Do you remember that tunnel in the first Dead Rising? Where you stood atop a car and baulked at the sheer amount of zombies crowding the road? It pales in comparison to the endless swarms of undead that block the roads in Dead Rising 3. This is zombie infestation on a grander scale, Capcom utilising the extra brunt of the Xbox One to boost dead headcounts and expand the world (or, rather, playground) to encompass a litany of weapons, environments and general craziness. Frank West – he’s covered wars, y’know – has exited stage left, Chuck Greene is nowhere to be seen. Dead Rising 3 rests on the shoulders of Nick Ramos, a mechanic and all-round normal guy, stuck in the city of Los Perdidos.
From early marketing materials Dead Rising 3 looked to have lost the innate tongue-in-cheek wackiness that defined the series. Everything had a brown tint, as if to fall in line with the Call of Duty and Gears of War palette that has become synonymous with high-end graphics. Likewise, aside from the weapon combos it looked like the hardware available for Nick was to be more grounded in reality than before. It was a pleasant surprise to find that this was just poor marketing – the range and diversity of death-dealing instruments remains a highlight of the game.
The environment itself has also retained a larger-than-life feel. The mall of the first Dead Rising felt huge; Los Perdidos has at least four, in addition to a school, police station, subway, car dealerships, dockyard and more. It’s all painted in very broad strokes but that helps – navigating the city (three areas linked via stretches of bypass) can be difficult to begin with, thanks to little in the way of defining landmarks. Eventually areas begin to reveal their distinguishing features – upmarket residential houses here, cheaper suburbs there – and you realise landmarks aren’t needed as nearly everything becomes a mini-landmark in itself.
Aside from simply being huge, Los Perdidos feels dense and detailed as well. Almost every building has an interior to explore, although some are locked until missions or objectives are completed. Items found in each building are appropriate and often hilarious – wait until you find the sex shop later in the game. Certain areas are also treacherous gang territories – either bikers or a military occupation – offering a change of enemies who are intelligent, better armed and stronger. There are also specific zombie types – ranging from firefighters to quarterbacks – all with character quirks relating to their occupation. There’s always a risk and/or reward; a tackle from a quarterback will knock you down and take off a significant amount of health, a zombie soldier may take more ammo to kill but will drop a decent weapon.
Then there are the psychos; mini-boss battles that were often highlights of previous Dead Rising games. Nobody can forget the nightmare-inducing, chainsaw-juggling clown that tried to turn Frank West into mincemeat and it’s unlikely you’ll forget the psychos that populate Los Perdidos, especially given one struts about with a dick-shaped flamethrower. Based on each of the seven sins, the visual design of each psycho is striking, yet the mechanics of defeating them undermines the grotesque art. Often there are trigger phrases you can shout out and, via the magic of Kinect, your opponent will fly into a rage, opening them up for a special attack but it sounds more interesting than it turns out to be. These shouted commands make the fights too easy and most psychos are essentially overpowered bullet sponges. There’s little of the creepy menace left when almost everyone is played for comedy too.
Which brings us to the plot. Zombies are synonymous with B-movies; Dead Rising 3 could appropriately be called a Z-movie given the wafer-thin story. An imminent bombing sees Nick and friends attempting to get out of Los Perdidos as quickly as possible… and that’s about all you need to know. There are colonels and mad scientists and a few twists along the way but Dead Rising boils down to the simple fact that you need to escape within a week. Yep, the trademark time limit returns too, although a new, easier mode means you’ll have plenty of time to complete all of the side-missions and explore everything before it runs out. Nightmare Mode returns the game to the slightly more sadistic original difficulty, reducing save points and asking players to keep a wary eye on the clock.
Combining weapons has been expanded and streamlined from Dead Rising 2 – now all you’ll need is the right blueprint and items to create wonderfully bizarre tools of death. Blueprints are liberally scattered throughout Los Perdidos and include vehicle modifications. Often the vehicles you’ll need to combine will be handily situated alongside each other; construct a combo vehicle and some Mad Max contraption will make navigating the city far easier for a short while, mowing zombies down with swords strapped to the front of your car. With over a hundred combos to collect there’s plenty for the completionist. PP – the Dead Rising version of XP – is doled out frequently, unlocking extra abilities for Nick, and can also be boosted by scouring for collectibles.
As one of the first-party titles exclusive to Xbox One, Dead Rising 3 feels like it tries to showcase the reasons to buy the new machine but succeeds in only a few areas. The game itself is great fun – missions are enjoyable and the world is ripe for exploration – but Kinect implementation still gnaws at you like a needy child. Shouting at your TV can emit a noise in-game, distracting zombies towards you. Brilliant when it works but frustrating when Kinect will pick up a voice from in-game, turning the teeming hordes on you. Likewise, those psycho encounters aren’t improved with Kinect.
Perhaps the leap to the next generation will improve the graphics? Well, it does and it doesn’t. As mentioned before, the amount of zombies on screen is jaw-dropping and a new physics engine sees them tripping over each other in scenes reminiscent of 28 Days Later or World War Z. Slicing them also reveals rotten entrails, body parts flying all over the place in unnerving anatomical detail. It’s also true that there are no loading screens once in the game; a Faustian pact given the inordinate time to load the actual game (exacerbated with a long wait each time you die). Where Dead Rising doesn’t show any next-gen sheen is in the horrendous pop-in, not only of textures but of zombies and even objects. When you’re tearing down the freeway in an already-fragile car and a bus materialises a metre in front of you... Well, let’s say Kinect may have detected a few extra words at that moment. Aside from the number of zombies, Dead Rising 3’s graphical boost seems more like a refinement than a generational leap; were you to tell anyone it was running on a 360 then they could well believe you.
Social gaming looks to be one of the pillars of the Xbox One and Dead Rising’s take on multiplayer will either infuriate or delight certain types of gamer. When selecting the difficulty at the start of the single-player mode, the game asks what you’re looking for in the game, whether it be collecting everything, playing casually or looking for a challenge. What I didn’t realise is that all of these modes are actually open to drop-in multiplayer – there’s an ‘Offline Play’ mode at the bottom of the list. So, on at least four occasions before I realised you could turn it off people randomly appeared in my game, sometimes even during boss battles. It was a mistake on my part but really goes to show what the future may look like in this all-connected, social console generation. Full of annoying interruptions by idiots spouting inanities, destroying any sense of immersion, unless you read the fine print. When multiplayer is actually something you want to do, Dead Rising 3 is a great playground in which to lark about with a friend, accessed with one button press. It’s all co-operative play but there’s more than enough room to go off-piste and write your own survivor story (often involving ridiculous outfits).
As a package, Dead Rising 3 is probably the most fully-fledged first-party title for the Xbox One. Assassin’s Creed IV has the better open world and story; Dead Rising 3 has the zombie mayhem and a lengthy campaign, thanks to the usual Overtime Mode that extends beyond the credits. There are also multiple endings to find, making Dead Rising a permanent fixture in your Xbox One amidst the brevity of Ryse and the dull Forza 5. It’s a wonderfully detailed open world, compromised by some poor loading times and abysmal pop-in. Often you’ll be having too much fun racking up kills to notice. Capcom Vancouver have streamlined Dead Rising and taken off some of the rough edges – Nick can sprint, controls and menus are better implemented – while retaining the chaotic brand of zombie killing that distinguishes the franchise above so many other zombie games. It doesn’t do anything new and it doesn’t feel next-gen but Dead Rising 3 is a solid and welcome return to gleeful, quirky zombie killing. Like the rotting corpses that populate its streets, Dead Rising 3 has a long life after it’s finished. The game is one to which, amidst a barren forthcoming release schedule, you’ll keep revisiting.