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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC DEVELOPER: Capcom PUBLISHER: Capcom
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 11, 2011 GENRE: Survival Horror
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

Frank West is "back in the game".

NOTE: I am reviewing the PC version of this game, but all versions are essentially similar.

The original Dead Rising received a lot of praise and quickly became an Xbox 360 classic. The reason why...? Could it be the everyman photojournalist Frank West who makes the game so appealing? Or it could be that the world Capcom created left a lasting impression. I honestly can't put my finger on it. The sequel, developed by an entirely different studio, kept the zany approach of the original game and introduced us to a new playable character, Chuck Greene. Side game, Off The Record, sees how the events of the second game would have transpired if Frank West had remained the protagonist.

The Dead Rising games deal with the average Joe finding himself stuck in a zombie outbreak and having to conjure up a variety of effective ways to knock back the undead while on a journey to uncover the truth. The original game introduced the concept of creative zombie dispatching weaponry, such as golf clubs, skateboards, bowling balls, and tennis racquets. The second game (and this pseudo expansion pack) take things further with the craftable weapon combinations. Nails and a baseball bat make for a good old fashioned bludgeoning standard, while combination weapons such as the Cryo-Pod and Weed Tendonizer are far-fetched but beautiful. Killing zombies with crafted combo weapons gives you much more experience so the game really encourages you to make them.

Off The Record is set in Fortune City, the "new" Las Vegas. The Sunset Strip was firebombed due to a zombie outbreak so Vegas had to move. Frank West is at Fortune City to take part in a reality TV show, because his own career has practically ended and his popularity faded. In the original Dead Rising he managed to uncover the truth behind a zombie outbreak at a shopping mall and bring the perpetrators to justice, or as close to justice that he could considering most of those involved died somewhere along the line.

Now a washed-up has-been, Frank takes part in Terror Is Reality, a game-show where contestants kill zombies in a brutal and over-the-top fashion to win prizes and cash. Frank sees the show as an opportunity to reinvent himself and become famous once again. However, danger follows Frank West. Actually, if we're being honest here, he tends to sniff it out, too. An outbreak occurs and Frank finds himself once again wrapped up in a web of deceit and drama... and of course, zombies. Being older and out of shape, it gives us a good excuse for why he needs to level up and gain "prestige points" all over. It also gives us more reason to be amazed when he manages to catch up with a moving train or go toe-to-toe with a massive clawed robot.

Dead Rising uses time-based gameplay. Events are displayed on your digital watch, and specific things happen precisely at certain times. If you're not there for them, you lose the chance to do them. Lose track of the main story, and you're stuck where you are. However, if you miss any side missions, you can carry on and still get the best ending, provided you unlock "Overtime". This is a feature in the Dead Rising games where you get a bonus end-game scenario and get to uncover the whole truth. Overtime takes the form of a fetch quest with some seemingly menial items to collect, but you get the joy of knowing you finished the game having "saved the girl" and cracked the case wide open.

The main story in Off The Record mirrors that of Dead Rising 2 partway. Characters and events from the game appear and occur, but some characters assume very different roles. In one sense, the game takes the approach of "what-if", whereas it may have been better if it made more drastic changes to the formula. For the first hour or so, it really feels like a re-tread. Nevertheless, the game adds an entirely new section to Fortune City but does very little with the area in a story sense. It ends up being the backdrop for the final conflict, a location for a fetch-quest item, and nothing else.

What happens in Fortune City stays in Fortune City — and it's "gore-ius".

You can get a lot more time to visit the unique space-themed Uranus Zone in the sparkling new Sandbox Mode, which allows you to explore the city and complete challenges in exchange for experience and money, both of which can be transferred to Story Mode. The game difficulty encourages you to play Sandbox to get stronger, however Sandbox itself is unintuitive as it still asks for the unorthodox method of saving utilized in the Story Mode, where upon dying you can either reload a save or start over with your current progress.

Therefore, this game still follows the Dead Rising tradition of being like bashing your head against a brick wall until something happens. Trying to force through the main quest line at low experience levels puts you at a major disadvantage because you can carry less items, run a lot slower, and will have much more trouble rounding up survivors. This one aspect of Dead Rising is often criticized for making the game too difficult for newcomers, and I'll level with you — it does.

It also makes the game way more satisfying when you get good at it, and the only way to get good is to practice.

The largest complaint I can throw at Off The Record is that it is a game that expects you to have beaten Dead Rising 2 and have good knowledge of the original Dead Rising, as parts of the story and particular plot reveals would mean Sweet Fanny Adams to someone who doesn't have that pre-requisite trivia. My major recommendation is that if Off The Record appeals to you, play through Dead Rising 2, watch a long-play on YouTube, or read a decent plot summary.

As a whole, I much prefer Off The Record to its canonical counterpart because it brings back Frank West (along with his ceaseless quips about everything) and has a larger selection of weapons and features. This game also has its own unique psychopaths to find and defeat, one of which is an interesting reversal of a character who you should be very familiar with if you follow the series. The appeal that Off The Record has is based on its references and nods to previous games in the franchise while having the added benefit of tweaks and changes based on critic and user feedback. While its writing is at times pretty poor and the game itself feels like a string of events rather than a coherent narrative, it is still heaps of fun to play and I very much wanted to find out the truth behind what was happening. Certainly not the cash-in it looks like from a certain distance, and worth playing if you enjoyed either of the first two games.

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