Review: Dead Rising 3

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Have you ever been watching The Walking Dead or playing a Resident Evil game and thinking, “I sure do wish there were more of these zombies on the screen”?  If so, Capcom Vancouver has you covered with the newest entry in the undead genocide simulator, Dead Rising 3.  When the first Dead Rising came out it was impressive just how many shambling corpses populated the mall that Capcom’s comments at the time assured us was in no way related or inspired by the infested shopping complex in 1979’s classic horror flick Dawn of the Dead. Inspirations aside, Dead Rising has since had a sequel, a remake, a lame cell phone game, two smaller nigh-spinoffs, and now at the dawn of the Xbox One, a full new entry. This third proper game retains much of the silliness and weirdos mixed with gore and dire circumstances that have made the series memorable and has converted most of the mechanical quirks of the other games into difficulty modifiers.

Set over a decade after the Fortune City based events of the previous game, Dead Rising 3 tells the story of a group of survivors who try to make it out of the city of Los Perdidos, CA, a Los Angeles to Fortune City’s Las Vegas. In the distant, dark future of 2017, zombies have destroyed most of humanity and the United States government now requires all citizens to “get chipped” with an implant which sub-dermally administers Zombrex (a drug that prevents normal people from zombifying). Nick Ramos, our hero, leads the survivors who try to escape the city after a nightmarish epidemic has broken out. Soon after zombies hit the fan the military makes sure no one can enter or leave the city with a deadly blockade and Nick soon learns that the government is going to get all Raccoon City on LP’s ass and bomb the city into oblivion in a matter of days. Like a Band-Aid yanked quickly, right off the face of the Earth. 

The impending bombing works into the game in that players will have a limited amount of time to accomplish the various story chapters before the bombs drop. While there is some feeling of tension, there is no real threat of running out of time on the game’s default settings. Overall, the narrative is the weakest part of the game. None of the normal characters are memorable and for the vast majority of the game plot amounts to “go get these plane parts.”  There is a decent amount of exposition at the end of the game that will be nice for longtime series fans, and confusing for everyone else. Nick himself is not a very strong character as most of the time he just looks confused and saddened by the end of life as he knows it. After the first chapter you can tell that the rest of the game is going to consist of something bad happening, followed by a very well rendered hand-dog expression on Mr. Ramos. There are resistance people in the city that don’t like the idea of a mandatory government chip with a GPS tracker in it, but not a lot is done with them or the ideas they present. Contrasting this with the cross-section of implants and laws seen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one can see that story and philosophical themes were not on the tips of everyone’s tongue at development meetings.

What probably was in their mouths and minds was “Killing zombies is fun!”  Which it is–they look like people but they’re already dead, so you’re all set morally. And the zombie killin’ is fun here. There are a variety of firearms and grenades that can be used, and head shots are more effective than body shots, per the zombie manual, but that is only scratching the surface. In series tradition, Nick can pick up anything lying around to beat the undead into submission. Park bench, shopping cart, even a Saints Row-ian phallic-shaped, pink “massager” — check, check, and most certainly check. There are hundreds of different kinds of things to use to re-kill, which is a good thing because not only do many of these items hit with differing speed, range, and varying numbers of foes, they also break after they are used too many times.  At first Nick will be dashing from place to place just looking for anything to use as a weapon because most items tend to do more damage than his fists alone and they have a nasty habit of breaking when he is surrounded by a small horde. The number of everyday items that can be used is truly bizarre, particularly when set next to the gore infested corpses that wander the streets.

In addition to using the detritus of humanity to kill, Nick is a mechanic so naturally he can combine two items to make some weird item of death that is far more effective than a regular item. Scattered throughout the world are blueprints that allow Nick to learn to make one of these new combo weapons from two normal weapons at any time he is not being chewed on. Conveniently these blueprints are usually surrounded by the items necessary to make them so that they can be made right away. Some items are just modified version of base weapons. For example, the chop-n-talk is a fire axe combined with a video game system that is better at chopping than the regular axe and also periodically will produce a garbled, ultra-compressed voice sample saying something like “It’s time to die!” Others are more interesting, such as an RC helicopter combined with a machete that transforms into a Tactical RC which is basically a spinning, flying blade that will mow through clusters of zombies while Nick stands still and players operate the RC with the analogue sticks. All of these weapons are ridiculous and do more damage and grant more experience points (PP) when compared to kills with a regular weapon. There are even tiers of combo weapons, a combo weapon that when combined with something else will create an even more powerful tool of re-death. While it is probably possible to finish the game and never touch the weapon combo system, doing so would really limit Nick’s character progression and seeing the out-there designs which one can see have a vague relationship to the two items that birthed it, but just barely.

Rather than the enclosed environments in the first two games, Dead Rising 3 features one extremely large open world that consists of several city blocks connected by short sections of highways and sewers. Like in real life most of what there is to see in a city are small shops and apartment buildings filled with nothing but junk. A slight departure from real life is that here the streets are packed with zombies and the junk can be used to slay said zombies. It is fun to travel around the town and know that many of the buildings that can be seen can be entered if you can find a door or window. The shops are themed so that one will, for example, only find sporting goods in the sports shop or cars at the car dealership. While it is not the “all buildings are explorable” promised earlier in development, it is a great many and it is possible to run or jump from building to building if they are close enough, possibly bottle-necking a ravenous horde in the process. Los Perdidos does not feel like a series of streets lined with cardboard boxes painted to look like buildings as is the case in most open world games. It actually feels like a very scaled down city in the throes of a zombie apocalypse.

Because there are so many hubs, Nick will have to use a series of cars and motorcycles to drive around (it is possible to go on foot from hub to hub, but this takes forever). The cars handle well but it is difficult to get a true grasp on how good the physics are because Nick will rarely drive for more than a few seconds without plowing into a mass of dead flesh. Cars wading through the dead will slow down significantly and it is necessary to jerk the car back and forth on the road as much as possible to keep the zombies from crawling on the car, trying to get in. Any car that stays still long enough, or fails to shake the hop-ons, will deteriorate until it explodes. There are usually enough cars to drive scattered about town, but that is not always a given so it behooves one to maintain the health of a ride as long as possible. As long as he stay in the same general area, Nick’s last car will remain where he parked it, be if he ventures off too far it will respawn somewhere else. Like the weapons, everyday vehicles can be transformed into strange contraptions if two are parked next to each other and combined. The Rollerhog, an early example, is a motorcycle mixed with a steam roller and is basically the back half of a motorized bike with a massive steel front tire designed to roll over the dead by the score. With all of this driving around it is nice to know that while the initial load time when starting the game is very long, there are virtually no load times once the game starts.  There is only a load time of a few seconds whenever a cinematic is about to play at the beginning of a story mission.

The endings of the game appear to be primarily determined by what amount of sub missions Nick is able to complete. These will spawn from cell phone calls that Nick will receive, if you pick up the call and are not surrounded by the dead, telling him about something weird happening around town. Almost all of these will lead to fetch quests for survivors that want something or another to make them feel more safe and trust Nick enough to be recruitable posse members. The dead killer supreme can run with a crew who, unlike prior series entries, will actually run from a mass of corpses if Nick is running as well. It is possible to give them some combo or regular weapons, or even just humorous, ineffective things like CD cases, and food to heal them, but the crew is very unnecessary. Nick has enough killing power on his own. The only time that these extra survivors felt useful was in battling a boss. Psychopaths are the larger than life survivors who are glad it is the end of the world as it allows them to cause mayhem and indulge their every desire. In other entries they were just colorful weirdos, in Dead Rising 3 they are grotesque perversions of humanity all modeled off one of the seven deadly sins. They are genuinely disturbing to look at, like the morbidly obese lady on a scooter worried Nick is going to take her food or the sex maniac with the flamethrower strap-on. They are usually not that hard but it can be helpful to have a posse of guys around to distract attacks from Nick. In addition to these unpleasant distractions there are collectables littered about town, which other than the blueprints, are only good for amassing PP.

PP, or Prestige Points, are the experience points in Dead Rising. This time around rather than getting fixed bonuses and abilities at set levels, Nick will gain a number of points per prestige level that can be used to unlock new wrestling moves and various passive bonuses. Mostly these are the ability to have more health, gain experience faster or have weapons last longer before they break. It is nothing out of the ordinary, but it is nice to be able to guide the hero’s progression, deciding whether it is worth getting this or that bonus early when he levels five times in one crowd of zombies or later when it might happen once every half hour. One unique kind of bonus are single point cost items that allow Nick an even looser set of crafting requirements to make certain items. Where a specific combo weapon might on paper require a battleaxe, and not a fire axe, a point in the chopping category will make it so that any old axe will do. Since combo weapons grant more PP, it makes sense to start increasing this range of items so that you can always have a combo weapon and not have to hunt for the exact parts required.

This new console generation is very much an incremental shift if Dead Rising 3 is taken as a prime example. To be fair, the Xbox to Xbox 360 was a shift from a standard definition to a high definition system, so that in and of itself was going to lead to a huge jump in graphical fidelity. The jump was not that noteworthy this time. Yes, the humans seem like they have more detail on their faces, and yes, the game suffers from virtually no slowdown, but it is not a jaw-dropping experience. Our old friend the texture pop-in will still rear its head on buildings occasionally if Nick runs for prolonged periods of time. On the positive side, a nice touch is that the zombies can come apart in pieces as Nick hacks their arms and legs off and all of the internal organs can be seen when they are chopped in half by a big hit. It is not the surgical dismemberment seen in the Dead Space series, but it is a nice way to show just how hurt a given zombie is. 

What is impressive is just how many zombies are on the screen in certain areas coupled with the fact that they are not all cookie-cutter low poly count clones. There are publications saying that this entry has three times more zombies than prior games, but I have no idea how one quantifies that. There are scenes in all of the games where there is a ton of moving worm’s meat, but it is not interactive, fully in engine, or the camera is zoomed out so much that the dead are not being fully rendered. All I can say is that I have played a bunch of these games and that there are definitely more zombies now than there used to be. More importantly, there are certainly more of them moving around, and because the game is mostly filled with open spaces and not tight corridors, there is the potential to have to slog through literally hundreds of these things in one mob, and then fight another equal sized group the next block over. Four or five hundred might not sound like a lot of foes on paper, but go to the bank and buy four dollars in pennies, dump them on your floor and see how long it takes you to pick them all up. And players will encounter far bigger numbers when they are driving. The graphics might not seem impressive, but the extra processing power of the Xbox One allows the scope of the action to go beyond what was previously available.

The game has a more gritty and dingy appearance than its predecessors, which makes things like Nick wearing a schoolgirl outfit with construction boots whacking a zombie with a push broom while one of his friends gets devoured in the background even more mind-bending than it used to be in more colorful entries. As an unfortunate downside, the muted colors and constant movement of the undead can make it possible to only see them as one mass and not the appreciably large group of game characters that they are. This does not affect the gameplay, but it does decrease the wow-factor. Similarly, at night unlit areas are pitch black. This can be extra creepy when driving around with only the headlights of the car illuminating the cone of dead in front of the car and the arms of those on the edges of the beam. It is a great effect but it does make determining the size of a group hard to determine in the dark. Which is even more of a problem when Nick is on foot in an unlit area and does not have a weapon that generates light.

Dead Rising in the past has had an antiquated save system. Basically, the player could only save at certain points and it would take up time in a clock that quickly counted down how much time missions were available. It was restraining and could lead to a lot of replaying certain segments of the game as one tried to preserve time by not saving so that there were more opportunities to rescue survivors and battle psychos. All of that throwback to the era of memory cards that was antiquated in 2006 has been relegated to the Nightmare Mode, which is available from the beginning. If someone wants that “classic” Dead Rising experience, they can turn on that mode and be forced to save at Porto Potties dotted infrequently around Los Perdidos and will have significantly less time to help survivors, kill psychopaths or do virtually anything. Players can also go to the hardware store, in real life, and purchase some clothes pins to pinch various dangling bits of their flesh on their person while they play. I’m not looking for unnecessary pain and frustration that adds absolutely nothing to the game, but I’m also not going to judge anyone that wants to make their life harder whether it be by playing on Nightmare or grimacing with their hands on the Xbox One controller and little clamps on their balls. Life is full of choices.

Throughout most of the main story sequences there is this white guy just standing there in the corner of the shot, occasionally making some dickish comments. When the cutscene finishes playing out, he is often nowhere to be found. I repeatedly thought, “Who is this jerk photobombing my video game?” Apparently he is the co-op character who still appears even if the game is being played in single player mode for some of the cutscenes. It also turns out that his name is, appropriately, “Dick” and he has an achievement named in his honor, “Be a Dick.”  The game can be played co-op and that is about all there is to really say about that feature. I did not encounter any technical glitches in the small amount of time I tested this functionality. The game is not very much fun in this mode as whoever is playing Dick is just going along with Nick and not advancing his own story or completing missions. The co-op feels unnecessary, but I am sure some people want to play the game like this with a friend, probably while chatting about something unrelated to the action on the screen. Equally unnecessary are the second screen Smart Glass missions which have little story and can unlock a bombing run which devastates every zombie around. It is neat to see once but not very useful given how rarely it can be called in.

Even if you ignore Microsoft’s promises of an always online and a connected gaming utopia powered on multiple devices and experienced by multiple players (read: “dynamic marketing targets”) and only decide to cynically play by yourself, outside the reach of dreadful human contact, Dead Rising 3 is still a good game. Some people might like the co-op, chatting with a friend or random heavy-breathing stranger with a baby crying in the background while slicing animated corpses, but I don’t. I don’t know about all of the hermit-hyperbole from two sentences ago, but the game does not work very well in co-op. At their best, the Dead Rising games are a horde of zombies where the hero in the middle is only seen in brief flashes when he is doing some out of context wrestling move or when he is running to pick up another bizarre weapon to kill more zombies. The fact that someone is doing the same thing, either off camera or at the other end of the sea of the dead, doesn’t really enhance the experience. 

Dead Rising 3 is a nice-looking game that is fun while it lasts. The story is rapidly evaporating from my mind, but the delight of slaying literally thousands – it keeps track of the body count – of zombies with a scythe inside three minutes, like so many blades of grass, and watching them fall apart and leave a field of muck is a movie of the mind that will stick around. If this title were not exclusive to Xbox One or were not a launch game it would likely get a lower rating, so you shouldn’t buy a new console just to play this game. However, for single player focused games, Dead Rising 3 is the standout of the exclusive Xbox One launch titles.

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Pros:
+ Staggering amount of zombies on screen that react meaningfully to the action
+ Placement of the grotesque next to the humorous makes the game endearing
+ Different modes allow for classic Dead Rising experience, or a fun one

Cons:
– Story is largely meaningless
– Occasional texture and shadow pop-ins
– Camera shifts after finishing moves can be disorienting

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox One
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Release Date: 11/22/2013
Genre: Action/Horror
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-2
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.