer belly and a receding hairline to match, washed up and forgotten. Following a similar path that Chuck ran, he ends up at Fortune City in the middle of a new outbreak and thus a new plot to foil. Of course, if you recall the setup of the original version, you can already guess that the storyline here needs to be quite different if Frank is the star. And indeed it is. Most every cut-scene I encountered in my extensive time with the preview build was different, and whole chunks of the plot are rearranged, messing with player expectations from what happened in the original version. I can assure fans of Dead Rising 2 that you are in for plenty of surprises.

This said, Off the Record is not a completely different game. This is Dead Rising 2 in terms of how it plays, the basic structure, and the mechanics. That said, there are many subtle refinements and additions that make the experience better. Players can check the time on the map screen without being vulnerable to attack, learn new techniques and abilities in a different order than Chuck did, and don't have to run back to the safe house when it comes time to administer a dose of Zombrex.

Positions of certain items, NPCs, and side missions have also been rearranged, and I even noticed a few weapons functioning slightly differently. There are definitely some new objects to play around with and, more importantly, new weapon combos, so keep that duct tape at the ready. And since Frank is the big star here, it's a neat little addition to hear him have more voiced dialogue in-game when encountering various NPCs and Psycho bosses than Chuck ever did.

There are some more significant alterations, however. At least a couple of new bosses lie in wait, for example, and a host of random oddities can be toyed around with in the new Uranus Zone, a sci-fi theme park that is about the size of any other area in the old version of the game, complete with carnival games. And I know you guys missed taking those zombie erotica photos to share with your friends, so Capcom has answered your prayers and brought back the photography element, including experience bonuses and hidden PP stickers. I was also able to check out a concept art gallery, which teased other goodies and characters you'll have to see for yourself, as it's another new feature.

Perhaps the most prominent addition here, though, is something fans and critics alike have complained about since the start: a true sandbox mode. I'm happy to tell you that Sandbox Mode is here, and from what it seemed, was unlocked straight from the get-go. I was able to hop back-and-forth between story and sandbox, maintaining my statistics, PP, and cash across both modes. Essentially, this means that any PP or money earned in the sandbox can then be applied to your story progress, and vice versa. Sandbox mode isn't just mindless destruction, though if bopping zombies repeatedly with dildos is all you want to do, knock yourself out, because you can. There's no timer and no pressure here, meaning players can explore Fortune City freely and experiment. But violent humansand even bosses, it seemscan show up without warning to keep you on your toes. So remember to keep some coffee creamer handy, as drinking it straight from the jug heals all wounds.

Last but not least, this mode features dozens of missions that are unlocked as more zombies are slain. The tasks I played included some basic ones, from killing as many zombies as I could in a certain amount of time (or even with a particular type of weapon)m to running an obstacle course as fast as possible. Despite my experience with the series, though, I was hardly able to eke out a couple of silver medals, much less the gold ones, so there's bound to be some strategies you'll have to cook up if you want to reach the higher ranks of these missions. Oh, and yes, this is a new release, so there's a slew of new Achievements/Trophies to earn, too.

If all of this is sounding like a good excuse to revisit Dead Rising 2, you'll want to keep an eye out for Off the Record when it launches this month. At the discounted price of $40, it looks to at least provide a lot of content with some tweaks to the formula, all while keeping fans surprised with its story differences. Frank West, it's good to have you back.