(Xbox One Review) Dead Rising 3

Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Action
Players: 1-2
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 8.5 = Excellent

Nick Ramos can’t catch a break. Orphaned as a child, the incredibly optimistic and friendly young mechanic now finds himself in the midst of the latest zombie outbreak in the excellent next-gen debut of Capcom’s long-running undead-slashing, -burning, and -crushing series, Dead Rising 3.

A new console generation means more power for developers to harness, and of the launch Xbox One games, Dead Rising 3 is easily one of the more impressive demonstrations of the system’s capabilities. Although similar to its predecessors in design and playability, the one area in which the developers have advanced is also the one fans have been clamoring for: a large outdoor open-world environment overflowing with zombies. No longer confined to West’s mall or Greene’s casinos, players can now explore the entire town of Los Perdidos. The various sections, filled with explorable buildings and navigable rooftops, are blocked off by ad hoc barricades made up of overturned cars, concrete dividers, and stacked debris, all connected by a lengthy interstate system—and all packed with the undead.

Dealing with the ravenous hordes is handled much like before, with Nick being able to construct makeshift weapons out of scavenged items and blueprints, use whatever isn’t nailed down to bash a clear path, and hop into still-functioning vehicles for messy joyrides. Taking down zombies efficiently by destroying as many as possible as quickly as possible will net increasing amounts of points that are allocated towards one of seven character categories and two combo categories, which range from health to melee as well new buildable items. Additional experience is gained by clearing areas around random strangers who have become marooned on top of cars and buildings, as well as by taking up a mysterious caller’s offers to investigate areas, which could involve getting into a fight or helping strangers with the odd task (e.g., getting meat for someone’s undead family, making a strong weapon for them, or showing them how to fight unarmed) who might then follow Nick to help out. Players can also gain extra points by tracking down and investigating the site of a survivor’s tragic, pun-heavy end. For those more interesting in blowing stuff up, there are combat-specific timed trials that reward significant point bonuses for killing set numbers of zombies using specific weapon types within 30 seconds.

Scattered throughout the areas are magazines that can be ‘equipped’ to add one of several different types of stat boosts, car shops for materializing driven vehicles and vehicle combinations, and collectible statues  of Frank West that offer point bonuses. Fellow survivors have also set up safe houses throughout the city, which are set up with a bulletin board, bathroom, and cabinets. The bulletin boards offer updates on some of the rescued survivors, while the bathroom has a toilet where players can save, which is largely intended for players in Nightmare Mode, who cannot save everywhere. The cabinets offer quick access to all attained articles of clothing as well as weapons, weapon parts, and combined weapons. The only limit on what can be chosen is on the weapon cabinet, which has a rechargeable meter that keeps players from decking themselves out with only the most powerful gear.

Nick will need all of the help he can get because the zombies are everywhere, and as luck would have it, the government is also out to get him. He has seven days to get through the game’s eight chapters (nine, in some cases), or he and his friends will be incinerated by the military’s bombardment of the city. During that time, he must gather the means to escape while also uncovering the truth about his past, which will have him coming up against some well-armed soldiers. For fans of the original design’s stricter timeline and who baulk at the thought of being given an entire week to escape, there is the aforementioned Nightmare Mode: here, players are limited to saving at toilets, will not respawn at checkpoints, must survive longer nights, and have only a few days to get out of the city. For everyone else, especially those like myself who considered the previous setup too confining, this freedom is one of the best parts of the game. That extra window allows for far more exploration, and more importantly, discovering new and creative ways to create piles of oozing guts.

Thanks to being skilled with his hands, Nick is able to craft items anywhere in the world. Those instruments of destruction that spring forth will emerge from a strange combination of items, from traffic lights to giant teddy bears—nonsensical perhaps, but awesome all the same. Sometimes an acidic concoction and water gun aren’t enough, but combining them for a far-spraying hose of decay is just what the situation requires. There are giant novelty boxing gloves that can be set alight, charged with electricity, and covered with knives; sledgehammers that can be paired up with a saw or strapped with grenades for explosive hits; and game consoles attached to explosives to act as remote detonators. The increased zombie count makes combat all the more satisfying, as seeing waves of bodies fly into the air after successive blasts, be it from dynamite strapped to a severed foot or a grenade fired from a hobbled-together launcher, is always a welcome sight; and regardless of how repetitive it should have become, wading into thousands of zombies with a steamroller was always fun. Standing on a hill and seeing a crowded intersection never failed to bring a smile to my face. However, that smile straightened a bit when it turned night, as the undead turned more aggressive, charging with red-eyed fury whenever they got a whiff of fresh, delicious Nick.

Combat was less satisfying when it came to human opponents. These are typically generic Confederate-Flag-sporting, face-painted bikers or special-ops-style soldiers, and they often serve as some of the game’s boss encounters, something I wish the developers had done away with. One of the main reasons why these fights are so frustrating is the odd physics at play. Zombies react appropriately when hit, but human enemies either have little to no reaction or stumble back, which creates a disconnect, especially during melee whenever it seems as if they are brushing aside sledgehammer blows to the face. Nick reacts similarly, hobbling back or crumbling down whenever attacked, only to take his time getting back up.  Encounters with the living also typically take place in smaller areas, such as cordoned-off intersections, buildings, or hallways, which the camera has a difficult time accommodating. By and large, the game works best when there is room to maneuver, but it feels increasingly clunky the more confined the space is due to having to fight the camera swiveling at inopportune times or towards dead space, as well as controls that are meant more for wild swings than accuracy. Boss battles often work against the game’s strong points by funneling Nick into these types of areas, which both draws attention to the system’s inability to properly keep up with action in tight spots and avoids the openness that is this entry’s standout feature.

Humans in general are a problem, not only during combat but also in basic encounters. Many of the rescued survivors will run away to make it on their own, but others will engage in brief conversation or stick around. Those that follow can be given a weapon to aid in combat, as well as food for whenever they’re injured. Nick also has some upgradable abilities to allow for more followers and for them to be more adept at survival; however, even with the upgrades, they suffer from spotty AI. There will be moments when they acquit themselves quite well against a horde of zombies, but at other times, they will stand around and get hit. This is especially frustrating during timed sequences or close calls, as players make themselves a prime target by having to sit around in a car or wait on the other side of a barrier as their AI-controlled teammate tries to figure out how to proceed. Still, with a little attention—a bit more than I would prefer to give—they can be helpful. Unfortunately, the survivors’ characterizations are as uneven as their AI.

Many of the side missions involving humans are brisk, cut-and-dry affairs, with the scared or injured simply asking for help with weapons, food, random gear, or lessons in combat. Others, however, go overboard and are so ridiculously over the top and lazily realized that they hit the player like a brick wall. These include a fey-sounding, heavily lisped man wanting the player to lure zombies into a room so he can film sex scenes with ‘hot’ men; a hillbilly-ish man ranting about illegals and government handouts while asking for help with repairing his RV (what else); and a couple saved from a leather-masked man who spouts hackneyed double entendres and less-subtle innuendos as he shoots flames out of a gun attached to his crotch, complete with giant balls to hold the flammable liquids. Aside from insultingly playing to the cheap seats, these represent a significant missed opportunity. It’s one thing to be off-kilter or even a little surreal, but it’s another thing altogether to be flat-out stupid. In this large, increasingly dangerous world, some really great side stories could’ve emerged of survivors banding together to give some real life to the town and make the effort of helping its inhabitants feel worthwhile; instead, these dealings are relegated to pull-my-finger status. Heck, I would’ve settled for a few boss fights that were actually interesting and evoked more than a groan. Throughout the story, the developers prove that they can pull off some great scenarios, including moments indoors that evoke classic horror movie vibes with low lighting and moans of unseen monsters, so it’s unfortunate they phoned in so much of the character-to-character interaction.

I am happy to say, though, that while the computer-controlled humans left a lot to be desired, the actual humans I encountered during co-op play were terrific. The drop-in/drop-out multiplayer mode is one of the greatest additions that Dead Rising 3 brings to the series, and it is an absolute blast. The game offers a great solo experience, but those who want to share the experience have several options to allow for preferred game types, including casual, completionist, hardcore and speed run. Going through much of one playthrough with several strangers proved to be far more enjoyable than I had anticipated, as the game smartly lets each go about their business to crush all in their path. Blueprints, Frank West statues, points from saving stranded survivors, and other items are shared between the players, which offers a great way to level up and gather all of the collectibles. There’s also a helpful teleport option that allows the player who is off and about to quickly join the one who is at the next story point. There were times when the other player was too busy fighting to teleport, so it would have been nice to have some sort of force teleport option to get around that. The only option available after another player joins is to ‘boot’ them, but I fortunately never had to use it. The slowdown and texture pop-in that crops up during single player are present more in multiplayer, but surprisingly, not nearly as much as expected. As nicely implemented as multiplayer is, it would’ve benefitted from few co-op-centric trials or mini-game modes as it is barebones, but it’s a great addition nonetheless

Dead Rising 3 takes the series to new heights with a large open outdoor environment, a great variety of weapons, and a fantastic co-op mode. It stumbles in its dealings with humans, who are stricken with poor characterizations, bad writing, and the ability to bring out the worst in the camera in control system. Fortunately, the game is more about the dead than the living, and because of that, it’s hard for action or zombie fans to go wrong with Dead Rising 3.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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