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.
"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.
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.
But, apparently, people complained more about Dead Rising 2's save system than any other feature. "The checkpoint system offers one more layer of protection for the user," Leigh explains. "So if you end up dying you never have to go too far back before you're able to progress the story." Can you turn off Off the Record's new save system? That's undecided, Leigh says.
Other changes, however, are guaranteed to please. The camera system from Dead Rising is back, although this time West uses a digital camera rather than a film camera. After his turn on TIR, West stumbles upon TK and one of his cronies discussing some nefarious goings on. From a high vantage point West takes picture after picture – recording the conspiratorial event like the photo journalist he was born to be, and commenting on his own handiwork in typically cocky fashion.
With the return of the camera comes the return of the special PP sticker moments and the PP category system. A snap of a poster of two big jugs – actual jugs – falls under the "Erotica" category. A picture of a child's discarded backpack and what looks like a Game Boy falls under the "Drama" category. A snap of a head grinder ticks the "Horror" category box. In short, West's camera looks like it will offer just as lovely a distraction in Off the Record as it did in Dead Rising.
After taking some quality snaps of TK and his chum, West is caught in the act. Three "toughened up" thugs trigger a scrap. We see them sway and dodge in a way Dead Rising 2 enemies didn't. But West is tougher still, using those Zangief lariat and Guile flash kick moves to polish them off. "Yeah, still got it," he remarks.
At this point the outbreak from Dead Rising 2 begins. Alarms ring, screams deafen and zombies lurch about, chewing flesh. What does Leigh do? He takes pictures, of course. Off the Record's higher zombie density offers a prime opportunity for quality PP-earning pictures.
The electric guitar is a good starting weapon here. We see Frank wield it, triggering the same animations he displayed in the first game. Leigh says the zombies have been made more aggressive, although it's hard to tell from this early stage.
Certainly there seems to be more of them than before. Behind a grating someone dies – the unfortunate victim of the undead horde. But next to him we see something we haven't seen before – a man who shoots himself in the head. Previous Dead Rising games have been grim, of course, with gory zombie-on-human and even human-on-human action. But suicide? This is new.
Off the Record still seems to retain the series' sense of humour. There is a new move which sees Frank grab a zombie and take a one-handed tourist-style snap of the pair, complete with cheesy grin. It gets a big laugh from the crowd.
And that's it, for now. The first 15 minutes of Off the Record is over. We've seen plenty, but Leigh outlines further changes just to hammer home his point.
Load times are being improved (a "significant improvement" is promised). There are new weapons, several new combo weapons, additional psychos, an entire new area in Fortune City and, "Perhaps biggest of all," an entire new mode Leigh refuses to discuss.
Off the Record, then, is a larger game than Dead Rising 2. And co-op multiplayer is included, this time with Frank West and Chuck Greene as the second player.
The game's origin is noteworthy, too. When working on Dead Rising 2, Blue Castle had plans for a director's cut. But then came the fan reaction to the announcement of Chuck Greene as the lead character. Leigh says all the questions about Frank West's whereabouts created "an extremely interesting opportunity".
"Rather than do a director's cut," he explains, "what would happen if we re-imaged the Fortune City outbreak with Frank West in the title role?" The development team, once presented with the idea, ran with it. The result is not a director's cut, but a "fan's version" of Dead Rising 2.
Despite all this, despite Leigh's claim to the contrary and despite the very different first 15 minutes, many will dismiss Off the Record as a cynical cash-in. It's an understandable reaction from gamers wise to the wily ways of publishers. Why bother? Why not just release it as DLC? And, where's Dead Rising 3?
But we're more excited about Off the Record than any of the other games shown at Captivate. It's an odd realisation: here we have a game that's instantly familiar, but fresh. A game that feels old yet new. A game that changes Dead Rising 2 for the better – and maybe for the worse.
Will it shut all the haters up? Perhaps not. But it should make them think again.