On the record, "Off the Record" is a cunning but lazy idea

On the record, "Off the Record" is a cunning but lazy idea

"Dead Rising 2: Off the Record" is an excellent example of how the lazy can be cunning.

How else can I explain that Capcom has managed to create a "new" game by modestly altering an existing one?

You see, "Off the Record" isn't an expansion pack for 2010's "Dead Rising 2." It's a director's cut, a substantially unchanged, yet subtly altered alternate.

The changes I speak of? A new "old" protagonist, a tweaked storyline, a few new missions, a theme park to wander around in and the addition of a sandbox mode.

What hasn't changed? Most of the game. The setting -- adult playground Fortune City -- is largely unaltered. So are most of the side quests, i.e. the survivors to be rescued from the zombie hordes and the nutjobs to be vanquished.

The result: a head-scratcher. Who's this game for, exactly?

Real fans of the series already bought and played "Dead Rising 2," so they've already experienced the vast majority of the content.

Does it matter that the original hero of the series, photojournalist Frank West, is back in the saddle, and former Motocross champion Chuck Greene has gotten the heave-ho?

In some ways, yes. Frank's presence returns photography to the series, as well as a droll sense of humor.

But for the most part, no. Not at all.

The changes in the storyline are nice, as are the missions revised as the result of Frank's presence, but not so substantial as to warrant playing through the same material again.

The sandbox mode is really the only place where value is added for "Dead Rising 2" veterans. It allows players to explore Fortune City at will, without mission-based time constraints. And because wandering around aimlessly, killing the infinite zombie horde can get old, Capcom has filled the sandbox with countless challenges players can try their hands at (how fast can you kill x number of zombies?) as well as deranged survivors.

Still, that's not a draw for everyone.

Also, how about if you haven't played "Dead Rising 2"? In that case, "Off the Record" is worth a look. It's a zombie-killing game where the zombies aren't really the focus.

They're more of a nuisance really, malevolent bystanders who slow the player down and give him something to do between missions. I wish I was kidding, but the simple truth is that most of the time, they can be ignored.

But when you want to leave them in piece(s), almost any object in the game world -- baseball bats, park benches, handbags, toys, coffee pots, etc. -- can be used as a weapon. And just like in the original "Dead Rising 2," most items can be combined into brutally lethal devices.

For instance, nails and a wooden bat merge into a spiked bat. Dishes, when combined with a cement saw, become especially deadly projectiles. Or, any Wolverine fan's favorite, is the combination of boxing gloves and a knife; through video game magic, they combine into a pair of claws.

Anyway, the game's real focus is directing Frank as he investigates how exactly Fortune City came to be ground zero for a zombie outbreak -- and battling the people responsible.

And maybe it doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about it logically, but battles with those people are a lot more challenging than the zombies. I mean, in the "Dead Rising" series, a close-range shotgun blast will kill a handful of zombies and knock a few more off their feet ... or it will barely scratch a katana-wielding babe wearing a barely-there sequined dress.

What can I say? It's a video game.

"Off the Record" can be played cooperatively with a friend or a stranger, which can make things substantially easier, especially when dealing with the game's psychopaths. (Players can revive each other, and that's a huge help.) The only real negative is that mission progression counts toward only the host player's game; the guest's game won't be affected.

Well, I think I'm out of things to say. I'm feeling lazy too.

"Dead Rising 2: Off the Record"
Publisher: Capcom.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC. Reviewed on Xbox 360.
Price: $39.99.
Rating: M for mature.
Recommendation: This is a hard one. If you've played "Dead Rising 2," you can safely ignore "Off the Record" unless you're a huge Frank West fan or are really interested in the sandbox mode. If you haven't, it's a decent -- not great, but decent -- game, worth renting, maybe buying.
 

Image courtesy of Capcom
The player is tasked with capping as many zombies as possible with "servbot" hats as the clock winds down during one of the challenges available in the sandbox mode of "Dead Rising 2: Off the Record."

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