If it’s a true “next-generation” game you’re after, look no further than Dead Rising 3. Capcom Vancouver’s gory, over-the-top zombie thriller is a technological masterpiece that amply showcases the power of Microsoft’s new Xbox One console. But more importantly, it’s also immensely and outrageously enjoyable. While other launch titles for the Xbox One and Sony’s rival PlayStation 4 are doing much to show off their respective systems’ improved graphics, Dead Rising 3 goes beyond that simple call of duty, no pun intended. It masterfully uses the console’s beefed-up processing power to pump not just a few more, but a ton more things onto the screen – in this case, of course, it’s zombies.
It only takes a few minutes of tooling around in the fictionalized city of Los Perdidos, ground zero for a massive zombie infestation, to realize this. The scale of the outbreak hit me just as soon as I started driving a motorcycle down a highway cluttered with abandoned vehicles. There weren’t just dozens of zombies blocking my path; there were hundreds, maybe even thousands. There were zombies as far as I could see, in every direction. And, as I soon learned, they weren’t just animated background elements – each was a fully realized individual whose sole reason for existence was to eat my brains.
When you stop to think about how much technological horsepower the game’s developers are throwing against you in the form of animated monsters, it’s easy to feel what the operative word of any zombie game should be: dread.
This is, in fact, what “next-gen” should be all about. It isn’t just more graphical fidelity – Dead Rising 3 looks great too, to be sure – it’s about games that are more immersive and draw more emotion out of their players. There wasn’t a second of this game where I wasn’t worrying about running out of weapons or, worse, getting caught amid a giant horde of zombies. Capcom Vancouver has thus used the next generation of console technology to convincingly deliver the next generation of fear. Well done.
With such a fundamental success underpinning it, Dead Rising 3 can be forgiven for having a relatively uninteresting story. The zombie outbreak in Los Perdidos, an alternate version of Los Angeles (a hot trend in games this year), means the city has been quarantined by the government. Our protagonist is Nick Ramos, a mechanic who must try to round up survivors in an effort to escape the city.
Along the way, he encounters many of the same genre tropes we’ve seen over and over – government conspiracies, other humans proving to be more monstrous than the zombies, the undead shamblers themselves becoming more aggressive at night, and so on. Through it all, Ramos tries to maintain his composure and resist devolving to the monsters’ level. This has all been done many times before, and the Ramos character doesn’t rise above the material.
This is an open-world game, though, so there’s a lot of supplemental stuff that ends up being more intriguing than the central colour-by-numbers plot. Ramos has a number of side missions to choose from, the most colourful (and ikely controversial) of which include encounters with human “psychos” based on the seven deadly sins who have holed up in various parts of the city.
The missions are effectively boss battles with the likes of a very angry, polearm-wielding martial arts master (wrath) to the crazed, cart-driving woman who jealously defends her buffet (gluttony). As over-the-top as they are, the psychos – with their varying attacks and extreme personalities – are the most memorable characters in the game.
The other side missions usually involve some sort of fetch quest – Ramos must go around town looking for misplaced tarot cards, for example, so that the survivor who lost them can decide on what he should do with his life. If the hero succeeds, he gets rewards in the form of prestige points, which are spent on new abilities, and even possibly a new member for his posse. These are survivors who follow along to help fend off the horde.
Capcom Vancouver has even done a nice job of answering the main criticism of open-world games by imposing time limits on both the side missions and the main campaign. If you ignore the optional missions long enough, they expire, but if you spend too much time on them… well then, something bad happens in the end.
Still, the plot, characters and side missions are all just window dressing on what is the heart of the game: total, wanton, absurdist mayhem. If open-world games are about serving up freedom to the player, then Dead Rising 3 succeeds wildly by turning anything and everything into a weapon, then unleashing that onto what is ultimately a limitless and faceless enemy. That hubcap lying on the ground? It can be thrown at zombies to decapitate them. How about that pylon? Sure, it can be bashed against their skulls. What’s a broadsword doing lying around in the middle of a convenience store? Well, it is a “convenience” store, right?
The possibilities are too numerous to list and it would take dozens upon dozens of hours to discover them all, since Los Perdidos is a city strewn with the detritus of a population that was quickly overrun. It’s what makes all the randomness potentially feasible, with funny results likely.
In this vein, you often come across items that make you wonder, “What if?” The thought occurred to me when I found a wheelchair – what would happen if I rammed it into a crowd of zombies? So I did, and it banged up a bunch of them as expected, but I was surprised to find one sitting in the seat as I emerged from the group, angrily growling and feebly flailing at me behind him. I had to pause the game from laughing so hard.
But Ramos is also a mechanic, which is the game’s way of explaining his ability to make combo items. Once he finds the blueprints that are strewn around the city, he can combine weapons or mundane items into new, more powerful – and often humourous – zombie-killing contraptions. A car battery and traffic light together become an electricity-emitting staff, while a robot teddy bear and a machine gun form an automated sentry that yells “Let’s get it on!”
The joys of discovering these combos – and then turning them on wave after wave of zombies – is what drives Dead Rising 3, because you just never know what you’re going to get. Combining a leaf blower with a sex toy, for example, results in a “Massager Launcher.” Sure, it’s crude and dumb, but there’s something absurdly funny about shooting pink sex toys at undead monsters.
Those discovery and combo elements extends to vehicles also, and Ramos can build fearsome machines that serve as mass zombie extermination tools as well as transportation. Combining a motorcycle with a steamroller, for example, nets the “Rollerhawg,” or a bike with a circular rolling drum as its front wheel that just happens to be great for plowing down the hordes. And oh, it shoots fire too.
Where did the fire part come from? Who cares. It’s the absurdity that makes it so enjoyable. You can’t help but get the sense that the developers had as much fun designing the game as many players will likely have while playing it.
There are more than a hundred weapon combos and several dozen vehicle combinations to be found, which basically assures some replay value. Dead Rising 3 also features full co-operative play, so you can jump into a friend’s game as Dick, Ramos’s sidekick, for a try at tag-team carnage. There’s also a Nightmare Mode where the time limits are shorter and the save points infrequent.
Put it all together and this is a next-generation launch title that is sure to inspire much replay, as well as plenty of water-cooler moments: “Did you make the sex-toy launcher?” “No, but I did make a lightsaber!”
Los Perdidos itself isn’t as big an open world as those found in other similar games, but with its humour and excellent execution of next-generation console technology, it feels more alive than most. Which is ironic for a game about dead people.