PLATFORM: PC (Reviewed)
ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER: Capcom Vancouver
GET IT ON STEAM: Here
Almost a year after its release as a launch title for the Xbox One, the third part of Capcom’s venerable zombie franchise has shuffled onto PC. As with what has become tradition for numbered Dead Rising sequels, we follow a new protagonist in a new location – this time, mechanic Nick Ramos who gets caught up in a zombie outbreak in the fictional city of Los Perdidos ten years after the events of Dead Rising 2. Nick and a ragtag group of survivors get caught in a desperate race against time to get out of the quarantined city before an airstrike obliterates the place. As you traverse the city, meeting victims and psychos alike, you utilize Nick’s mechanical know-how to concoct a wide range of bizarre and lethal custom weapons and vehicles with which to dispatch the undead menace.
We covered the original Dead Rising as a Random Select last year, in which we talked about the game’s original if sometimes overly harsh system of time limits, perishable survivors and alternate endings that required a large amount of planning on the part of the player to master. 2010’s Dead Rising 2 did a good job of tweaking these systems for accessibility, resulting in a slicker, friendlier game that retained the original’s best qualities, though the thorough milking of the game (DR2, two downloadable spinoffs and Off the Record) did leave the formula in need of a shakeup for the third numbered installment. Unfortunately, Dead Rising 3 sees developer Capcom Vancouver choose a reductive approach rather than innovation, resulting in a rather homogenized experience.
This effect is felt across almost all aspects of the game, but setting is the first that catches the attention. The shopping mall of Dead Rising and the casino complex of the sequel worked so well because they kept you thinking, kept you making choices. The cramped conditions and hordes of zombies meant that traversal involved constant thinking on your feet to find clear routes. More pointedly, the strip mall-style architecture in both games meant that the missions you could accomplish and/or survivors you could save would often depended on which direction you chose at a particular hub. It brought an element of triage into play: you simply couldn’t do everything and save anyone (At least, not without several playthroughs’ worth of levelling up) and were regularly forced into decisions that would determine which of the endings you got.
Dead Rising 3‘s open, vehicle-crammed world removes these choices by making anyone accessible at any time, as long as you’re willing to trek back and forth (And you will, a lot). The time limits for survivor rescues are significantly more generous this time, and while the game still has multiple endings and the ‘ticking clock’ mechanic of the earlier games in the form of the pending airstrike, it’s much more relaxed than before further contributing to the sense that this Dead Rising would much rather have its players explore and have fun than have to feel pressured at any point.
It’s a shame then, that Los Perdidos isn’t actually any fun to explore. There’s nothing about this place that sets it apart from a hundred other open-world cities in a hundred other open-world games, and the game’s reliance on fetch quests (Particularly the dull DLC missions) reduces navigation to perpetual sluggish trudges through miles of zombies, then turning around and trudging your way back again. There’s no tension, no drama worth taking seriously and choices are for the most part consequence-free: Now more than ever it’s a game about killing zombies in ridiculous numbers, with little to distract you from this task.
The problem is that we’ve been there before. We’ve all killed millions of undead in a cornucopia of ways, in a hundred different games, and Dead Rising 3 simply doesn’t have enough going under the hood to make it novel again. While the huge amount of onscreen zombies at any one time is impressive, it’s also a reminder that a) the game was designed as an early-gen show-off piece for the Xbox One, and b) Capcom already did this – on a more modest scale, but still – with the first games, and did it more interestingly then. Dead Rising‘s mechanics may have been unpolished and obtuse but they at least demanded thoughtful play; Dead Rising 3 on the other hand goes out of its way to ensure that the player needs to think about as little as possible apart from the dicing of undead by the dozen. A few years ago that would’ve been enough, but if you want to release a zombie game in 2014 (or 2013 in the case of the Xbox One version) you need to do more than that to keep the attention. While it follows suit from the other games in that things get more manageable as you level up through several playthroughs, it’s questionable as to whether there’s enough here to hold the interest for that long.
While barrelling into dozens of zombies at a time with the game’s lineup of wacky constructible weapons and vehicles is fleetingly fun, the gathering of materials soon boils down to a whole heap of legwork and it doesn’t take long for the soupy controls – another franchise tradition Capcom Vancouver have for some reason not seen fit to adjust – to interfere with proceedings. With the custom weapon blueprints requiring some searching for the right materials for a particular item, the fiddliness of trying to highlight the right object to pick up while zombies constantly jump down your throat gets maddening very quickly, and you soon learn to forget about searching out particular items and just make do with whatever’s closest to hand. You could argue that that is more realistic – at least, for a game when you can tape LMGs to a teddy bear to create a furry sentry gun – but it prevents the player from ever taking full advantage of the customization system, simply because striving for the more outlandish weapons becomes a frustrating grind.
Also, those who suffered through the cheap, tedious boss fights in the first two games (So that’ll be everyone who played them) will be less than thrilled to know that they’re still very much present and less-than-correct. Of all the parts of the formula Capcom Vancouver chose to tinker with, it’s baffling that they decided to leave intact the one thing that pretty much everybody has always hated.
This entry also sees the writing lose a lot of its character. Protagonist Nick Ramos is your average everyman-with-a-shady-past, while the supporting characters are range of pretty predicable stereotypes: the small-minded, disloyal hick, the arrogant and suspicious resistance leader, the weak-willed buddy of the protagonist who we just know is going to die a horrible death to motivate the hero to facing the Big Evil at the climax, the huge-cleavaged waitress who of course gets near-raped almost as soon as we meet her… The series has always gleefully employed B-movie stereotypes, but Dead Rising 3‘s cast run the gamut from uninteresting to downright nasty. It also highlights again how the series has never been able to create a protagonist to match Frank West, the guy they brought back twice (for Case West and Dead Rising 2: Off the Record) and for some reason have opted to keep on the shelf, though DR2 headliner Chuck Greene does show up in the later stages.
Dead Rising 3 is a solid game if free-form zombie-killing is your bag; I just can’t imagine anyone needing more of that without some kind of additional depth to freshen the experience. It’s clear that a concerted effort has been made to make Dead Rising 3 palatable to a Western mainstream audience, softening to the point of redundancy most of the idiosyncratic, and therefore potentially divisive, mechanics for which the franchise is known. Even the setting follows the industry formula of ‘grey and brown everywhere’ as opposed to the garish settings of the first games, contributing to an overall sense of conservatism for a franchise known for its individual take on the genre.
Unfortunately, PC gamers who may have been expecting a bang-up port to show off how much more shiny their rigs are than the Xbox One will be in for a bit of a disappointment, with Dead Rising 3 coming to PC in a decidedly less than optimized form. While many have decried the 30fps lock, it’s not even a particularly well-rendered 30 on top of that, with the curiously herky-jerky feel that is usually a sign that crucial polishing work was skipped somewhere. Removing the frame lock is fairly easy, but Capcom have warned that they cannot guarantee the game’s stability if you do so, and many users have reported regular crashes to desktop both with the cap both in place and unlocked. I haven’t experienced it myself, but judging by the less-than-convincing way the engine runs I can’t say the reports come as a shock either. This is of course stuff that should be mostly amended with patching, but the point is that it shouldn’t be happening in the first place. It makes you wonder what they were doing in the better part of a year it’s taken to prepare this port after the game’s original release on Xbox One.
You’d usually sum up a game like Dead Rising 3 by saying that it has some interesting ideas that will hopefully be expanded in future sequels, but what makes this case depressing is that these elements already were there years ago. What we have here is a franchise that has chosen to regress rather than further hone what made it unique, especially dispiriting after Dead Rising 2 did so much to improve the first game’s mechanics. Newcomers to the franchise are still advised to seek out the more compact episodes Dead Rising 2: Case Zero and Case West, which by streamlining the zombie-killing, survivor-saving action to be enjoyed in many small bites still makes them arguably the franchise’s high point.
As for Dead Rising 3, it’s hard to know to whom it would appeal. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this PC version at all until they sort out the technical issues, but even when taken on its own merits as a game it’s hard to find any real hook. It’s not a bad game; it just all feels a bit redundant, like it was made for a demographic that only ever really existed on a marketing exec’s whiteboard.
This review is based on a release build version of Dead Rising 3 provided by Capcom.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars