Dead Rising: Off The Record

On the QT, and very hush-hush.

No publisher is better at recycling its own work than Capcom, but even by the publisher's thrifty standards, four releases containing the words "Dead Rising 2" in 14 months is - to put it politely - alarmingly prolific. Granted, two of those were downloadable add-ons, and standalone instalments Case West and Case Zero both introduced enough to make their very reasonable prices worth paying. The problem with Off The Record is that it arguably adds less than either of these Xbox 360-exclusive episodes, yet costs more.

We're back in Fortune City once again, only this time the lantern-jawed Chuck Greene has been benched in favour of the first Dead Rising's rotund photojournalist Frank West, a move that will be welcomed in some quarters, but not here. I found something endearing in Chuck's frowny, family-man heroics; by comparison, Frank's a self-absorbed prick using an incident where thousands have been killed as a way to get his stumbling career back on track. Besides, 20 hours or so controlling a chubby loser with a receding hairline and a whiny voice hardly represents escapism for some of us.

But Frank is far from Off The Record's biggest problem. Both downloadable episodes gave us new locations to slap zombies around in; here we get one comparatively small new area (a theme park called the Uranus Zone, and you can guess the level of humour that brings to the table) in a sandbox we've already played in. It also fails to resolve familiar niggles, with inventory management and item retrieval still fiddly and awkward, and while there might be more zombies on screen, the engine sometimes chugs as a result.

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Photography's really only worthwhile if you can find a safe spot to take a few shots of the zombie hordes, or you find a key landmark to snap for bonus PP.

There are a few minor adjustments for the better: no longer will you wonder whether a survivor has followed you into a new area or whether they're potential zombie chow, as big red letters now inform you if they're too far away to dart through while you hold the door open for them. Even if that feature hadn't been added, the significantly curtailed loading times would have made this less frustrating than in the original.

Other changes are less welcome. Venture into a new part of Fortune City and a small piece of text in the top left of the screen will inform you that a checkpoint has been reached, allowing you to carry on from there should Frank's last block of health be chipped away by bite, blade or bullet.

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Frank's a bit of a clown already, so he's not quite as much fun to play dress-up with as the super-serious Chuck.

This represents the final nail in the coffin of the original's almost 'roguelike' design, a concession to accessibility that's all the more disappointing given that yellow-and-blue logo on the box. It might have been a boon for the awkward boss battles - another structural weakness that seemingly hasn't been considered worthy of realignment - but then Capcom had already stuck save points in before most of those anyway.

What this change doesn't do is alleviate any of the existing difficulty spikes, or those moments when you think you've reached a mission-critical point in time only to find you're supposed to go somewhere else afterwards. Annoying sticking points remain, like the tiresome bank robbery sequence in chapter 4 where bullet-sponge mercenaries gradually peck away at your energy from afar with their machine guns. Then you go through that same bizarre routine of having to retreat behind a wall to glug some orange juice or coffee creamer - as ever, the most nutritious of all beverages - then running out of ammo and accidentally lobbing a cake in their direction because you've failed to properly rearrange your inventory.

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