By the end of my first playthrough of Xbox One launch title Dead Rising 3 I’d killed nearly 90,000 zombies. That’s a significant number – not only is it enough zombie flesh to keep a questionable butchery in business for a decent length of time now that Horse is well and truly off the menu, but it’s a number that demonstrates the sheer increase in scale that the third installment of Capcom’s series brings to the table.
Dead Rising 3 is a significant step up for the series in many regards and almost makes the game an essential purchase for anyone picking up an Xbox One. We’ll get around to the reasons why in a bit.
First though, a little background. Back in 2006, the Xbox 360 was still fresh-faced. Relatively speaking, Microsoft were still small-fry when it came to the console industry after the first Xbox had failed to gain market traction and despite the burgeoning phenomenon of Xbox Live Arcade, the console had suffered from a weak launch line-up thanks to mediocre titles like Perfect Dark Zero and Ninety-Nine Nights.
Then Dead Rising came out and quickly turned heads. Not because of gorgeous graphics: even for the time, texture quality was questionable. Nor because of stunning advances in AI – the game is infamous for the idiocy of its AI companions. No, what got people’s attention was the sheer amount of zombies on screen. Where previous games such as Capcom’s own Resident Evil series rarely threw more than a handful of zombies at you at a time, in Dead Rising there were literally hundreds on screen at any point in time, all well-animated (for the most part) and with an impressive degree of location-specific damage – only enhanced by the huge amount of ways in which you could dispatch them.
Dead Rising 2 upped the ante, increasing the zombie count and introducing Combo Weapons built by combining two standard items in the game world, often with hilarious results. Off the Record was little more than a rehash of the second game, only with an expanded gameworld and some technical overhauls and because of that – along with a cynical Wii conversion of the first game in the series, as well as two downloadable titles acting as bookends to the second game – many were left feeling as though Dead Rising may have run its course as a concept, that there was nothing more to be done by Capcom. These fears only grew when early trailers of Dead Rising 3 were shown and the series seemed to have lost its trademark sense of offbeat humor, with many worried that in handing stewardship of the title to Capcom Vancouver (who had previously developed the second game in the series under their former name of Blue Castle Games), Capcom had lost sight of why people loved the series in the first place.
How wrong they were.
Dead Rising 3 is a game where you can dress up your character – mechanic Nick Ramos, a newcomer to the series – in a cocktail dress, pink wellington boots and a ladies’ straw hat and cleave your way through the zombie hordes by combining a games console with an axe to create a weapon of bloody murder that actually talks to you with every swing. It’s a game where you can don a fire-breathing dragon head, gloves covered in knives and create a smoking bonfire of the undead while wearing a mankini and high heels.
It is, in other words, just as bonkers as previous games in the series – if not more so.
As mentioned at the start of this review, where Dead Rising 3 really raises the bar over previous series titles is scale. The original Dead Rising was set in a shopping mall (a fact that led to Capcom being sued – unsuccessfully – over similarities to George Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead). Dead Rising 2 was set in a theme park. Both games had sizable environments, but every transition between areas was broken up by lengthy loading times.
Not so in Dead Rising 3. Taking place in a facsimile of Los Angeles named Los Perdidos, Dead Rising 3 takes the potential that previous installments hinted at and brings the series into a large open world. Loading times are all but non-existent – the few you’ll encounter tend in the main to bookend chapters or appear when entering locations important to furthering the story. It’s no Los Santos, but setting itself in a world the size of what Rockstar provided in Grand Theft Auto 5 wouldn’t have worked, and would have left the game feeling expansive for the sake of it. Los Perdidos features highways, 3 main districts, and unlike Rockstar’s recent tour de force, almost every single building can be entered, explored and ransacked for makeshift weaponry.
But the most impressive thing about Dead Rising 3 is the sheer amount of zombies on screen at any point in time. It’s very easy to rack up a kill count (Dead Rising 3 now features a kill counter, increasing the PP – Dead Rising’s version of experience – at certain thresholds, ensuring you can continue the slaughter before your total resets to zero) in the hundreds. In one particularly blood-soaked frenzy of violence, I managed to kill over 500 zombies in less than five minutes. Los Perdidos may be a large open world, but it’s certainly not empty; the streets are filled from side to side with ravenous hordes of the walking dead and you’ll be killing a hell of a lot of them.
In a city this large, you might be wondering whether getting around is a chore. Thankfully Dead Rising 3 has an answer in Combo Vehicles. In previous games, a limited number of vehicles were drivable, and then only in prescribed areas. Thanks to the open-world nature of the latest game though, you can drive everywhere you want and as well as the weapons you’ll make in the world, you can now also combine two different vehicles by parking them up next to each other and hitting the right button. My personal favorite is the Rollerhawg – a combination of steamroller and motorcycle, this flame-belching monstrosity fast became my vehicle of choice as it I both flattened and cremated every zombie in my path. Killing zombies with vehicles provides a low amount of experience though, to balance the greater numbers you’re able to mow down – so to really level up, you’ll need to get down and dirty with the hundreds of weapons in the environment.
Unlike the previous game, you no longer need to use a workbench to craft combo weapons. In such a large environment this is a good choice and has allowed Capcom Vancouver to focus on making the world feel more coherent, instead of having to pepper it on every street with the workbenches you needed in previous games. There are, however, survivor hideouts scattered around the map – unlock these by clearing out a zombie infestation and you’ll be able to change your outfit to include any item of clothing you’ve previously equipped as well as instantly spawn any combo weapon you’ve previously unlocked. Garages – needed to spawn combo vehicles – are more rare but with so many vehicles strewn over the map it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
In addition, combo weapons are no longer (with a few exceptions) unlocked through leveling up. Los Perdidos is scattered with blueprints for new weaponry, new vehicles, statues of previous protagonist Frank West (who, sadly, doesn’t appear here in person though series fans will get a nice surprise if they progress to Overtime mode after obtaining a good score during the main story) and the world is also littered with Challenges. These challenges require anything from killing a certain amount of zombies in a vehicle, with a combo weapon or your bare hands – but they almost always require slaughter. With wall-to-wall zombies on every street of the world, undead slaughter is absolutely the order of the day here.
Leveling up is handled differently now too. In previous games, upon leveling up you would unlock a predetermined upgrade such as a new melee move, a new combo weapon blueprint, extra health, etc. In Dead Rising 3, you are granted a certain number of points – from 1-3, depending on your level – and are free to allocate them as you see fit to a number of different categories. The handiest of these are the Combo Categories. These allow you to substitute items of a certain category to create a combo weapon if you can’t find an item specified in the blueprint. Every item is divided into a degree of categories – blunt, axe, blade, toy etc. – and by investing points, any item in that category can be substituted for another in the same category. A bowie knife and boxing gloves will make Knife gloves, for example – but with the right upgrades you could also use MMA gloves instead or a machete and achieve the same result. It’s a neat system, though flicking through the crafting menus in the middle of a busy scene can become frustrating, as your crafting attempts are interrupted by attacks from the hundreds of zombies around you.
In addition to making the combo system easier, you could also invest your points in melee, ranged weapons (both of which make attacks with those weapons more effective or make the weapons last longer before they break), health, intelligence (which grants an experience bonus among other things) and many other categories. There’s a soft level cap of 50, but even after reaching that you can continue to earn attribute points so it’s entirely possible to upgrade every category to its maximum level – and the final upgrade in each is only unlockable upon reaching the maximum level. You shouldn’t, therefore, worry too much about where you invest your points – though I’d certainly recommend putting some points into health and melee in the early stages, as ranged weapons don’t become prevalent until later through the game.
The story is a bit bobbins, to be honest. Continuing the vague chain of events from the first game, it’s the now-traditional tale of a zombie outbreak being set in motion for nefarious purposes. You’ll struggle to care and it’s conveyed with a degree of seriousness that’s always felt a little at odds with a series where you’re able to beat zombies to death with a handbag while sporting a giant afro wig and disco outfit. Your outfit choices are persistent though and appear in cutscenes, with the resulting juxtaposition of the absurd and the overly dramatic able to create moments of hilarity for imaginative dressers. I can’t help but feel though that the game could do with applying the same sense of humor in its gameplay to its stories. Dead Rising has always reveled in being cheesy and knowingly ridiculous, so presenting such a serious story can feel a bit odd even when you can subvert it with wacky costumes.
For fans of previous games, there are a couple of things worth noting – for starters, Capcom Vancouver has severely lessened the series’ traditional time pressure on rescuing survivors and completing missions. To a degree this is understandable due to the increased size of the world in which the game takes place, but side-missions have very generous timers and even If you spend plenty of time messing around or going off the beaten track, it’s unlikely you’ll run out of time for things unless you really don’t care (in keeping with series tradition, you can reload chapters or the entire game with all of your character development intact). The use of time restrictions in the series has long been a point of contention – fans like the almost rogue-like elements, while many others despise them. There’s a clear attempt to strike a balance here though; aside from the regular Story Mode, a Nightmare Mode brings with it far harsher restrictions on timers, ability to save, etc.
Graphically, aside from the sheer scale of on-screen action, there’s nothing going on that will blow anyone away. Texture pop-in rears its ugly head from time to time, particularly while driving at speed through the streets, while character models don’t look too advanced when compared to games on the previous generation of consoles. Framerate, however, is rock-solid: while the game received some degree of criticism in this regard, a day-one patch eliminated the problem and the result is a silky-smooth frame-rate that copes beautifully no matter how much is being rendered on-screen. Combined with the sheer volume of on-screen activity, the open world and lack of loading times, the game actually feels technically accomplished even despite the lack of a wow-factor in the visuals themselves.
The game isn’t without its flaws though. Missions can be tedious, frequently boiling down to little more than A-B fetch quests that have you jetting all over the map to pick up objects. And unfortunately the series hasn’t lost its obsession with boss battles. While the bosses in game are largely optional and not essential to progress the story, in all cases they are tedious exercises in pattern-learning, despite the clear amount of thought that has been put into their character design.
The game also suffers from a few issues due to its implementation of Kinect. To start with, navigating menus via voice control will feel novel. But when the game starts un-pausing itself due to Kinect picking up ambient noise in your living room, or (in one particularly frustrating instance I experienced) quitting the game without saving your progress, you might be forgiven for feeling as though you want to throw the damn sensor bar out of the window.
In the main though, Dead Rising 3 is a great game. With a wealth of content, a large degree of replayability, gameplay that will frequently have you chuckling and the sheer volume of stuff on-screen, it’s a solid launch title for Microsoft’s new console. While it isn’t without issues and series veterans may dislike some of the design changes that have been implemented, it remains a fantastic title that progresses the series and provides a huge amount of enjoyment from start to finish.
Version tested: Xbox One (exclusive)