Despite the endless hordes that await you in them, the Dead Rising games were never for the masses. They were quirky and charming in such a specific way that you pretty much had to buy into it before you even started playing. It’s nonsense, and kind of broken, obfuscated nonsense at times, requiring you to forgive large portions of what you’re doing and seeing. But Dead Rising 3, while far from perfect, makes enough changes that it’s worth getting into with your whole uneaten brain.
Dead Rising 3 tells the story of Nick Ramos, a young, physically capable mechanic in the fictional city of Los Perdidos, California. It’s 10 years after the events of Dead Rising 2 and the city is absolutely overflowing with the undead to the point where a military airstrike has been called to erase it and its inhabitants off the planet. Nick, obviously, needs to escape.
Los Perdidos is actually the most immediate and noticeable change to the franchise. Previously taking place in closed-off portions of a mall and a casino, this entry into the series puts you in an open world with just about zero load screens, as much a hallmark of past Dead Rising games as were the actual zombies. It’s a massive world, absolutely brimming with shambling corpses and cars and side missions, and it serves the game rather well.
The second biggest and beneficial change is also structural in that there is no longer a strict time limit to each part of the story. The bomb coming for Nick and his crew is arriving in six days, but it’s not nearly as pressing as before. It was almost leisurely the pace at which you can go about completing missions and trials, but the bidaily reminder that you are about to blowed up real good like keeps things tense.
Now, if you find yourself out of time and an explosion beyond imminent, you can simply restart any chapter. This solves one of the biggest problems many people had with the past games. A lot of gamers don’t like being told how quickly they have to go about an entire story; they either don’t enjoy the pressure or they find it monotonous after a while. This loosens it up considerably while still maintaining narrative urgency.
And impressively so, the moment-to-moment urgency is also ramped up. There has never been so many mindless foes crumbling before your ridiculous weaponry. It is a technical achievement the number of zombies they throw onto the screen and still maintain consistent framerates (though a few hitches were still seen every once in a while). And seeing them all fall before you vast arsenal is incredibly fun.
The mind-blowingly dumb weapon combinations are back, dumbfounding and charming as ever. You can pretty much pick up anything off the ground or a wall or the shelves and start hitting zombies, but combine them and you get things like a giant stuffed bear with massive machine guns attached or boxing gloves on a broom. Disappointingly, the sex toy/leaf blower combo was pretty weak.
This time around, though, you can stick together already combo’d weapons to create super combo weapons, one of which pretty much breaks the leveling scheme of the game (to its benefit, in my opinion). In fact, you can also combo together vehicles and sundry to yield incredibly powerful and satisfying whips with which to roam the streets. One in particular has blades that shoot out of the side, right at head level. The benefits of being a mechanic over a photojournalist are very apparent.
The vehicles, though, are somewhat lackluster. They don’t take much damage before they start to smoke and you are forced to abandon them on the roadside. You yourself, however, have been made somewhat more resilient, or at least the enemies weaker seeing as how they go down quicker. (There is a Nightmare Mode that flips the script on that, however, and introduces more stringent time limits, but mowing down hordes seems more interesting than being harassed at every step.)
This tweak includes, thankfully, the psychopath bosses, which are silly and kind of fun in the story but super annoying to fight. Most of them are most easily dispatched with firearms, but the shooting mechanics of the game are just atrocious. They’re sluggish and imprecise and make for boss battles that required double-digit attempts, which wouldn’t really be a problem if A) the load times weren’t so stupefyingly long and B) they weren’t so frustrating. In these moments, it becomes apparent that Nick handles rather clumsily, fine for slow, stupid zombies but terrible for moments of intense action.
Just as clumsy is the writing, which vacillates deftly between juvenile and offensive. All of the bosses fit into dumb but appropriate situations within the story, but their presentation are largely based in disgusting stereotypes. Transphobic, homophobic, racist, and just generally lazy caricatures litter this world. At least there’s Nick’s leader, Rhonda. She’s pretty great. I’d want her leading me in a zombie apocalypse.
Dead Rising 3 basically more of the same Dead Rising: absurd and insanely fun weapons, mindless mass violence, and a strangely Westernized Eastern shellac coating. But critical changes have made it a much easier pill to swallow, turning it from a game of narrow appeal to one of mass intrigue as intended. It still gets more than a few things wrong, but everything on the amenable side of the balance is just gravy.
+ Throwing down with dozens of zombies with a hundred more off in the distance is fantastic
+ More ridiculous weapons and new combo’d vehicles
+ An open world with a lax time limit makes it a much more pleasing game to play
- Offensive characters are simply horrible
- Controlling Nick, especially during boss battles, can be severely frustrating
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Game Review: Dead Rising 3
Release: November 22 2013
Genre: Third-person action adventure
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Available Platforms: Xbox One
Players: single-player offline, online co-op