UPDATE (10 p.m. Pacific time): We were able to get a late co-op session and have updated the review text with our thoughts. The co-op’s smooth connectivity and improvements to the side objectives raise our score to 85/100.
Editor’s note: We were unable to play any of Dead Rising 3’s co-op campaign prior to the review embargo due to technical difficulties. We are attempting to resolve the issue with Microsoft, but this review and its score does not reflect co-op.
Los Perdidos is bigger than anything Dead Rising has seen before.
The city in this Xbox One launch game from Microsoft Games Studio and Capcom Vancouver is gigantic, bigger than every area in the first two games put together — and it’s teeming with zombies. It’s full of side missions and weapon-crafting, all of which makes Dead Rising 3 an ambitious evolution of the cult-favorite hack-and-slash action franchise.
While the difficulty curve is shot and a city this big should never lack a fast travel system, Dead Rising 3 stands out among Xbox One launch titles as a solid adventure with the potential for hours of gameplay.
What you’ll like
The tale of Nick Ramos and his survivor pals can be amusingly bizarre
The move to a more open world brings with it a surprisingly cutscene-heavy story that’s on a much grander scale than earlier Dead Rising games. Nick Ramos, mechanic extraordinaire, is part of a small group of survivors in the fictional Californian city of Los Perdidos. The urban sprawl is three days into a zombie outbreak, with hastily mounted quarantine zones falling apart at the seams. It’s not too long before the military announces a scorched earth fail-safe plan of bombing Los Perdidos, leaving a ticking clock over Nick and the survivors as they search for a way out of the city.
The story of Dead Rising 3, outside of its achingly routine premise and progression of events, is at times bizarre and idiotic. But it’s almost always amusing. Nick himself is more a plot device than interesting character, but the multiple groups of other survivors he encounters are a more amiable lot. Boss characters in particular are a distinctive and ridiculous bunch, each equipped with their own batch of histrionics.
Weapon crafting is as addictive as ever
To simply state that Dead Rising 3’s protagonist, Nick, is a mechanic sells its central draw seriously short. Like previous Dead Rising protagonists Frank West and Chuck Greene before him, Nick can MacGuyver his way to a wide variety of instruments of death without so much as a roll of electrical tape in sight. Finding blueprints opens the option to combine two weapons or components from the radial menu into more devastating implements of death.
Unlike Frank or Chuck, Nick doesn’t even need to find a work bench to initiate the crafting process. Players can make new weapons or items seamlessly, with only a brief progress bar between you and a new toy. One-hundred and one blueprints are scattered across Los Perdidos for players to find, and hunting down each new toy and trying it out on the nearest horde is the true joy of Dead Rising 3.
Not all of Ramos’s monstrosities are equal when it comes to combat effectiveness, but the duds make up for their failings by being charmingly stupid. The slapper, a pair of boxing gloves attached to a broom, largely comes to mind. What makes the process of weapon combination so perpetually engrossing is the prevalence of materials in every environment. Previous Dead Rising games were stuffed with interactive objects, but in Dead Rising 3 each room, storefront, or curb has handfuls of litter that you can use. Each new type of material or object Nick picks up is also automatically stored in a weapon locker located in the many safe houses for later experimentation.
Side objectives galore
The amount of diversions in Dead Rising 3 borders on excessive. Side objectives are largely divided between rescuing survivors from surrounding zombies, fetching objects for potential companions, survival challenges that force a set of combat conditions under a time limit, battles with deranged “Psycho” minibosses, and destroying speakers that attract troublesome hordes of the undead. Add in the collection of blueprints and golden statues of Dead Rising star Frank West and the single-player campaign length can easily double when roaming around the map.
And while the plethora of fetch quests may grate on the nerves after a while, the rewards for persevering are usually worth the grind. Every task Nick completes earns Prestige Points (PP) that factor into leveling up. Reaching a new level awards points to spend on a variety of upgrades like health and melee damage, along with streamlined crafting options. Putting points into certain skills will also unlock extra combat moves or unique blueprints. The levels rise extremely fast in the early chapters of the game, long enough to hook players to the process before it all evens out towards the halfway point. A series of secondary PP trials invite players along a gauntlet of extra challenges, although most are busy work players will complete without planning to.
Boss battles are old-school fun
Boss battles appeared to have received much of the attention when it comes to layout and narrative design. Boss characters take just as long to die as the zombie grunts, but you fight them on larger, open fields than previous in Dead Rising installments. Even with the improvements to gun handling, ranged weapons aren’t ideal for most boss battles, most having movement speeds not working well with the targeting system. Finding and adapting to attack and movement patterns brings back that classic feeling of empowered satisfaction of games from the past, particularly an encounter with an organ-harvesting doctor that drugs Nick and sends the camera swirling. Even the “psycho” minibosses get some time on the outlandish stage, with one fight in a buffet demanding the death of an obese woman on a motor scooter, complete with vomit attacks.
A foundation of solid controls
With such a massive map, it’s good Los Perdidos is littered with idle vehicles that just so happen to have the keys still in the ignition. Nick can cruise along the highways in a variety of standard vehicles and more dangerous automobiles of his own making. Operating the cars and vans work smoothly using the shoulder buttons, which is good because you’ll need to cross the vast distances between mission objectives frequently.
But eventually, it will all come down to Nick against a whole mess of zombies.The basic combo system can handle most waves of the undead, with your attack options increasing with upgrades and player level. Ground attacks are definitely lacking when it comes to most shorter weapons, leaving Nick open grapples from legless zombies crawling across the ground more often than is appreciated. Using ranged weapons is almost too effective, making most gunplay a simple point-and-click adventure in zombie blood explosions. When Nick starts getting the blueprints for more powerful firearms, it’s just plain goofy.
Building up a chain of kills increases the PP yield for each death and opens up the occasional opportunity for an aggressive superattack that varies across different types of weapons. These gruesome melee moves are gleefully brutal, but their usefulness as a one-hit kill out lasts the schadenfreude of seeing a zombie’s right side skinned down to the tendons by a saw blade. New players will have no problem building their first 50-kill streaks.
A lot of zombies in a pretty audio-visual package
In the same vein as the original Dead Rising for the Xbox 360, Dead Rising 3 is looking to show off new processing power through numbers. The amount of zombies capable of being displayed on-screen is an impressive feat that manages to sell the horror that comes with the thought of a throng of undead. The rate at which individual zombies lunge at Nick as he moves through the crowd feels unique to each instance, and when united the undead merge into a wave of rotten flesh that can slam or mill around a car and seriously impact its speed.
Dead Rising 3 flexes some serious presentation muscle across the board, with cutscenes in particular bearing that next-gen gloss and shine. Capcom Vancouver’s facial animation and performance capture rivals Naughty Dog’s work on Uncharted, with even sharper textures. Fire and lighting effects glow beautifully; blood spatters are grimy and thick. On the audio front, zombies snarl and rasp with the appropriate balance of human and animalistic qualities. Voice performances are uniformly rich with personality, forgiving a few shaky performances from bit characters. The soundtrack is sparse, punctuating moody moments with a cheesy, B-movie electronic undertone.
Co-op encourages a lot of fun looting
If the chaos of being one guy inciting an undead massacre is not enough, Dead Rising 3’s co-op campaign provides for drop-in/drop-out play between two players.
Connecting into an online multiplayer session is relatively seamless. The second player takes on the role of Dick, a mirrored version of Nick that shares the level and upgraded skills of the single-player character who spawns within a hundred yards of the campaign player. Matches can be set up via the Party option on the Xbox One Dashboard or in-game using a random search of playstyle terms. The lack of an in-game option to connect to players in your friends list is regrettable, and you don’t get any information on the players you come in contact with before or after a session.
Los Perdidos is quite the playground for group play regardless of whom you wind up with. Coordinated players will turn the already easy zombie-slaying into a breeze, but co-op does relieve a lot of the monotony of the side objectives. Collectibles are shared between players, so any blueprint or Frank West statue picked up by either gives out the same PP to Nick and Dick. It’s the same for combat challenges, where kills racked up by both players are combined into one total that counts toward the goal. Traveling is still a slow process, but should either player stray too far away from his partner, a quick press of the Options button teleports him directly back into the fray.
What you won’t like
Vehicle-crafting and costume-hunting feel set aside
Nick’s skill with a blowtorch does not stop at weapons, as the crafting system provides for almost a dozen sturdier vehicles with secondary weapon mounts. The effort to make these stronger vehicles is frequently unnecessary, given the amount of standard vehicles that thoroughly fill the map. Modified cars are stored in various garages throughout the map similar to the weapons locker, but traveling back and forth to them for a moderately stronger SUV rarely feels necessary. And without the ability to hold on to any vehicle component, Nick is left waiting until he stumbles across the exact type of motorcycle parked near enough to the exact type of car to make crafting worth the effort.
Plot succumbs to zombie-theme fatigue
The journey may be consistently amusing, but the destination feels stale. Boss encounters may drip with an infectious affection for the absurd, but the narrative treads through the basics of zombie storytelling. Gangs take the police absence as license to go feral and territorial, and groups of ostracized skeptics are vindicated when the government reveals clandestine motives surrounding the infection. We’ve played all this before years ago, and players can predict most of the plot shifts an hour ahead of when they happen. Later chapters play out some interesting turns in the plot (and cameos), but not before a sense of déjà vu has long settled it.
It isn’t bad, by any stretch. The consistently impressive animations and performance capture on display let the cast run through a decent script with more emotional depth than the plot may deserve. But in a time of such rampant exploration of the zombie outbreak as a concept, Dead Rising 3 has chosen to polish what’s been done before, rather than take it somewhere entirely new. Appreciate it as a collection of vignettes between boss encounters, but don’t look for anything deeper.
It’s all too easy
In fact, most of the combat comes off as just too simple and easy. Playing with different weapon effects stretches the appeal to a certain extent, but even the most wild and crazy ways to kill zombies require the same inputs. The more strategically minded will be able to devise a few more complicated maneuvers, but there isn’t as much of an impulse to be inventive. It’s a short-term game of items, not tactics.
The overall easy difficulty curve is mitigated somewhat with the introduction of armored human enemies and more durable zombies, but progression through the main mission is never a concern. Nick’s effective dodge roll makes even fiddling about with a new weapon combination present little potential for death. Worse still, the ease is made tedious by enemies that take far too much damage, even with improved melee skills. There is the option of Nightmare Mode, recalling the first Dead Rising’s more difficult timed setting and restrictive save options, but between that and the standard option is a challenge wasteland.
Los Perdidos feels too big without a fast travel system
The city of Los Perdidos is impressively large and absolutely riddled with side objectives. Traversing the entirety of Los Perdidos’ four districts takes some considerable patience. It’s large enough to be a concern in the single player campaign, with many chapters in particular sending you to each extreme of the map to complete simple objectives, or outright telling you to explored the map for a few in-game hours before the story progresses. Side missions will distract most players, but even the most adventurous will notice the lack of a fast travel system. While the game itself may not have any load times, the wait to get into a game from the main menu or game over screen can be noticeable.
The timed side objectives make this worse. While not nearly as rapidly depleting as in earlier games, most of the fetch or combat quests will have progress meters slowly trickling away at the bottom left of the screen as you try to find a way to get back to that side of the map. Given how often you’ll be sent to the outer skirts of Los Perdidos in the campaign, the only way to really complete these side objectives is to devote a chunk of time in each chapter to slogging through each one. It’s a major shot against the game’s flow for completionists, and without any of the other timed elements making their way from previous games, it seems like arbitrary punishment.
Kinect features are mostly gratuitous
The Kinect camera has uses across Dead Rising 3, from distracting groups of zombies with a called command to taunting boss characters or repelling grabbing zombies with a pushing motion. Voice commands are responsive enough in theory, but players will likely keep repeating them in succession because their effects are often too miniscule to notice. Certain boss characters are better targets for taunts than others, but they overcome the handicap so quickly that its effect is barely worthwhile. Surfing the menus with voice works reasonably well, but that’s a novelty when controller inputs are still an option.
Physical inputs were much less responsive, mimicking a shoving motion during grapples with the undead worked a little over half of the time. With the actual grapples lasting only a few scant seconds, players should never have to take their hands off the controller when a zombie gets hold of them.
SmartGlass wouldn’t work
For a majority of my attempts to run the companion SmartGlass application, on a Surface tablet provided by Capcom and Microsoft, lead to a frozen home screen. According to the developer and publisher, the system will be fully implemented by release, but I was unable to accurately determine whether these connectivity issues will continue after that.
The few times I got the SmartGlass to work, it quickly became a useful gadget to keep in our laps. I largely used the app as a secondary map screen. The capability to call down drone strikes and other massive area of effect weaponry was handy, but it came at further expense to the game’s already lenient difficulty.
Dead Rising 3 proves to be one of the better launch games of this new hardware generation. The single-player is a bit too easy, and the map is far too large to lack a fast travel system. Capcom Vancouver’s decision to make the shiniest zombie cliché over truly innovating on this worn out pop-culture trope was also disappointing. Most players will spend the majority of their time cutting through zombie hordes with electrified sledgehammers, however, and the mechanics of the crafting system and combat are solid enough to settle into an engrossing routine of making something and then stabbing a zombie with it.
The city of Los Perdidos is a bit too massive for its own good, but there is plenty to do and kill within its limits. And with an impressive next-gen presentation and endearingly spastic boss encounters, Dead Rising 3 is an easy recommendation to any new Xbox One owner.
Dead Rising 3 is an Xbox One exclusive that comes out on Nov. 22. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a copy of the game for the purposes of this review
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