When writing a review, timing can mean everything. Consider playing a game that almost no one has, besides those lucky enough to have hands-on with preview/review content. Your direction is open, and you get to carve a new path in talking about the game. I, as a game critic, try to avoid reading reviews on games I know I’ll be playing simply because I don’t want my review to be following the path of another. Unfortunately with Dead Rising 3 (DR3) I hadn’t done so, and rather than trying to block them out, I’d like to address some of those points immediately and then get into my review proper.
Frankly, this game is as grounded in reality as as Crackdown or Half-Life – and if you give me a moment I’ll tell you why that is absolutely awesome. Dead Rising 3 doesn’t compare to the storytelling and realism of The Last of Us, and if you try: you’re doing it wrong. That isn’t to say you can’t draw comparisons, but that would be like expecting realistic physics in SSX – and cutting it down for not being a totally different game is unfair. All maxxed out, our humble hero Nick can carry eight weapons of varying sizes through literally thousands of zombies – this is not a bid to stay inside the boundaries of “real”, though their presentation is certainly more gritty. Neither is the ability to create combo weapons in seconds such as using gems and a flashlight to form a laser sword. Furthermore, the characters and their motivations all make sense, and while not all decisions are good, they are all plausible within the world the game creates.
Lastly, when I decide to dress my character up, regardless of whether it’s silly or cool, I don’t want my character to revert to some generic clothing for the cutscenes. It disconnects me from my version of Nick. I’ve seen some reviews criticize this feature and it makes my blood boil. Listen – if you want to dress goofy, go for it. Just don’t complain when the cutscenes reflect your bad fashion sense.
I have two words for you: “Change Clothes”.
That isn’t just a hint though – those two words, when spoken during the game will revert our Nick (or the co-op character Dick) to his overalls via the magic of Kinect. For the most part the voice controls work just fine, though if you choose you can disable them. You can navigate your menus, attract zombies, taunt bosses or even point and command followers [attack, go there, scavenge]. I found that using my right hand was redundant and I simply switched to the voice command only mode for followers. One thing to note is that all of the commands are not preceded with “Xbox” – those are reserved for system level functions. All of the Kinect controls are available on the survival guide’s tutorial section – either hit the View button (which sits in the same place as Select on the 360 controller), or say “Survival Guide”.
The motion-sensing “push” of your controller to break zombie grappling works very well, and only twice in hours and hours of gameplay did it fail. It was frustrating at first, as the game didn’t correct itself by offering the alternative of hitting a button, nor did aligning myself in the Kinect view automatically fix it. A quick trip to the Xbox One’s login page to tell the system to recognize me fixed the issue. I’d suggest they look into this and patch it as dying unfairly is pretty frustrating, even if it is rare.
While I’m on the topic of Xbox One’s new featureset, there is a valuable, if somewhat distracting Smartglass integration included. In DR3’s case it includes maps, hints, config changes as well as the occasional phone call that nets you extra missions to find keys for lockboxes. This may add some legs to the subsequent run-throughs, but on my first time out there were far too many things to see and do to worry about it. I did complete one or two of those challenges, and they certainly can give you an advantage (for instance, there are descriptions of rooftop paths that let you travel unhindered by zombie masses), but on my first time out where I was more concerned with levelling Nick up and finding blueprints, I found it was too much. If I had an side-seat observer it would have been fine for them to help, and I fully expect to explore this feature on future replays as it promises to add some replay value.
The first rule of Fight Club…
I’m not going to talk much about plot both because I don’t like spoiling surprises. Suffice it to say that the story is good, it fits the Dead Rising series storyline, and there are some twists and turns in it that I enjoyed. It is also the smallest slice of this particular pie. In the multitude of gameplay hours, I found the sequences to be strung together well enough without being too lean on the story. The progression is told through chapters, and there is a sense of urgency as the town is slated for eradication by bombing in a scant seven days from the word go. I can assure you that if you simply ignore that clock you might find yourself at a sudden and unfortunate end of the game. You can restart the chapter you were on, however, and they will give you an appropriate amount of time but some of the progress you’ve made (followers saved, safe houses cleared out, and the like) will be lost. This strikes a fair balance, not forcing a perma-death where you’d just played to near the ending and then be forced to start all over.
In the end the game is about survival – run around zombies or carve through them. The combat is engaging, and weapon durability works well to force you to scavenge. Gathering up parts and putting them together to make combo weapons felt like the star of the show, save of course for the zombie horde. As you progress, there will be harder zombies you’ll come across that offer more challenge than the average walking dead. If you time it right, and upgrade your version of Nick to include skills such as keeping combos alive, you might just be able to string along combos in the hundreds. I recall getting north of 700, and with the combo bonuses it made leveling up a breeze.
The trick, I found, was to have several of the same weapons in a row to allow you to overcome the low durability. By equipping a magazine (which offers a descibed bonus to a particular trait) I opted to boost how much PP (or Prestige Points, basically experience points) that I earn. Leveling up unlocks ability points, and at lower levels it only takes one or two to boost a skill, but as you climb in rank so does the cost. One of the key things is to buy substitution skills – so you won’t need to find a machete and katana to make a particular weapon – instead you can simply pick up any two items from the blade class and substitute them. There are special weapons that do not allow substitution, however, and these are spelled out in the blueprints page in the survival guide.
Controls were generally spot-on, with one exception given to the RB shoulder button – sometimes I found the crafting/inventory wheel would disappear even while holding it down deliberately. If there was one bit of non-combat control I’d complain about was the item pickup function. When you have followers milling or getting in your way, having a Kinect command to clear them out to pick up an item would be nice – “Give me SPACE!”. Another pebble in the undead sandal is that some vehicles tended to flip or get hung up. Perhaps this is normal for a RollerHawg, a combination of a motorcycle and a steamroller with flamethrowers to boot, but I found a few spots where it would simply not pop over a curb, and if you decided to take a ramp it pretty much ended either upright or flipped over.
All in all it’s like complaining about a stain on a butchers apron – the game moved fluidly through combat with hundreds and thousands of zombies, each looking a little different, and there was always something there to distract and entertain. I did note some graphical slowdown, though I couldn’t nail down where or when it was the worst, and it was very infrequent. There were some texture pop-ins, but it didn’t detract from the game in any meaningful way, and was only really noticeable in some spots after driving through literally thousands of zombies.
“Xbox, record that.”
I think the biggest thing for me is that I actually wanted to finish this game – its predecessors felt like a chore. Dead Rising 3 still has timers, but only on the overall progress as you approach the seventh day and as well on the optional side missions. For some it might be unfortunate that there is plenty to make you squirm: on adult themes they manage to skirt the line of juvenile and dark comedy, and I think Capcom Vancouver has managed to bring the Dead Rising series to a wider potential audience though by no means is this game made for everyone as it earns it’s mature-only label. Those who’d care to re-live the steep challenge of the first two games will welcome the new Nightmare mode, or visit it later with a leveled up character rather than dominating the Story Mode over again.
I want to thank Capcom Vancouver – you get it. You’ve created a game as fun as any recent sandbox game that comes to mind, but made sure it had its own personality, decent replayability, and some fantastic cooperative moments. Dead Rising 3 is, for me, an absolute joy to play and a big step up from it’s predecessors . While the story could have been beefier it wasn’t cut so thin the in-laws won’t come back. Well done, and we’ll see you back in Los Perdidos.