Dead Rising 2: Off the Record

Go West.

As the hack pack shuffles out of the Dead Rising 2 Off the Record presentation at Capcom's Captivate conference, someone says something which sticks: "Well, that will shut all the haters up."

That's probably over-egging things a bit, but it's an interesting point. Off the Record feels like the sequel many Dead Rising purists craved. Why? Because Frank West is back.

"The Fortune City incident," West quips in his gravelly Jack Nicholson tone. "People always ask me about it. 'Why didn't you cover it? Why didn't you break the story? Why weren't you there, Frank?'

"Well, I wasn't. Chuck Greene was. He broke the story. Uncovered the conspiracy. Became a hero. Got famous.

"The next question people always ask is, 'If you'd been there, what would you have done differently?' My answer? Everything."

The word "everything" crops ups quite a lot during Jason Leigh's presentation. Having held the title of senior producer on Dead Rising 2 at Blue Castle Games, he's now working at Capcom Vancouver as executive producer on Off the Record.

This new offering represents more than a palette swap, more than a new skin, more than a DLC costume pack or patch update. Frank West's appearance changes everything.

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Frank West is dishevelled, a tad overweight and proper grumpy.

"This isn't just a replacement of a hero," Leigh says. "We didn't just take Frank and drop him into Chuck's shoes. We re-imagined the entire game, as Frank West would have experienced the outbreak."

Chuck, you'll remember, was in Fortune City to play the zombie-killing gameshow Terror Is Reality. He was trying to earn enough cash to buy his daughter Zombrex. In contrast, Frank enters Fortune City as a washed up celebrity.

Following his star turn in Dead Rising Frank became famous, turning out a talk show and a best-selling book. But success went to his head and he flushed his career down the toilet. He appears on TIR as a special guest zombie killer hoping to reignite his career. Think I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! with more zombies (or fewer, depending on your point of view).

Leigh's live demonstration of Off the Record's first 15 minutes is designed to convince us the game's worth the full price we'll be asked to pay for it. It begins, as Dead Rising 2 did, with host Tyrone "TK" King working the mic in front of an excited studio audience. But instead of bigging up Chuck Greene and his zombie-cutting motorcycle, he introduces Frank "the original zombie killer" West, who appears in a wrestling ring wearing a leotard.

Here we see what Leigh describes as a "tougher" West. He picks opponents up and tosses them into dense zombie crowds. His punches make short work of stray individuals. Then, in a clear nod to Street Fighter, West does a spinning lariat, clearing multiple zombies in the blink of an eye. With another nod West backflips, kicking a zombie's head clean off. A "tougher" Frank West indeed.

But, as is Dead Rising's way, there are simply too many zombies. Helpfully there is a grinder on each corner of the ring, and West can jump on top of these to activate them. They chew up zombies factory machines mulching meat. Points, points and more points. TK gushes, the crowd cheers and the show ends.

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Tyrone King returns - as do those twins.

Those annoying twins from Dead Rising 2 show up and rip into poor, washed-up West. "This must be so embarrassing for you," one says with a sway of her hip.

"Doesn't look like those baldness remedies worked too well," says the other, feeling herself up. Zing.

The twins have a point, though. West looks different. He's put on a bit of weight. He's lost some hair (a zombie outbreak will do that for you), and he exhibits a slightly depressed demeanour. Sitting in the changing room after the show, he wonders whether he's done the right thing.

Throughout the demo Leigh highlights small visual changes. We see a Frank West poster taped over a Chuck Greene poster. There are new items scattered about that make searching rooms interesting again. But it's the following change, or as Leigh sees it, improvement, that's guaranteed to stir up the hornets' nest.

Once again, toilets act as save points. But the game now has a checkpoint system which automatically saves just before a boss fight, every time you load into a new area and whenever you pass a critical event.

For purists, this change may seem blasphemous. Dead Rising is a difficult game series. While the sequel was easier to complete than its predecessor, it was still hard compared to most modern day action games. Dying and having to start over was part of the sandbox on the clock charm, and having to escape to the reassuring safety of a toilet to save was an important part of simulating the fear.

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