Games

Dead Rising 2: Off the Record

Weirdly, I want to suggest that Dead Rising has more in common with The Sims than it does, say, Resident Evil because its emphasis is on efficiency, not horror in the traditional sense.


Publisher: Capcom
Title: Dead Rising 2: Off the Record
Price: $39.99
Format: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Release Date: 2011-10-11
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I was prepared to find reviewing Dead Rising 2: Off the Record a tedious exercise. I mean, I really liked Dead Rising 2, and apparently unlike many fans of the series, I didn't really much care about the replacement of Dead Rising protagonist Frank West with Chuck Greene in the game's sequel. So, the idea of playing a remake of a game that I liked a lot but that is essentially the same game with some slight modifications seemed like a less than fresh or engaging exercise.

I'm not sure what the allure of Frank West is. Admittedly, he is an unusual game protagonist. After all, usually we get macho balls of muscle with little to no neck with a machine gun and a snarl in our video games. So, Frank, a shlubby, somewhat chubby, middle-aged photo journalist, might be kind of refreshing serving as a “hero” of sorts. Honestly, though, he strikes me as a pretty flat character.

Frank has no really great lines, doesn't seem especially clever, or really at all exceptional in any way. Thus, when Dead Rising 2 arrived with a slightly younger, maybe hipper (?) protagonist in the form of Chuck Greene (who strikes me as equally flat), I just didn't really care. Dead Rising works because of its tone, but even more so, because of its gameplay, not its main characters.

I guess the hue and cry over Frank's replacement was significant enough, though, for Capcom to consider giving the game a redo (the fact that the sequel seems to have done pretty well in sales probably didn't hurt either). One benefit of the return of Frank that I do care about (and other fans as well) is the return of Frank's camera. So, in addition to concerning one's self with the undead and ferreting out survivors of their infestation of Fortune City, a kind of (mostly) indoor Vegas full of malls and casinos, one can once again take shots of the brutal carnage and other forms of salaciousness that emerge during runs through zombie clogged streets. What Chuck brought to the series, the ability to craft crazy weapons out of materials scavenged throughout Fortune City, is, likewise, still an available option for Frank. So, both of these engaging occupations return in Off the Record and the game is the better for it.

Such an addition seems a relatively minor one, as it doesn't really change much in the way of objectives in the game or the overall gameplay. Frankly, all of the tweaks of the game seem -- on the face of them -- quite minor as well. There is now more voice acting, and cutscenes now feature Frank, rather than Chuck. These scenes generally play out in much the same way as the first game. Dialogue is different, but the premise is more or less the same.

In some ways, the plot is slightly less personal from the perspective of the main character. In Dead Rising 2, Chuck was accompanied by his daughter Katey, a victim of a previous zombie outbreak and a carrier of the disease. Chuck has to make sure that Katey receives a dose of Zombrex, a drug that staves off the effects of the infection, every 24 hours, which adds a further wrinkle in the “time mangement simulation” that is Dead Rising. As my colleague, Nick Dinicola, has (I believe) quite aptly pointed out, Dead Rising's main antagonist is not the zombies. The main enemy in the game is time. Combat with the undead is definitely a focus in the game, but more time is often spent running past zombies because there are both main missions and side quests that have to be accomplished within a three day time frame and that is what creates the real tension in the game. Thus, Katey became another time sink in Dead Rising 2, someone else to take care of within a limited amount of time.

This issue still exists in Off the Record, as Frank himself is infected. However, it removes the little amount of pathos that Chuck's concern for Katey was supposed to evoke in the previous version. Keeping a shlub alive is less compelling than a cute, little girl. This also makes life a little easier for the player, as Frank can administer a dose of Zombrex from anywhere in Fortune city, whereas Chuck would have to stop what he was doing to return to the survivors' safe house to give Katey her shot.

Additionally, the main motivators for Frank and Chuck are slightly different in Dead Rising 2. Chuck needs to clear his name, as he has been implicated in the zombie outbreak. Frank is looking for a story again, as he was in the first Dead Rising.

Again, though, all of this matters very little in terms of the real quality of the game, like its characters, much of Dead Rising's plotting is quite flat. Capcom has obviously put a lot of time in to revise a boat load of previous cutscenes to fit Frank into the story. And it is strangely compelling to see the subtle shifts in sequences that are familiar, but still, Dead Rising is more or less a pretty humdrum take on the zombie story.

It should also be noted that the developers added an additional zone to Fortune City, the Uranus Zone (yeah, not that clever), which is also fine and adds a few newish sequences to the plot, but it isn't exceptionally exciting or drastically different than environments that already exist in the game.

So, with all of my ho humming about the revision of the game, I guess I should be not feeling much love for Off the Record, right? Yeah, I think so, too. But I don't. I just can't escape how much I really enjoy the game.

Its tone is very odd. Much of its humor is quirky and only occasionally hits the mark, mostly it is pretty juvenile. Mixed with this is some rather sadistic and twisted sequences that usually involve “the psychos” (boss-type challenges that involve human survivors that have gone mad because of the outbreak and now are an additional threat to the other survivors or Frank himself). The not-quite-funny and the sadistic somehow create a really appropriate tone for a game that essentially takes part in a gigantic Vegas-style theme park.

More importantly though, is the gameplay itself. Slow moving zombies that sometimes need to be cleared away through the use of outrageous weapons and sometimes that just need to be avoided as you race to some new objective coupled with a constantly ticking clock and a desire to save as many additional survivors as you can (since saving folks is not required to complete the game, but you do feel that need to “collect 'em all” despite their optional nature) just works really, really well. Dead Rising is just exceptional at creating tension, and there is some additionally exceptional ability on the part of the developers to really know just how long it takes to get from one objective to the next because trying to get everything done that you can just always leaves you with a few scant moments to complete the main story objectives.

I often find myself standing up while playing, as if being at full attention will somehow get me to that goal a bit faster, which (because the clock is creeping into the red) looks just out of my reach for completion all the time.

The tension is just about perfect, especially because the game and its seeming main antagonists, the zombies themselves, just aren't especially tough. Your weapons will allow you to dismember and eviscerate swathes of zombies if you wish but that just isn't the point. Doing all that you possibly can in as short a period of time as you can is the challenge, and for some reason, that activity is outrageously satisfying if accomplished successfully. Weirdly, I want to suggest that Dead Rising has more in common with The Sims than it does, say, Resident Evil because the emphasis is on efficiency, not horror in the traditional sense.

This iteration of the game “cheats” a little bit and eases up on the player by offering a Sandbox mode, which features the same game spaces to play in in Fortune City, but without time constraints. You can hack up zombies to your heart's delight in Sandbox mode and also complete some new challenges (kill X amount of zombies in X amount of time and the like) in the area. More importantly, though, this zone allows the player to gather money and experience points that can be carried over to the main game without wasting precious minutes on such things. You can still start a game over at any time, restarting with the money and experience accrued to that point in the main game, in order to try to do a better run through, but Sandbox mode allows you to dodge the requirement of revisiting all of the plot points along the way.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Chuck is still playable in multiplayer mode. He also makes an appearance in a newish scene in the single player plot. Ironically, given my relative indifference to both Frank and Chuck, I kind of feel like the new scene is one of the better dramatic moments in a Dead Rising game. Chuck, who is not quite himself in this scene, becomes a character that is slightly more compelling than Frank or Chuck have ever been to me. But honestly, don't play this game for either protagonists. Play it because it is good. If you have to choose a version, Off the Record is the one to go with just because it includes things like Frank's camera and the like. Its discounted price also seems fair in this regard.

I was prepared to find Off the Record tedious, but I just can't help finding it as much a pleasure to play as the previous game of a similar name.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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