Taming the Undead Beast: A Dead Rising 3 Review

I have a love/hate relationship with the Dead Rising series. Capcom’s not-so-subtle homage to George Romero’s “of the Dead” zombie films, the first two games featured an uncomfortable control scheme, punishing bosses, and an oppressive time management system. In tandem, it made Dead Rising an intimidating beast of a game that showed promise underneath all the jank. It also dangled the carrot of joyful zombie destruction by a myriad of mall and casino paraphernalia. Dead Rising 2 made some positive strides in cleaning up the first game’s mess. It wasn’t perfect, but the controls handled much better.

Dead Rising 3, released as a launch title for the Xbox One, is great and weird step in the right direction. And by that, its a step backwards. It goes back to the drawing board and removes the near unforgivable annoyances and weirdness that gave the first two Dead Rising games its odd charm. Fumbling with guns, sweating over the inability to complete every side quest, and stressing the Psycho battles helped to differentiate the series from any other third person open world game. Dead Rising 3 is comfortable, safe, and easy. It’s as if someone took Dark Souls under the cosmetic knife and changed it into God of War. 

Set in the fictional California city of Los Perdidas, the life of mechanic Nick Ramos is disrupted by a zombie outbreak with roots to the original attack in Willamette, Colorado. With the city under strict quarantine, Nick gathers like-minded survivors to find escape, a quest made urgent by the U.S. government’s plan to purge the city with an incendiary bomb in seven days time. In between collecting parts for an escape plane and uncovering the source of the outbreak (which ties directly to the events prior to Dead Rising), Nick has plenty of time to help out survivors, hunt down supplies, and create comically absurd weapon and vehicle combinations.

Dead Rising 3 makes numerous changes to the formula that creates an experience that is largely different from the rest. For one, the time requirements have been significantly relaxed. Whereas players had a finite amount of time to reach the next story objective, they are now free to tackle the objective whenever they want. Players are still beholden to a larger ticking clock – the seven day countdown – but there’s nothing stopping them from picking up the main story quest farther down the line. Side activities are still timed mission but they too offer a great deal of leeway. Gone are the feelings of extreme urgency as the struggle of getting from point A to point B in time to fight a boss or save an NPC. Even with a heavy load of side quests, I never felt in need of rushing to aid others. Completing a task set before you nets rewards, like ability points, schematics, and the chance to use them as an AI-controlled partner. Those quests I did play through weren’t particularly noteworthy, save for the hack director that wanted to make a porno film with zombies.

The majority of of Dead Rising 3‘s ridiculousness and comedy found in the Psycho battles. Los Perdidas is packed with people suffering mental breaks as a result of the outbreak. A zen gardener lost his mind after a series of misfortunes and a surgeon harvests the organs of unturned people for fun and profit. I think my favorite has to be the morbidly obese woman locking herself in a buffet restaurant. During the battle, she projectile vomits and uses her motorized wheelchair to ram into anyone she perceives as stealing her food. These wacky, larger than life characters give Dead Rising 3 a deeper connection to its roots and provide some much needed comedy.

Because I got into Dead Rising 3 so late after its release, the version I played was the GOTY tinged “Apcalypse” edition, which was packed with costumes and combo weapons. If the game wasn’t already manageable, the infinite supply of exceptional super weapons all but removed the game’s challenge. The unease of navigating through a herd of the undead was rendered moot because of the sheer power of screen clearing DLC weapons. Also, they were ridiculously effective against stronger zombies and bossese. I could have left these tools alone to make the game tougher, but after using an assault rifle/electric shock gun to clear out an entire intersection of zombies, it is hard to go back.

Purists may scoff at the quality of life changes made to the game, but it is hard to ignore that they create an experience far more comfortable than any before it. This is a case of the game getting out of the payer’s way to let them enjoy the madcap silliness of a large, open world playground. Dead Rising 3 still flaunts its goofy (doofy?) sense of humor, giving the player a stockpile of silly weapons and non-conventional hardware to use against the zombie horde.  By virtue of its accessibility, Dead Rising 3 is the best the series has to offer, although removing the odd quirks so loudly lambasted have left behind a noticeable hole.

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