Part of the point of zombies is their overwhelming numerical superiority. For this reason, Dead Rising 3 is an amazing piece of technology. It crams its streets gloriously full of zombies. The breadth of its shambling mobs has always been a strength of the Dead Rising games. In 2006, the first one harnessed the power of Microsoft’s then next-gen console system to cram a mall full of zombies. It was mind-blowing at the time. So many zombies! There was a sense that this is what George Romero wanted us to experience. This was the zombie apocalypse, in full scale compared to the 1:72 toy scale in other games. It took 25 years after Dawn of the Dead, after years of videogames dribbling zombies at us in coffee clutch sized clusters, but we had finally come home.
During the carefully staged opening of Dead Rising 3, you stand on a carefully staged precipice above a carefully staged ruined highway crammed with zombies. There’s gotta be five hundred of them down there. It’s mind-blowing. And it’s a constant. The opening is carefully staged, but it’s not a trick. This is the number of zombies loitering around the city. I killed over 25,000 of them by the time I’d played through the story, not because I’m particularly efficient at zombie killing, but because there are just so many of them. You can’t swing a sledgehammer without adding a few dozen to your total. In that regard, in terms of embracing zombies as a multitude, Dead Rising 3 is the greatest of the Dead Rising games.
But in every other way, it is the weakest of the Dead Rising games.
After the jump, one less reason to get an Xbox One.
The first and greatest mistake in Dead Rising 3 is that it all but removes the survival horror aspect. It assumes that we’re playing because it’s just so much fun killing zombies, so why do you want any sort of survival horror gumming up the works? After all, if you’re going to wear go-go boots and a traffic cone on your head and a child’s superhero costume five sizes too small, you obviously don’t care about gameplay. Who needs consequences or stakes or risk? Who needs any sort of challenge or geographical progression or resource management? You’ve got State of Decay if you want to get all serious and bogged down with gameplay, right? Absurdism and meaningful game design are contradictions!
In Dead Rising 3, you never need to go somewhere to construct a particular weapon. You don’t even need a work table. Instead, you unlock safehouses with magical lockers that contain infinite copies of every item you’ve ever so much as fingered. Need a cement saw? No need to go to the construction site. Just get a cement saw from your magic locker of infinite cement saws. Your supply of cement saws is never any further than the nearest safe house, which is never very far at all. And that construction site is now a completely meaningless location. You don’t even need a work table to construct whatever you’re going to construct. Just do it here because Capcom knows you only want to get to the zombie killing as quickly and hassle-free as possible.
One of the hallmarks of the previous games was that you had to go to specific places to get specific items. How many trips did you make to the toy store in Dead Rising 2 for the giant stuffed bear, and then you climbed up the giant slot machine in one of the casinos to get the machine gun, just so you could make Freedom Bear? Those locations mattered. You learned the best routes to them. You knew where the nearest work table was. You know where the nearest bathroom was to save your game. The faux Vegas setting accrued a powerful sense of place, where different places mattered to different degrees, where getting there from here was the heart of the game. You knew your place because you knew the place. In Dead Rising 3, you’ll have to spend a lot of time checking the map, because there’s no reason for you to know the place, because none of it matters.
Of course, you won’t need a cement saw, because even though it might make some sort of wacky combo weapon, it’s not an efficient way to kill zombies. Instead, you’ll just take one of the many powerful guns from your infinite supply of infinite guns. Or hack-and-slash weapons if that’s your bag. Personally, I found melee combat was too clumsy when my AI buddies take umbrage at the fact that they’re standing where I’m hacking-and-slashing. But you just pick your favorite weapon, whether it’s a gun or the samurai pole-arm or just an axe/machete combo. There’s no reason to carry anything else, much less craft anything else. I got through most of Dead Rising 3 — zombie-crammed streets, psychos, bosses, challenges, collectibles, and all — by strapping together an assault rifle and a shotgun to make something called a Z.A.R. that fires 60 rounds of long range flaming shotgun blasts.
Actually, I didn’t even have to use assault rifles and shotguns. One of the elements of character progression is letting you make whatever you want from whatever you want. For the price of a single character point from among the buckets of character points you’ll get, you can pick a skill that lets you use an item as a wildcard in recipes. When I couldn’t find a shotgun or an assault rifle, I was able to magically use my dirt-cheap “make anything with anything perk” to craft a taped together assault rifle and shotgun anyway. Why get in the way of a perfectly good challenge-free zombie killing sim with nitpicky considerations like resource management? You got your fill of State of Decay while playing State of Decay, right?
This furthermore renders nearly all the recipes entirely moot. In Dead Rising 3, once you find a recipe, you have forever unlocked the thing it makes. But until you find that recipe, you can’t make the thing even if you have the proper ingredients. It’s a gameplay conceit, presumably to encourage you to explore the world looking for recipes. But why would you bother when you have an unlimited supply of whatever thing is most efficient? In the previous games, you used different crafted weapons because they were all you had available. Dead Rising, which used to be about making do with whatever you could find, is now about killing zombies hassle-free. This approach entirely undermines the survival aspect and it furthermore makes the nightmare mode a joke. Nightmare mode just means your infinite supply lockers take slightly longer to recharge.
The vehicles, which seem to be Dead Rising 3′s closest claim to a new feature and which handle worse than any vehicles I’ve ever had the displeasure to have to drive in a game, further undermine any sense of challenge or meaningful geography. Why would I take any of the wacky vehicle combinations when I have an infinite supply of armored personnel carriers with miniguns mounted on top? With garages stocked with tanks never more than a few blocks away, all those streets clogged with zombies aren’t the least bit frightening or even slightly daunting. It’s just a short walk to the nearest garage which then means it’s a short drive to even the most distant point. To make up for this, there are a ton of pointless fetch quests that supposedly give you a reason to go somewhere. At least the fetch quests in the previous Dead Risings were challenging.
Another significant failing in this Dead Rising is the setting, not just because it’s completely undermined by the infinite supply lockers and vehicle garages. The mall and Las Vegas settings in the previous games situated the action in an exaggerated hyper-reality. These places were garish stages for the garish action. Of course you were going to dress up. These were perfect choices for Dead Rising’s weird sense of humor. But this pale imitation of Los Angeles is nothing more than a set of generic city ruin dioramas — they’re disappointingly small and cramped — strung together by long highway sections. Don’t mistake Dead Rising 3 for any sort of open world, at least not in the same sense as any other game calling itself an open world these days.
Finally, the writing in this game is the weakest so far, with an absolutely abysmal sense of humor. The cringe-worthy psycho bosses are embarrassingly bad, tapping into Capcom’s inner 10-year-old fantasies about tits, fat people, Asians, and dick jokes. Protip: funny and crass aren’t the same thing. The lead character is also the weakest so far, which isn’t saying much. Frank West is only ironically a great character. He’s covered wars, you know. That’s funny because it wasn’t a joke. As a budget Evil Knievel, the second game’s motorcycle racer protagonist was at least driven by needing to save his infected daughter. But the third game’s Generic McGeneric hero has only his mysterious past to distinguish him, and that’s only if you care about the story. Capcom sure does. They include enough of it. There’s even a romantic subplot. Well, postscript, really.
The final nail in this game’s coffin is that it’s an Xbox One exclusive. What a terrible way to kick a franchise to the curb. You need the Kinect to attract zombies by shouting. You also need a Kinect to change your outfit back to what you were wearing before you picked up that welder’s mask. Don’t have a Kinect? Well, that didn’t seem to occur to anyone making this game. The interface is dotted with dopey microphone icons where you’re supposed to read commands out loud because, god knows, it would be far too inconvenient to press a button on the controller you’re already holding. There are specific taunts that have some effect during boss fights. I have no idea what they do, but Dead Rising 3 makes sure I know they’re there. “You’re crazy,” I’m supposed to say out loud during a boss fight. Without a Kinect, I’m just talking to myself. I say it anyway, because here I am, killing 25,000 zombies in a game without any meaningful gameplay. Such is the lot of a Dead Rising fan these days.