The Dead Rising series has been a personal favorite since I played the first one on my Xbox 360. Large levels that were full of zombie hordes made for a unique experience in 2006, and it could be argued that it remains so today. Basically, the first Dead Rising game was the game that made me realize the experiences that could be achieved on the new hardware I had spent so long saving for. While Dead Rising 2 had improvements, it was a marginal upgrade to the modern classic. Sharing the same hardware as the first game made that an understandable issue though. With Dead Rising 3 releasing as a launch title for the Xbox One, I felt like we were in store for another generation-defining moment from Capcom. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ve simply stayed the course and actually taken a few steps back in many areas.
In case you are totally unfamiliar with the Dead Rising formula, here is a quick rundown. A zombie outbreak is running loose in the city of Los Perdidos, the same zombie plague that terrorized the protagonists of the first two games. While there has been a vaccine available since the second game, it seems like the counter-measures have failed, and the undead are causing trouble again. As the series’ newest hero, Nick Ramos, you will navigate the open-world environment while utilizing found items as weapons. Combining items to form an upgraded weapon is your best bet, and you can now combine vehicles as well. Act fast though, because you are working against the clock: the government is set to obliterate the entire city in seven days. You have that amount of time to save whomever you can from the undead, find a way to escape, and maybe figure out what exactly is going on behind the scenes to cause such a tragedy.
Dead Rising 3 functions in a near real-time manner. You are given missions and objectives which must be completed before the timer runs out. The clock is forgiving, so there is little rush, and unless it is a main story mission you can ignore it completely if you choose to. Missions seem to arrive at regular intervals, and you are now able to save wherever you please. There is a “Nightmare Mode” available for those who wish to retain the traditional Dead Rising experience of limited saving options and a completely real-time clock. All in all, Dead Rising 3 is exactly what you would expect from a new entry in the series, and yet I look back on it with a fair amount of disappointment.
Let’s start with the things that I liked about about Dead Rising 3, and to be fair, I liked a good portion of it. The Dead Rising series has always been known for being able to deliver huge crowds of shambling zombies, and this has only been improved with the power of the Xbox One. Massive groups of diverse zombies populate the streets and buildings of Los Perdidos. Many times while playing the game I would turn a corner to find hundreds of zombies gathered in the street, and every time it elicited the “oh crap” response that I look for in a zombie game. Dealing with this horde has also seen a few improvements.
Weapon combinations were added in Dead Rising 2, and have been greatly expanded in the third installment. You are no longer required to locate a workbench to craft your combos, freeing you to whip up death-dealers no matter where you are. There also seems to be a wider variety of effective combinations. In Dead Rising 2, I always defaulted to the two or three combinations that were most effective, but in Dead Rising 3 I am experimenting a lot more and finding most of them quite useful. Vehicle combinations also add to the fun, with a couple of very standout entries that led to greatly enjoyable experiences. Vehicles, however, do still suffer from the balancing issue that was corrected for standard weapons. Once you have one or two of the best combinations you’ll find little reason to explore beyond them.
Now, unfortunately, I have to start talking about the bad stuff. Dead Rising 3 was a rushed game. I can say this confidently because of two things: it was a launch title, and it features some of the worst graphical glitches I have experienced in quite some time. Overall, the game looks well enough; I wouldn’t lavish praise on most of it, but generally it was an eye pleaser. Obviously the visuals had to be toned down in order to accommodate the massive number of zombies on screen, but that is no excuse for some of the issues I encountered. Textures fill in with detail as you move through the environment, and if you move too fast, such as in a car, you will find the entire game world completely covered with low-resolution textures. This would be passable if it were the only issue.
More importantly, entire items will suddenly materialize before you; this includes walls and buildings if the game is struggling to keep up. On three separate occasions during my playthrough I was driving a car and slammed into an invisible wall only to see it slowly pixelate itself into existence before my very eyes. Other times, I would be driving along and have a violent collision with nothing. Looking back revealed a disabled vehicle or large container that had apparently not existed just seconds before. Once I started noticing this issue, I couldn’t stop. Vehicles would magically appear in the distance as I drove through the multitude of zombies that barred my progress. Crates, boxes, and barrels faded into view from mere feet away. Every time I saw one of these I sighed deeply and hoped that it would never happen again. Regrettably, it continued and even intensified the closer I got to the end of the game. So, with visuals being a major issue, I hoped the rest of the game would hold up. Much of it does, but overall Dead Rising 3 is a mixed bag.
Story has never been an important part of the Dead Rising series, but it always had some amount of intrigue beneath the fun of killing thousands of zombies. The actual plot of Dead Rising 3 is surprisingly decent. There are a few mysteries to be solved, and you are always sure of what is going on. The seven deadly sin-themed psychos, who provide the game’s boss battles, are all fitting with the series’ traditions and provide a bit of fun, if not much challenge. Mainly, the problems lie with the main character, Nick Ramos, and the way he is treated by those around him. Nick is essentially a blank slate of a character. He comes across as rather unintelligent, even asking two bound, gagged, and crying characters if they were OK and if they needed his help at one point. Worse though, is the missions that he is sent on throughout his time in Los Perdidos.
I am fine with being the errand boy of the world, and in fact, that seems to be what most video games task you with. I am not fine with being led around for hours with little to no payoff. Throughout the main thread of the game, it felt like Nick was constantly doing favors that led nowhere. Each mission that Nick is sent on simply leads to another mission. I would do what was asked, locating a lost woman for example, only to then have to help that woman with a problem of her own before she agreed to come back with me. Many times these objectives would stack on for multiple meetings, leading to completely lost momentum of the plot. Thankfully, these missions do play out better than their predecessors from Dead Rising 1 and 2.
Previously, when you saved someone from the zombies, it was a chore bringing them back to safety. In Dead Rising 3, friendly AI has been vastly improved, and you actually feel OK with bringing these side characters along on the more difficult missions. Watching them ever so slowly find their way to the car door was a major source of frustration though, so if you plan to travel a lot, you might prefer to pick them up from a more localized safehouse.
A more theoretical issue I had with the game was that Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2 both took place in large areas of enclosed space. The first game was in a mall, and the second was in Fortune City. While both featured vehicles as optional transport, they were not a major focus of the game and would largely need to be abandoned to reach other areas. In Dead Rising 3, you have the entire city of Los Perdidos to explore. While this added expanse might seem like an improvement, it ends up breaking a few of the core concepts that make the series great.
The city is split into four smaller sections with a highway in between. The streets are littered with vehicles, many of which are drivable by the player. Since the distance between objectives and the number of zombies in the way is so great, you almost always require a vehicle to continue your mission. Considering that a good portion of the fun of the first two games came from having to navigate through the zombie horde to reach your next objective, I can’t help but feel that the series has taken a small step backward. While playing through Dead Rising 3, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was trying to be Grand Theft Auto: Zombies. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (in fact, it sounds pretty awesome), it does feel like Dead Rising has lost a little bit of what made it so unique in the first place.
I might sound very negative about the game, but I do feel like Dead Rising 3 is an enjoyable experience. I had fun with it – more fun than a lot of other launch games that I have played. When I took breaks from the game I would feel the need to jump back in and mess around, a big compliment. However, every moment of triumph was stymied by some misstep, whether large or small. Most of the smaller problems can, and likely should, be ignored for the greater good that the game has done. The larger issues cannot. Buildings and walls should not be appearing out of nowhere on a regular basis. Vehicles should not crash into invisible objects that slowly fade into existence only after the damage has been done. Perhaps if the team had taken more time and not been dedicated to hitting that Xbox One launch date we could have seen a true successor for the previous Dead Rising entries. As it stands though, we simply have a very fun game that makes a series of regrettable mistakes.