With last year's Dead Rising 2 Blue Castle Games -- now Capcom Vancouver -- took the great framework established in the original 2006 game and improved on it in just about every way. Fortune City offered a larger and more varied space to run around in while the addition of combo weapons and drop-in/drop-out co-op play offered gamers the opportunity to interact with the world in whole new ways. The only downer for some fans of the first game was the absence of the original protagonist, photojournalist Frank West.
Enter Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, a sort of "what if" scenario in which the Fortune City outbreak is allowed to play out once again, this time with Frank at the center of what's happening. Originally planned as a director's cut release, the team at Blue Castle, under the direction of executive producer Jason Leigh, decided instead to deliver a reimagining which basically functions as what they call a "fan's version of the game."
Leigh laid out some of Frank's back story following the events of the first game in an interview last week at Capcom's annual Captivate preview event. "After the Willamette incident in Dead Rising, Frank actually became famous for awhile. He had a best-selling book, he had a talk show, but he let success go to his head," Leigh explained.
"He arrives in Fortune City several years later and he's actually at the bottom of his career. He accepts an invitation from the producers of Terror Is Reality, the zombie-killing game show, as a special guest zombie killer. He thinks getting back onto TV, earning a little bit of cash, will put him back on the map."
Leigh ran through the opening 15 or so minutes of Off the Record in a demo presentation. As with DR2, the new game opens with a Terror Is Reality human vs. zombie showdown. In the previous game, Chuck Green's skills as a motorcross racer informed this opening sequence, with a bike-driven TIR event called Slicecycles. Frank is more of a "brawler," and because of that his own Fortune City adventure begins with a showdown against a pack of Lucha Libre zombies in a specially designed wrestling ring.
"This is a tougher Frank West in a deadlier Fortune City," Leigh explained. "So even though we taken the zombies, increased the density, made them more aggressive, we've also made sure to make Frank more capable so that he can actually rise to that challenge."
He certainly proves that he's capable in the wrestling ring, which looks like a pretty standard close-quarters fighting arena with a few deadly twists thrown in. Shortly after the match starts, person-sized meat grinders appear in each of the four corners. By climbing on top of one, Frank activates the grinder below, with any zombies who give chase being drawn in. It's not an entirely safe haven however, as only a handful of seconds after the grinder is turned on, flame jets aimed at the platform activate, meaning Frank needs to turn on the grinder and then clear out quickly to ensure that he isn't burnt to a crisp.
The match ends and Frank meets TK to receive his money, weathering some insults from Dead Rising 2's lovely twin psychos, Crystal and Amber. Apparently Frank has fallen far enough that he's now hawking some kind of baldness cure? Poor guy.
He heads back to the locker room to count his winnings, and realizes as he considers the ridiculous wrestling outfit he's been forced to wear and the way he's being treated that he's become a joke and a sellout, and he's being taken advantage of. Frank starts to make his way out of the building with a heavy heart when he overhears TK talking in an adjacent room and investigates.
At this point, the demo turns to showcasing the return of the full category-driven camera system seen in Dead Rising. Frank observes from a series of catwalks above a large, warehouse-like room as TK speaks with Brandon, the glass shard-wielding hippie psychopath from last year's game. TK hands the granola-munching no-goodnik a suitcase full of cash, a package that looks mysteriously like a time bomb and a keycard.
Frank is shooting from above the whole time. Shots of TK and Brandon chatting yield PP (the game's experience) in the Special category, though there are other photo ops to be found as well. A collection of oversized saw blades and what looks like a meathook is chalked up to the Horror category while a shot of some stray sex toys and a bottle of lube is classified as Erotica.
Events continue from here until the outbreak occurs, at which point things become pretty familiar. Frank must fight his way through the back corridors of the arena, eventually making his way out to the main entrance and, eventually, the strip. As Frank makes his way out, a few references to Dead Rising 2 can be seen.
At one point, a TIR poster of Frank in his wrestling get-up is left only half-covering a similar poster of Chuck Greene. Frank also comes across a discarded child's backpack and portable video game device in an empty green room, both of which should look very familiar to fans of the last game. Unfortunately, the demo ended as soon as the arena exit was reached.
Leigh promised a number of new and added features for Off the Record in addition to the re-tooled "what if" story and the return of the camera system. A new area will be added to the game -- "It's not a casino and it's not a mall," Leigh said -- as well as a new mode, something which fans have apparently been asking for since the first game. There will also be a number of new pyschos joining an updated roster of the previous game's psychos.
Perhaps most exciting of all is a newly updated save system. While players will still be able to save their progress by stopping off at a convenient restroom, they'll now be further backed up by the addition of an autosave feature. Whenever a story moment occurs, or a psycho fight begins, or Frank moves to a different area, an autosave will be made. It is a 180 degree departure from the original game's risk/reward-oriented philosophy, but it's one that most fans will likely meet with approval.
Leigh said that there are "no plans" for prologue or epilogue packs to be offered as DLC, as Case Zero and Case West, respectively, did for DR2. Off the Record is a disc release too, a "full-featured product" that is "larger than Dead Rising 2," and as such, "it will be appropriately priced." Look for Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is stores this fall.