Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dead Rising 3 (Microsoft Xbox One)

Dead Rising 3
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 11/22/2013

It’s weird to think about it, but Capcom publishes an astonishingly large amount of games with zombies in them. While Resident Evil has progressed into a series about genetic experiments gone wrong overall, the undead are never far from being in one of their games, and it’s more or less what we think of when we say “survival horror,” for better or worse. However, Dead Rising is the franchise Capcom has really put their zombie focus into over the past few years, so much so that after Dead Rising 2 turned out to be a massive improvement over the original, Capcom basically bought developer Blue Castle games outright and turned them into Capcom Vancouver. To be fair, Capcom’s Western developed games have a spotty track record (Bionic Commando bombed, DMC bombed, and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City critically bombed), so when one turned out to be completely awesome it only makes sense they’d latch onto the developer and have them make that again, but better. After a pair of solid post Dead Rising 2 releases in Dead Rising 2: Case West and Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, Capcom Vancouver went to work on the next actual entry in the series, creatively titled Dead Rising 3. While the game put off some people with its initial presentation as a serious turn for the franchise, it turns out that, nope, it’s still as off its rocker as the prior installments, only far more accessible and far more massive. Make no mistake about it, while Dead Rising 3 is almost certainly not the best game this year, it’s definitely the best launch title for the Xbox One, and probably the best launch title across both consoles, as it does everything bigger and better that it needed to, even if it’s not a perfect game all in all.

Dead Rising 3 takes place some ten years after the events of the prior game, and places you in control of one Nick Ramos, an orphan with an odd tattoo he doesn’t understand who’s in the middle of yet another massive zombie outbreak, only this time it’s been going on for days instead of starting up around him. Nick initially wants to find a way out of Los Perdidos, the city the outbreak takes place in, for himself and his friends Dick (the second player character) and Rhonda, but things quickly take a turn for the weird as the city crumbles around them and Nick discovers he’s not quite the person he thought he was in the process. Now, generally the Dead Rising games, and Capcom’s zombie games in general really, have been written in a way that can be described as “so bad it’s good” or “okay” at best, but astonishingly enough, the story of Dead Rising 3 is actually good. The pseudo-science of “bees turn people into zombies” is still wonky, but there’s not a lot you can do with that as the development team who picked up the story after Capcom established it, so we can give that a pass. Everything outside of that, however, is surprisingly sound across the board. Nick Ramos is a solid, likable character, and unlike Chuck Greene and Frank West he actually grows as a character throughout the storyline, in a way that we as the players can actually appreciate, to the point where his random dialogue actually changes as he matures. The game actually calls back to the events of prior games, not just in a “this happened a while ago FYI,” sense, but in a way that actually resolves plot points established by prior games, and the way the game handles it makes quite a bit of sense. There are even some appearances from franchise mainstays throughout the plot, and while there was a point at the end where something could have been done with a franchise main character that would have made the plot that much better, what’s here works on its own terms. So, yes, a Capcom game with zombies in it actually has a good, even great, plot, that’s a thing that happened.

Dead Rising 3 is probably the game you’re going to want for your Xbox One if you want to show people what the console can do on a visual level, as while it’s not the most high resolution game on the console, it certainly does the most with the technical aspects of the system. Moving the game to an actual city was the next logical step size-wise for the franchise, and Los Perdidos is a varied and interesting city, featuring city blocks, upper-class areas and sprawling industrial areas to run around in. It’s not the gaudy nightmare Dead Rising 2 was, but it looks lived in and appropriate, and there are a few random bits here and there that make it feel like an actual city, if nothing else. What sells the visuals, however, is the sheer technical prowess, as the game can handle a monstrous amount of zombies on-screen at one time, generally has no notable loading time once the game starts up, and manages to keep a good frame rate and visual quality through the entirety of the game. There’s also plenty of personality between the junk vehicles and weapons you can craft and the oddball survivors and psychopaths you meet, so there’s plenty of artistic variety here, to be sure, but the game is much more of a technical powerhouse, and it shows. Aurally, the game is also generally top notch. The in-game music is generally focused toward harder rock music with the odd dramatic orchestral bit now and again, though you’ll also hear a few random tunes when you jump into a car or pass a store that’s more pop or rap oriented, and it’s generally all interesting to listen to. The voice work is also a lot more consistent here, as basically everyone has voice work, and it’s all generally very good across the board, especially with (as mentioned previously) Nick’s evolving random commentary when facing down zombies as he becomes more confident, as you simply don’t see that too often. The aural effects are also very well handled, from the odd noises your weapons make to the ambient zombie noise and beyond, and everything fits together nicely in a way that really compliments the game very well.

Dead Rising 3 more or less plays like its predecessor at first glance, though there are some noticeable and welcome tweaks made here and there to improve the experience overall. The left stick controls Nick while the right stick looks around, and the face buttons allow Nick to jump, attack, and interact with objects and environmental devices as needed. The right bumper cycles through your inventory or, if held, lets you choose an item on the spot, the left bumper lets you sprint as needed, the left trigger allows you to aim from an over the shoulder perspective, and the right trigger throws or shoots while using the left trigger to aim. You can also use the D-pad for various things; pressing up answers phone calls when applicable, pressing left cycles the on-screen map and mission display, pressing right lets you dictate survivor actions, and pressing down drops items (or, if held, puts them away). The Back – ahem, VIEW – button brings up the map player menus, while the Start – ahem, MENU – button pauses the game, allowing you to save, look at the controls and quit out. The driving controls, when they come up, aren’t bad either, as the left trigger reverses, the right trigger accelerates, and the left stick turns the car/motorcycle/wheelchair/garbage vehicle/whatever. Some combat techniques will require you to use multiple buttons at one time, but for the most part, the game is very simple to pick up and play, and most should have no problem learning the basics.

As in prior games, the main objective of Dead Rising 3 isn’t specifically to slay zombies, though you can be forgiven for thinking as such. Rather, you’re given three major goals throughout the course of the game: follow the plot specific missions to uncover the truth, save survivors, and kill psychopaths that get in your way as needed. The game operates on its own internal clock that ticks down as you play, and at the end of that time, the military will show up to bomb the hell out of your city. During this period, various objectives pop up in one of those three categories that you can choose to pursue or ignore. Story based missions follow the plot of the game, and progress said plot along to its conclusion, and while you aren’t obligated to complete them, doing so resolves the plot of the game, which is pretty much the whole point of the endeavor. Saving survivors is exactly what it sounds like: various people have managed to survive the zombie onslaught and are out in the city, somewhere, trying to survive in some form or fashion, and Nick can assist them and bring them back to a safe house as needed. Finally, various people around the city have, for whatever reason, completely lost their minds, and as such behave in an openly antagonistic fashion towards Nick for one reason or another. These people, dubbed psychopaths, are the “boss battles” of Dead Rising 3, as these people are hardier than your typical zombies and are often armed fairly well, meaning that you’ll have to be prepared to take them on and the battles will be more involved than just you hacking into them and hoping for the best… well, usually, anyway. You don’t technically HAVE to deal with any of the above, of course, as side missions simply disappear when their timer expires, but while you can completely ignore the plot and go buck wild as you wish, you’ll have to come back to the plot sooner or later if you want to see the end. The game is pretty good about showing you where it wants you to go for all of the available missions at the moment on the mini-map on-screen and the main map in the menu, so you’ll always have a good idea of what’s available to you at any time.

To help you along in your missions, Nick can pretty much pick up and use anything in the game environment as a weapon or tool to help him out. Drinks and food of various sorts litter the game world, which Nick can use to keep his health up, and mixing up consumables together allows for even more powerful concoctions that can heal more life or impart additional effects, or make you barf your guts out if it’s just a “Randomizer” combination. Smaller weapons, like bats, golf clubs, axes and so on can be carried with Nick in his inventory, meaning that Nick can have multiple tools for the task at hand, since weapons do break eventually, though larger implements, like boat oars, cash registers, and so on cannot be stored and will have to be carried or dropped, though most of those aren’t really practical weapons anyway. The ability to combine two separate weapons into one absurd Combo Weapon also returns, so you’ll have the ability to make ridiculous death dealing implements as you wish. As you save survivors, kill psychos, complete missions and do other things, Nick will earn PP, which allows him to level up when enough is earned. Level ups can give Nick more health, inventory space, speed and attack damage, and can also learn Nick new moves, among other things. Nick’s level carries over from one session to the next, so even if you fail at the missions and want to restart you’ll want to save the game and start over if you can, if only because going into the game with a few more levels makes the experience a good bit easier, especially once you learn how to dodge. The same is true of beating the game, so if you go through one session aiming to complete the storyline, you can save and start over with your levels intact if you want to save all of the survivors, for instance, so you don’t have to completely start over every time you play.

All of the above is something franchise fans will have seen before, but Dead Rising 3 expands on the concepts significantly and changes a lot of what players will likely expect to see from the game. The biggest change is in the size and scope of the events; the city of Los Perdidos is easily the largest location the franchise has ever showcased, and all of the locations connect to one another with no loading except when one goes into a self-contained area or a cinematic, usually. There are also, as noted above, an absolutely massive amount of zombies around you at any given time, and it’s no exaggeration to say that there can be literally hundreds of zombies coming after you at once, making this a much bigger experience all in all. On the other hand, the combo system has been expanded significantly to make life much easier for Nick and, by extension, the player. While Nick now requires blueprints in order to assemble a weapon (whereas before you could make something but not reap the best performance without a combo card), he doesn’t need a workbench to make new weapons, and is able to combine things on the fly from your inventory. Nick also has access to Super Combos, upgraded weapons that combine existing combo weapons with added tools to make even nastier tools, meaning you can combine, say, a scythe and a katana to make a Grim Reaper, then combine that with a Skull Mask to make a Death Mask Reaper, and combine that with a gas canister to make the Ultimate Grim Reaper. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Not only can you combine up weapons on the fly, but Nick (being a mechanic) is also able to combine up vehicles (since the city is so large, a lot of your travel is done by vehicle as needed). You can combine, say, a steamroller and a sedan to make a truck with a gun turret on it, or a steamroller and a motorcycle to make a steamroller motorcycle, allowing you to plow through zombies with ease as you head to your next destination. To say that it’s useful and fun to be able to whip up a weapon or vehicle as needed is a little obvious, to be sure, but this simple change makes the experience far more enjoyable than one might expect, and it’s honestly fantastic that we’re at a point where this is an option in the series.

The Safe House system from the prior games has also seen a major overhaul in line with the expanded size of the game world. Originally, there would be one obvious safe zone that your character could get into or out of, which you used as a place to advance the plot and a safe zone to bring survivors to when you were aiming to save them. This time, Safe Houses are scattered all over Los Perdidos, waiting for you to clear them of zombies, and providing you temporary respite whenever you return after doing so. The Safe Houses each offer a locker that contains any non-food item you’ve laid hands on during the game, including combo and super combo weapons, so you can basically make anything you might need at the time if you need to refresh your weapons. These can only generate so many items at one time though (eight normal items, four combos or two super combos) so you can’t abuse them, but as a quick item refresh spot it’s a good idea. You can also change clothes in the wardrobe so if you want to change into anything you’ve found in the game world you’ll have everything available right from the Safe House. Survivors are also handled differently this time around; whereas before you could find a hundred or so of them throughout the game and lead them to the Safe House for salvation, now there are two types of Survivors to save. Instanced Survivors pop up as you’re tearing through Los Perdidos, and saving them gives you a quick boost to your experience points (PP), but once they’re saved, they go on about their business. Permanent Survivors, of which there are only twenty four, often have a quest associated with them, on the other hand, but completing their quest adds them to your entourage for the remainder of the game, sort of like gang members in the Saints Row games. When they die, they die, mind you, but they otherwise are essentially maintenance free, as their weapons never break and their AI isn’t the worst (though it’s not too bright), so as long as you feed and take care of them they’ll be around to back you up as needed.

The leveling system has also seen something of an overhaul, giving you more control of how Nick develops instead of randomly giving you boosts when the game sees fit. As with the prior games, you’re given PP for practically everything, from completing missions to killing enemies to saving survivors and beyond, and when you earn enough PP, you go up a level. Going up a level earns you points that can be dumped into several categories, improving Nick’s intelligence, agility, melee and ranged damage and so on, depending on what category you buy from. Early upgrades can cost only one or two points at a time, while later upgrades might cost as many as five points, and each upgrade generally offers multiple benefits, such as increasing earned PP, expanding inventory space, increasing damage and so on. Once you hit level fifty you’ll be able to buy the best possible upgrades available, allowing you indestructible vehicles, immortal survivor allies, regenerating health and all kinds of other crazy upgrades, effectively becoming lord and master of all you survey, but this doesn’t so much reduce the fun as it does redirect from “surviving” to “obliterating everything.” You can also unlock item substitution categories, allowing you to use anything that falls into a basic category when creating combination items instead of needing a specific item for a combination. In other words, you could use a hatchet instead of a fire axe or a dirt bike instead of a sports bike for a combination item, which frees up your combination options quite a bit. It can get ridiculous when you’re using a paintball gun in a gun recipe, but for the most part the concept works out well enough to be feasible and you won’t find it to be too absurd.

There are several other modifications that have been made to the game, mechanically, that are minor but helpful that bear some mention. The Story Mode, while it doesn’t completely eschew time management, allows you to take on story missions one after the next instead of forcing you into a specific timeframe bubble, so you can complete the plot as you see fit instead of having to manage it as well as the side missions. Side missions do still have timers on them, however, though you’ll find that most of them have entirely reasonable time frames associated to them (due to the possibility of having to travel across the entire game world to get to them) so they’re nowhere near as onerous. You can now also save at any time you wish from the menu, though toilet saving is still an entirely viable option if you wish. The game also no longer has an interest in earning money, so you won’t see anything about it as you play and can safely forget that this mechanic existed in the prior games this time around, which simplifies things if nothing else. The game now also uses two buttons for combat, X and Y, with X handling light attacks and Y handling heavy attacks, so your combat options have been measurably increased for most weapons, making combat a bit more fun than in prior games, though not excessively so. The game also incorporates Smartglass and Kinect functionality; the former allows you to complete ZDC quests that in turn allow you to unlock ZDC boxes around the game world for fun prizes, while the latter allows you to distract psychos, call out to survivors and cause distractions with your voice. It’s cute enough, though you won’t specifically need any of it and the game doesn’t force you to use it, so if you’re not a fan you can ignore it entirely and feel no worse off as a result.

The game can be completed in about eight to ten hours, depending on what ending you go for and whether or not you pursue the side missions at all, but there’s a lot of content to bring you back. Aside from the multiple endings to see, there are over one hundred blueprints to collect, as well as statues of Frank West scattered around the game world that reward you with PP when collected; these are all displayed on the map, so finding them less about luck and more about finding how they’re hidden and how to get to them. As such, they’re not unreasonable to find and collect, and challenges and Achievements are tied into doing so, so for those with an unreasonable need to collect all the things, there you go. The game also features some unlockables, such as the Mega Man X armor suit, for accomplishing things, and you can also jump into another player’s game as you wish if you want to “be a Dick,” as the game describes it, whether they be friends or strangers. The game also offers the ability to jump into any chapter of the plot at any time if you want to go back and accomplish specific things, a Nightmare Mode for those who are more inclined to play the game in the style of the original, and a ton of Achievements that will require more than one playthrough to see through. Basically, if you’re looking for something content-stuffed to spend time with on your shiny new next gen console, Dead Rising 3 more than fits that bill in spades.

Sadly, that’s not to say that Dead Rising 3 has ironed out all of the franchise kinks, as it still has plenty to cast an eye over, some persistent and some all its own. The most obvious issue that carries over from the original game is the basic inability to pick up the specific thing you want from a pile of things, since nearly everything in the game is interactive, and multiple releases have done nothing to resolve this. The game also has the pathfinding issue of the original, where certain locations are blocked oddly and require some deft maneuvering, but this is more problematic in this game since roadblocks appear as you make progress, to the point where one city entrance is basically impassible in a vehicle and one bridge is a nightmare to traverse about halfway through the game. From a dynamic world perspective, this makes perfect sense, but from a gameplay perspective it’s maddening and needlessly frustrating all in all. The allied AI is also kind of problematic; it isn’t offensive, but it’s not ideal when you’re trying to get them into a car or give them a gun and watch them club a zombie to death with it. The biggest issue, though, is that between the removal of the timing aspects, the limited saves, and the difficulty in acquiring items when needed, the game almost feels too easy at times. Now, to be fair, this also comes down in large part to the fact that there are a whole lot of awesome combination weapons that do insane damage, like the ZAR, the Ultimate Mecha Dragon and so on, but a lot of the game simply isn’t challenging. Sure, there are challenging Psychopath fights, like the hallucinatory doctor fight and the final boss fights, and sure, the prior games were borderline oppressive in some cases (Dead Rising‘s last boss in particular was God awful) but this almost swings too far in the other direction. Nightmare Mode fixes this somewhat, but even so there’s only so much challenge to the game once you have some awesome combination weapons to work with, and hopefully we can find a better balance with Dead Rising 4 or the expected DLC at some point down the road.

On the whole, Dead Rising 3 does a lot to resolve issues players have had with prior games in the series while still keeping the core game intact, and while it’s not quite where it needs to be yet, it’s still a better overall experience than its predecessors in almost every respect. The plot is surprisingly good for a Capcom game and in general, visuals are technically impressive and artistically sound, and the audio is easily as good as anything that’s come before in the series. The series gameplay has been fine-tuned and expanded, and while it’s familiar enough that franchise fans should find it enjoyable, with a larger environment, new combination items, reduction of time constraints and ability to save anywhere should help bring in new players, though the time and save options are still there if you want them. Between the core game, the hidden items and combinations, the multiplayer, Nightmare Mode, Achievements, Smartglass and Kinect support and the expectation of DLC somewhere down the line, this is a game that should keep you busy for a good long while, and as a launch title, that’s a big selling point. That said, it’s still flawed in some obvious Dead Rising ways, IE picking up items from a pile is frustrating, the world design is chaotically blocked off in annoying fashion and the allied AI can be spotty, but beyond that, the game also feels a bit easier than the prior releases, almost to a point of being too easy, and more balance would’ve been desirable. On the whole though, Dead Rising 3 is generally a better game than its predecessors, a hell of a lot of fun, and almost definitely the best exclusive game to come out during this next gen launch for either console, and if that’s not saying a lot, I don’t know what is.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dead Rising 3 packs a surprisingly strong story, tight technically sound visuals and strong aural presentation into a tuned up franchise release that’s arguably the best in the series, and less arguably the best game to come out of the next gen console launch. The expanded combination mechanics, larger environment, massive reduction of loading and modified time and survivor systems compliment other slight modifications, like the ability to save anywhere and a slightly expanded combat system, and between online play, collectibles and Achievements there’s plenty to keep you coming back. Interacting with items in the game world can still be a hassle when there are several in one place, allied AI can still be stupid at times, and the world still has some annoying blockades that are made worse this time around, though the saddest thing is probably the loss of difficulty from prior games, as the game often feels too easy for its own good. If you can overlook those flaws, and you really should, Dead Rising 3 is well worth picking up for fans of all types, as it’s a fun, well paced, well designed experience that’s not only probably the best launch release this generation, but one of the best launch games ever produced.