A return to Fortune City is exactly that—for better and for worse.
Frank West was clearly a character designed to appeal to the market noted by his last name. Ironically, in parodying Western culture and criticizing it under the hood, the original Dead Rising found a big following of fans, myself included. Dead Rising 2 had a different spin with a more serious protagonist and higher, more personal stakes. And it was all the more original for it. That said, I'm sure plenty of fans—or those who just haven't tried out this series yet—will appreciate the more light-hearted approach Capcom took with this remixed version of the game. “Frankly” speaking, there's not that much that makes Off the Record different from its vanilla version, but some refinements and a change of tone will make revisiting Fortune City (or making a first stop there) worthwhile to a number of people.
Old Frank (seriously, the game won't let up on the “grandpa” jokes) is back and just like you remember him, plus a few dozen pounds. Filling in for Chuck Green, Frank's story plays around with the expectations of those who went through Dead Rising 2, including some surprising and enjoyable twists for fans, all while presenting its narration in a way that will still make sense to newcomers and catch them off guard in the right places. The main plot hasn't changed much, and parts of cutscenes are even copy-pasted from the original version but with altered reactions from our new hero. The story isn't a huge draw, but the franchise has been tongue-in-cheek with providing a plot that takes itself too seriously in a fun way, jokes around at the same time, and somehow still manages to offer a commentary on politics and American lifestyles in the process—in line with George Romero's philosophy with his zombie films.
The tale has been shuffled, and some of the game itself has too. The new theme park area, Uranus Zone (tee hee!), is one of the largest in the game, and easily the most well-defined, detailed place in Fortune City. Still, many subtle aspects of the adventure have been changed. Certain weapons function slightly differently, locations of certain items or NPCs aren't the same, perhaps with the intention that the developers wanted to balance the game out a bit.
In general, Off the Record feels more forgivable in ways that the original was cheap. That said, most of the boss battles are the same, and sadly that means the same clunky, awkward mechanics apply. The same stiff controls that are ofine when dealing with hordes of slow undead do not work out when facing bosses. Getting in multiple strikes in a row are impossible, while bosses are allowed to juggle you around with no remorse. Now, come on, we all know Frank West should be the one tossing people around, right? Also, nevermind the fact that guns are oddly far less effective in dealing damage to bosses than, say, a knife… or a knife duct-taped to a boxing glove. Logic is not Dead Rising's strong suit, and it's too bad the bosses are still as shoddy as ever given how wacky and fun they are in concept.
That said, the suit that does fit well—besides the deliciously purple Space Channel 5-inspired dancing girl outfit—is slaughtering zombies in a variety of ways. There's a lot of new weapons to screw around with and combine, and they're just as amusing as before. But the novelty of whacking zombies with dildos and children's toys quickly gives way to coming up with strategies for which weapons work best in different kinds of situations. Efficiency is key just as it always has been—time is of the essence, and players need to accomplish certain goals and be at certain places in set times to progress the plot. Measures have been taken to make this entry in the series the least punishing in that regard, and if one desires, the story mode itself can be completely ignored in favor of Sandbox Mode.
Sandbox Mode is genuinely that—a free-for-all, open mode with no time limits—and the only consequence to worry about is dying and being sent back to your last save point. This is the ideal mode for multiplayer co-op (which functions just as it did before), and there's a long list of special missions to accomplish and earn cash from. Any stats, skills, and money Frank has are shared between both modes, making it feel productive to hop back and forth. Boss characters and survivors will unexpectedly show up to attack you in Sandbox Mode to keep you on your toes, and the challenges vary from obstacle courses to photo shoots to creative killing sprees. The old—and ironically creative—competitive multiplayer component has been removed in favor of this mode, but it's a favorable compromise, delivering players with the no-pressure option they've always asked for.
Despite the new content, delivered with a flurry of sexual impotency jokes at Frank's expense, Off the Record should be viewed as the game it really is: Dead Rising 2. This is a remixed version, no doubt, but the bulk of content you're going to experience is the same as what the original offered. If you're a big fan of Dead Rising, it's worth revisiting. If you've not played a game in the series yet, now's a great time to jump in and see what the fuss is about. It's still plenty fun, plenty silly, and offers a lot of goals to accomplish and secrets to find.
But the structure of the game is the same, fighting bosses is janky, and if you've played any Dead Rising game, the bulk of the experience is going to feel a bit stale. If you still hunger for undead flesh or are curious to see if zombie meat tastes like chicken, Off the Record has a lot to give you in return for $40. While rehashing a lot of the same content can work out all right for a fighting game, a game like this is going to feel more fatigued when it's brought back from the dead, no matter how fun it is.
Review based on Xbox 360 version. Review copy supplied by publisher.