Dead Rising is a genuinely interesting franchise, and honestly, I believe the original development team struck something special with the first game. In fact, it was actually my first HD experience on the Xbox 360, and I have a lot of fond memories of exploring the mall and losing myself in the ridiculousness of it all. However, and sadly, the series is plagued with one core design mechanic which I have never been able to look past, and subsequently, why I could not see either game through to it’s conclusion. Time management. This is something I am very meticulous with in real life, and whilst I’m very good at it, I could not think of anything more daunting to be tasked with in a video game. So, while fans were venting their concerns over the visual design changes in Dead Rising 3 the past couple of months, all I really cared to know was whether I’d be burdened with yet another virtual watch!
For those who are less familiar with the franchise, essentially, Dead Rising is a zombie sandbox experience that’s often experienced from the perspective of a likeable, albeit quirky protagonist that has to escape their location before a countdown runs out. However, it’s an odd concept because on one side, the game heavily encourages exploration and experimentation; and yet, it also imposes time restrictions that force the player to be at certain locations at a specific time, right down to implementing the aforementioned virtual watch. Honestly, It’s one of the most bipolar designs I’ve ever come across, and in my opinion, it doesn’t work well as the timing is too particular, and this actively discourages either idea from being executed successfully. So, the real question remains; does the series now require an entire shift in its design, or is there a simple solution that could harmonise the balance?
Set 10 years after the events in Fortune City with late protagonist, Chuck Greene; players are instead introduced to Nick Ramos, a local mechanic working in the fictional city of Los Perdidos. Unsurprisingly, there has been a mysterious zombie outbreak in the city, and in accordance with the government; any survivors remaining will have 3 days to evacuate before the city is nuked. However, Nick and his friends soon discover that they are unable to leave, and this subsequently opens the door to a large government conspiracy, as well as an opportunity to uncover the origins of the lead character. Overall, it’s a plot that adequately suits the style of the game and doesn’t suffer the same problems as other open world games where side-tasks can often disempower the core narrative. Admittedly, it’s still full of cliches, and lots of the over the top characters that Capcom is so well known for, but ultimately, delivers this in a way that’s relevant to the tone of the world whilst still being entertaining.
While the game might appear darker in its visual design, fear not, it’s just as ridiculous as ever, and in a good way. The characters were likable enough that I could feel somewhat invested in what was going on, and once again we see a return of the “psychos”, whom are optional bosses the player can choose to encounter; with each of them based on one of the 7 deadly sins. It’s not an original idea, but it further demonstrates the humour I think Capcom delivers so well. Overall, the story is well paced and leads to a satisfying conclusion, and does well to throw in a couple of cool references to earlier games in the series, but admittedly, it’s not going to win awards and is a bit thin on direct content. However, this will not be a problem for most players as the game delivers great narrative through play, and as such, players will have the opportunity to create dynamic experiences of their own, which subsequently fill the gaps between survivor missions and the main storyline. Guaranteed, anyone who plays this game will have their own unique tales to tell you, or even share with you thanks to the DVR functionality.
Earlier I posed a question about how to balance the bi-polar mechanics of the series, and surprisingly, the solution did not require a lot of change at all. Essentially, there is still a countdown for side-missions in Dead Rising 3, but there are no watches, or requirements to be somewhere at a specific time; you just make your way over to the location before the timer bar runs out, and to be honest, it’s quite generous most of the time. So, with that being said, and regardless of what tone you personally prefer; by design, this is definitively the best game in the series to date as players can now adequately focus on experimentation without the pressure to be somewhere. Most interestingly, however, is the shift to a completely open city which also include a number unique areas to explore and a lot of insane vehicles to get yourself around. This is where you will arguably see the only legit next-gen experience right now; specifically referencing the number of zombies displayed on-screen at once. Simply put, this volume was not technically possible on previous systems, and subsequently, it forced me to re-consider the way I could traverse a city; which is something that a game has not done to me in a long time.
So, with all this added time, what is there for a player to do in this apocalyptic town? Well, a lot actually. Weapon combinations were a major addition to the series, so of course, they have made a return in this game as well. However, Nick is a mechanic, and as such, he does not require a bench to combine weapons; which is a fantastic design choice on so many levels. Often, you will find blueprints throughout the city, and with the required materials always close by, you can immediately combine the items and test the weapon out. Naturally, this leads to a lot of experimentation, and ultimately, the aforementioned narrative in play. However, it does not stop there as the same principle applies to vehicles as well, and I have to say, some of the vehicles I got to drive were just insane; with the zombie chewing, fire-breathing, rollerhawg being my absolute favourite. What works even better is that once you’ve discovered a weapon or vehicle combination, you can spawn said combination from either a safehouse or garage; so whilst you can still combine randomly, you won’t be forced to hunt for items to have fun.
A common problem with games that simply aim to be bigger is the likelihood of developers adding space just for the sake of space, and as such, there were definitely some fears surrounding the expansion of the game world in Dead Rising 3. Fortunately, there was nothing to worry about, and what surprised me even more was how well designed Los Perdidos actually was. I’m someone who enjoys becoming intimately familiar with the environment, and thus, it did not take long before I started to naturally learn my way around town and forgo a constant need to push the menu button to find where I was. In my opinion, this is great design, which also carries across into a new skill tree mechanic that compliments the experience well. Often, I found myself adjusting my play style towards one that was more experimental in order to build PP for upgrades. If anything, this system encourages the ridiculous play the series is well known for, but also provides the balance necessary to keep the player focused.
Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of positives to talk about with Dead Rising 3, but the game is still not without some major flaws. As previously mentioned, the main narrative does pretty well to keep things moving, however, the game is also riddled with terribly uninspired fetch quests, in fact, this is literally every side-mission. If it were not for the humorous scenario writing and the enjoyable rampages that often become apart of your travel time, this would be an absolute joke. I can’t say I’m confident this is by deliberate design, but to some degree, it does work well to keep the players engaged in what’s fun about the game, but at the same time, there are many other clever ways to achieve this. Fortunately, there are at least the optional bosses, known as psychos, that add a bit more substance to the side events; with each character being more disgusting and detestable than the last. To be honest, whilst I found the battles difficult at first, each one got successively easier once I realised I could stock up on powerful weapons at the safe house prior to my arrival. Naturally, it was still a lot of fun, but it felt a bit cheap.
More than anything else, the gameplay in Dead Rising 3 has been delivered with near perfection. This was simply a fun experience in it’s most purest form, and whilst other components might have lacked a little polish, I think it would be difficult for anyone to watch and not want to at least try out one of the weapons or vehicles. Naturally, with such a large arsenal available, there are plenty of guns and other silly stuff for you to play with, but at it’s core, this is a game that understands the rush of melee combat and delivers it fantastically in several hundred different ways. Admittedly, the combat could be a little clunky at times depending on your weapon of choice, and it can also be a pain trying to select a specific item when many are near by. However, it was just so easy to get lost in the madness of the world that I was more so interested in what I could create next rather than complaining.
Honestly though, the greatest feature in Dead Rising 3 is without the co-op mode, in fact, it is the best designed online co-op I’ve ever experienced in a game, and that’s not an exaggeration. To invite a friend to join your game, all you need to do is snap a party and invite them from the pause menu. Once the other player joins your game, they actually have the ability to go anywhere they want, and are not limited to sticking close to you. However, this is where it gets interesting as anything either player finds in the session, such as a blueprint, is then shared between both players, and the same applies to the PP awarded at the of end any missions which are completed. Essentially, you can both play together without any commitments, and yet, the player joining will equally benefit from anything you do together in the co-op session, and subsequently, take all the experience, items and side-mission progress back to their own game once the session is over. I cannot think of a more perfect co-op system, and funnily enough, it reminds me of what Peter Molyneux promised for Fable 2, but failed to deliver.
Graphically speaking, I think this title will be the one to let down those players looking for “next-gen” visuals. However, for several years now I’ve experienced what I would consider being the next generation of graphics on my PC, but because these games must be scalable, it often means the other aspects of PC games must remain consistent with their console counterparts. As such, I think it’s fantastic that the developers instead chose to dedicate the system resources into putting more zombies on the screen, instead of more hair follicles on their heads. So whilst people were complaining about the designers using a more realistic colour palette, I just sat there amazed at how many zombies were on screen, especially at night time when things get a bit crazy. And to be honest, I thought the art style actually suited the design of the game really well, and personally feel it doesn’t break the charm at all. To me, the world was crafted with care, and each of the characters was presented well, with adequate voice acting to match. The only problem I noticed was how damaging to the sincerity of the plot the ridiculous costumes could have during a cutscene, other than that, I was okay with a couple of rough edges.
Dead Rising 3 is a ridiculously fun game which delivers what I would consider to be the best co-op mode in any game to date. Of course, it’s far from perfect, and there are sometimes quite a few rough edges that you need to look past. However, it is also one of the most satisfying games I’ve ever played, and by removing the time restrictions made infamous by its predecessors, I think this entry in particular is one of the most balanced open-world games out there. Everything is designed to keep you enjoying the action, and this does well to cover up quite a few pot holes which could have been a major problem, but surprisingly aren’t. Notably, it does experiment with Kinect as well as its own companion app; and whilst it’s novel to get a call direct to your mobile phone, or to distract a boss by calling out, these features aren’t required to enjoy the game. Overall, players will be driven by a narrative that’s interesting enough, and a dynamic weapon & vehicle combination mechanic that will likely keep you experimenting for hours on end. You might not turn your head based on the graphics alone, but when you see all those zombies on the screen, I am confident you will see another angle on what “next-gen” will represent.