Review: Dead Rising 2: Off the Record Debuts Much Anticipated Sandbox Mode
At a Glance
By the time Dead Rising 2: Case West limped onto Xbox Live Arcade last December, it's fair to say that some fans were experiencing a mild case of overkill. Capcom's no stranger to milking its successful franchises, but even with stellar reactions to Dead Rising 2 and bite-sized prequel Case Zero, a third standalone entry in just four months was pushing it. Case West had its own issues that amplified the feeling, though, and a bland setting and scenario couldn't even be saved by the co-op appearance of original star Frank West. And fans love Frank West; he might be a pompous buffoon, but he's our pompous buffoon.
Considering the recent malaise, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record might seem like one of the series' Queen wasps, floating our way only to be swatted and squished -- but it mostly works. Essentially a remixed version of Dead Rising 2 with West in the lead role, Off the Record explores the what-if scenario of how he'd have tackled the challenges faced by ho-hum replacement, motocross champ Chuck Greene. It's an awkward premise, for sure, but the story prompting it is gold: West, chewed up and spit out by the celebrity machine after a brief rise to fame, finds himself broke and desperate, thus turning to a profitable appearance on zombie-slaying reality show, Terror is Reality.
From there, the campaign largely follows the events schedule of Dead Rising 2, deviating more in the little details than overall objectives or missions. Off the Record is much less a new adventure than an opportunity to see how West's personality shapes the familiar encounters and interactions -- not to mention a chance for him to ham it up with iconic one-liners like, "I've covered wars, you know." We know, Frank. The storyline takes some notable twists down the line, though, and it also recasts Greene's journey, though without spoiling anything, I'll just note that his demeanor has changed a fair bit.
Off the Record's adjustments manifest themselves in more tangible ways, however, such as the reappearance of Dead Rising's photography mechanic, which awards experience points for all manner of silly and horrifying snapshots. And the all-new Uranus Zone theme park smartly complements Fortune City's existing wonderland of malls and casinos. Fresh combo weapons are also appreciated, as is the new checkpoint system that further marginalizes the prospect of failure, but the new missions don't always generate much enthusiasm. One in particular, which requires you to amass a large sum of money over a long and uneventful span of time, feels like a placeholder that never got replaced.
As a whole, while West is the more engaging protagonist of the two, Off the Record comes across very similarly to last year's release; so unless you're dying to spend more time in this world, it's bound to feel rather inessential. And it does, though Dead Rising 2 remains an entertaining, comical romp on the second go-round, as slaying the undead with a variety of tools -- from swords to plush toys and saw blade-firing tennis ball launchers -- still generates laughs and cheers with regularity.
What saves Off the Record from being easily skipped by less-devout series fans is the long-awaited addition of a freeform Sandbox mode, which lets you tool around the world without mission timers. Freed from narrative restrictions, the Sandbox is always popping: psychopaths run wild around the city, and quick-hit challenges -- like killing a certain number of zombies or quickly climbing to a far-off spot -- are found in every area. It's a simple initial offering, but Sandbox mode is a lot of fun; and experience earned via kills, photos, and completed tasks transfers to your Story mode save (and vice versa), letting you swap between the two for a richer and lengthier overall quest.
As much as Dead Rising 2: Off the Record trades on the familiar, putting the experience somewhere between a love letter to fans and an oddly-premised business decision, the addition of Sandbox mode helps justify the return visit to Fortune City. Though between the character swap, tweaks, and additions, trying to imagine the path towards a proper third entry seems more confusing than ever.