Someone at Capcom Vancouver must be a big fan of Hideo Kojima.
I say that because, since the game was first announced at E3, the studio has been touting it as a significant departure for the franchise, a take on the zombie apocalypse that was grittier, scarier, and somewhat less comedic.
As I settled in to meet new protagonist Nick Ramos and his L.A.-inspired stomping grounds, Los Perdidos, I believed them. The prologue and the first few cutscenes seemed to be more grounded in reality and human drama, and I buckled in for the tense, frightening experience I was told to expect.
By the time I reached the three-hour mark, I was wearing a full-body shark costume, defiling the eye sockets of my undead assailants with a gun that shot vibrators. Over the next 18, I encountered one survivor who thought aliens were responsible for the outbreak, another who’d been trapped onstage during a drag show and consequently developed a split personality, a psychopath armed with a Rascal scooter, and enough campy dialogue to put Frank “I’ve covered wars, you know” West to shame.
I’d been Raidened.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Unlike the millions of Metal Gear Solid fans who found their beloved Snake replaced by a dainty man without even a hint of mullet, I was happy to have my expectations upended. The series’ trademark tone has always appealed to me more than almost anything else, and inadvertently or not, the team has successfully recaptured it in Dead Rising 3.
It’s important to remember that, while there may have been a few moments of slapstick—zombies pratfalling on gumballs comes to mind—the first two Dead Risings weren’t overt comedies. They were effectively B-Movie: The Game, with a story and dialogue that seemed to take itself more seriously than its caliber deserved and humor that derived almost entirely from a predictable lack of restraint on the part of players. The developers were in on the joke, to be sure, but the presentation made it seem like maybe, just maybe, the sheer ludicrousness of it all was the byproduct of ineptitude rather than careful homage.
The truly mystifying thing is that, in this regard, Dead Rising 3 seems quite a bit sillier than its predecessors. The improvised combo weapons of the second game are taken to new extremes, with new multi-stage combinations that bring in additional ingredients to up both the damage and the absurdity. The fact that you can now craft them on the fly and regularly restock them at weapon lockers throughout the world greatly increases their prominence and usefulness, so you’ll undoubtedly have a crazy arsenal at your disposal by the time the credits roll. By the end of my first playthrough, I was effectively a wizard, with one weapon that absorbed enemies’ souls and shot them back out as fireballs, and another called the Elemental Staff that shot out fire, ice, and electricity, D&D-style. All very serious and terrifying, to be sure.
The same ridiculous approach has been applied to the new combo vehicles. Here we get, among others, a Harley with a steamroller for a front wheel, a street sweeper that sucks up zombies and shoots them out as balls of flesh and limbs, and a forklift that shoots fireworks. Somebody better call up Lars von Trier to direct the film adaptation, because this stuff is bleak.
Sarcasm aside, it’s probably safe to conclusively state that Dead Rising 3 isn’t some dramatic betrayal of the franchise’s humor in any regard—or even a palpable shift. The fundamentals of combat and movement have likewise been kept intact. Both pieces of information should come as welcome news to anyone who enjoyed the previous games, but it may be a disappointment for those who were turned off by the weight and occasional imprecision of the controls. I, for one, fall squarely into the former camp, but I can certainly empathize with the detractors; climbing onto any narrow ledge, especially when you’re exiting a window, feels like trying to land a 747 on a lubed-up Slip ‘n Slide.
But if some of those longstanding quirks haven’t been resolved, they’re diminished by an increased scope. The shift to a true open world is perhaps the game’s biggest success, expanding the sandbox feel of prior titles in a way that makes moving from one location to another seem like a much more significant undertaking. The combo vehicles (and greater prevalence of vehicles in general) keep covering vast distances from becoming too much of a chore—though you’ll need to pay careful attention to the map and learn shortcuts around the numerous roadblocks. Surprisingly enough, there’s also a lot more to do, as the blueprints for weapons (replacing Combo Cards) are now physical collectibles scattered throughout the world, often requiring you to explore or solve a navigation puzzle to reach.
In an effort to keep this larger undertaking manageable, the looming countdown of the previous two games is gone, sequestered in a separate experience called Nightmare Mode. On the default setting, there’s still technically a time limit, both for the overall campaign and for individual tasks, but it’s unlikely you’ll push up against it unless you spend dozens of hours roaming the world, accomplishing absolutely nothing. It’s effectively the Dead Rising formula reimagined as a mainstream open-world game, where any reasonably motivated player should be able to complete all side missions and discover all collectibles in a single playthrough. Despite the fondness I have for the old games and the deliberate planning required to save everyone in time, I feel like ditching the ticking clock was the right way to go, since it really allows you to explore and engage with the world without constantly worrying that you’re missing out on a crucial side mission.
Unfortunately, challenge has taken a bit of a backseat in the process. Dead Rising was never a particularly hard game, but the need to constantly scavenge for new weapons and the added pressure of the time limit made it easy to get caught off-guard. Neither of those things are an issue in Dead Rising 3. As a result, it’s rare that you’re ever in any real danger. I managed to beat the entire game with only a single death—and even then, it was only because a particular boss fight had taken away all of my usual weapons and forced me to improvise.
It doesn’t help that the moment you reach level 50, you have access to a bunch of top-tier skill-tree upgrades that are borderline game-breaking, including full health regeneration, indestructible vehicles, and the ability to equip every single book simultaneously, with no hit to your inventory. I’m all for empowering the player, but my completionist attitude meant I’d accessed these godlike buffs a full two hours before I finished the campaign, which really took some of the fun out of the final missions. I’d much rather they be locked off for repeat playthroughs, when challenge and pacing aren’t so large of a concern.
My limited time with Nightmare Mode leads me to believe that my difficulty concerns won’t necessarily apply there, but given how long it took for me to track down every last collectible, it seems likely you’re not going to get to experience everything the way the developers had intended when the time limit is in effect. I think the ideal route would be a more challenging default setting—or at least the option to choose between multiple difficulties, which seems a curious omission given the increased emphasis on making the franchise accessible.
Of course, as an exclusive Xbox One launch game, Dead Rising 3 has to answer for more than just its heritage. The game has been—and no doubt will continue to be—placed under a microscope by those looking to draw some sort of conclusion about the new hardware’s capabilities.
On that front, Dead Rising 3 will provide no feather for Microsoft’s cap. There are definite bright spots—character models look adequately impressive during cutscenes, and the number of zombies onscreen at once is astounding—but it’s not a technical powerhouse by any means. Texture and model pop-in is frequent and glaring. The framerate will sometimes dip into the teens, usually when you’re driving through a large crowd of enemies.
I might be certifiably insane, but I just don’t care. I noticed all these things, but they never detracted from my overall enjoyment of the experience. With its relatively slow combat, Dead Rising has never needed the high, smooth framerate demanded by racing or skill-driven action games, just one competent enough that the controls feel suitably responsive. It’s never needed photorealism, just strong art direction and animation that makes combat easy to read and entertaining to watch. Dead Rising 3 meets those criteria, and that’s good enough for me.
When so many of this generation’s launch titles feel like glorified tech demos, I’m inclined to applaud the fact that Dead Rising 3 is much more impressive to play than it is to look at. Would I love to have it both ways? Sure. But I’d gladly trade more polygons for more zombies, more weapons, more laughs, and more Dead Rising. And no matter what anyone at Capcom Vancouver might say, that’s exactly what Dead Rising 3 delivers.
Like its predecessors, Dead Rising 3 offers good, dumb, fun, with just enough story and structure to keep you moving forward and enough opportunities for zany antics to maintain your amusement throughout.
M – Mature
|Dead Rising 3 is available on Xbox One. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Code/hardware was provided by Microsoft Studios for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|