When there’s no more jokes in hell,
We’ve never got on with Dead Rising games. The premise is incredible, being let loose in a large area, free to improvise weapons and survive against almost-true zombie hordes, shuffling towards you en-masse. There’s psychopathic humans to serve as bosses rather than superpowered zombies, there’s a straight-faced story that you’re free to twist by way of character customisation, and there’s buckets of gore. But somehow Dead Rising 1 and 2 simply weren’t fun for us. The time restrictions always felt punishing rather than challenging, the psychopath fights were easier to exploit than to win via skill and the fetch quests and survivor escorts were exercises in frustration. Now with Dead Rising 3 arriving as the prime launch title for the Xbox One, they’ve finally solved those issues and turned this into the game it was always meant to be.
Taking place in a fairly large city divided into four sections, Dead Rising takes the game out of shopping malls into a much bigger district. This means huge open spaces as you battle across highways and through parks and graveyards, with the game engine reliably keeping every area chock filled with the undead. As you make your way across an interstate your cars are reduced to hulks of steaming metal by the sheer numbers of corpses that you’re ploughing through, it’s quite a spectacle and one of the clearest demonstrations of the power of next-gen technology that we can imagine. At any given time there’s often hundreds of zombies on screen, and they all look and move in subtley different ways (although there are obviously ‘types’) and they all react to your abuse individually. Smash through a crowd at high speed in a taxi and you’ll come out the other side with limbs flying through the air and a few stragglers grabbing on to the doors and windows. At numerous points we had zombies falling into the back seats with their legs sticking out the windows.
Combine this ridiculous number of foes with some truly inventive weaponry and you get something special. Most items can be picked up and wielded from chainsaws to coffee tables, and many can be combined into something more menacing. You can strap some knives onto some boxing gloves, or an LMG onto a robot teddy bear. There are set ways to do this, it’s not procedural, but once you have a blueprint the ingredients are almost always within arms reach and once they’re in your inventory you simply hold RB and press A to create something horrific. Similarly with vehicles you’ll get blueprints for vehicle combinations, allowing you to stand between a motorbike and a steamroller to turn it into the corpse-squashing-fire-belching ride of doom.
The plot is essentially nonsense. It ties in with the other games in some small ways but the main thrust of it is ‘Zombies, oh noes, escape!’ and that’s all you really need. As you wander around the city you’ll find little tragic endings that tell a little bit of a personal story and occasionally you’ll find survivors who might ask you to do a side mission for them, often offering up a little window into their experiences. The side missions are surprisingly varied. Occasionally you’ll just need to collect some items, sometimes you get actual moral choices or a multi-stage plot. Finding out those you’re desperately trying to help are actually psychos in their own right is always fun. The psychopaths themselves are entertaining for the most part and usually stray just on the right side of offensive. Some are disgusting, many are stereotypes, but they all meet their end in suitably grisly ways and the fights are much more entertaining than in previous titles in the series. The game uses voice commands to distract or taunt them, and each fight has some kind of mechanic to keep things interesting. Of course once you can make some real firepower they all become easy as anything, but fighting them is still a lot of fun. In terms of pacing the game starts to drag a tiny bit and then it’s over. There’s an optional last chapter that’s triggered depending on a choice you make and that is by far the weakest part of the whole plot, with the missions involving you driving or running all over the city while it’s filled with zombies to complete some seriously menial tasks. Clocking in at about eight hours it’s a decent length game, and those who enjoyed collectable hunts or just messing around in a sandbox will be able to squeeze a few more hours out of it before getting bored.
Graphically, despite reports to the contrary, this is definitely a next-gen game. The resolution might not be great and some of the textures are a little sloppy, but the amount of zombies thrown at you is astounding. Combined with some nice lighting effects from explosions (and particularly the flare gun) you have what amounts to a really nice-looking game. The hordes have enough of a ‘wow’ factor to justify the money you spent on an Xbox One, in a way that isn’t really present in many other launch titles on either system. The game does chug a little when a lots going on or if you’re driving at full speed into a new area but this is fairly rare and doesn’t detract from the experience at all.
If at all possible, convince a friend to buy this too as you’re going to have much more fun in co-op. Despite leaving our game open to the public, we never had any randomers join our game and you can stop that feature altogether should you so wish. Playing with a friend makes everything more hilarious, particularly when you find new silly items or clothing, or are having a sensible chat with an NPC while your companion is out causing mayhem in the background. Check out the video below for a sample of a few things we got up to in a single evening (all recorded using the Xbox One’s DVR function).
In terms of gameplay Capcom have worked hard on avoiding the problems with previous games. You can save absolutely anywhere on the default difficulty (a nightmare mode restricts you to bathrooms), you don’t need to go into a separate menu to craft things, you level up incredibly quickly, non-zombie enemies are easier to take on, companion AI doesn’t require any babysitting (you can literally run through a horde and they will be able to follow without dying usually). There are still issues such as the lack of threat from zombies (you will quite happily wade into a crowd with a frying pan if you want, they’re never likely to kill you) and a disappointing plot, but if you’re looking for some mindless fun then it’s got that in spades.
Overall, Dead Rising is an awesome launch game and a great Dead Rising game. By taking out a lot of the frustrations we had with the series, Capcom have crafted something special that might eventually get boring, but is a huge amount of fun while it lasted, and a game that would never have worked on the last generation of consoles. If you can play with a buddy, if not just make sure you don’t take things too seriously. This game’s a lot of fun as long as you’re ready to let your hair down a little.