Some recent zombie games have successfully told stories with emotional weight. The Walking Dead and The Last of Us come immediately to mind. But as I crafted my electrified garden rake for tearing apart shambling corpses, I knew Dead Rising 3 wouldn’t ever bring a tear to my eye, even in its regrettable moments of seriousness. What I did sense is that, much like preceding installments in Capcom's zombie-slasher, this Xbox One exclusive would supply me thousands upon thousands of zombies to massacre in entertaining ways, giving me enjoyment via quantity, with less emphasis on quality.
Dead Rising 3’s Nick Ramos is a nice enough guy to be stuck with in another zombie apocalypse. He’s the type of agreeable gaming protagonist that will commit to countless fetch quests, all in the name of saving whoever isn’t yet a zombie in the California town of Los Perdidos. Like previous DR heroes, Nick just wants to help who he can, kill who he must, and outlast a weird conspiracy. Nick’s story--as well as the cast of nutcases he has to deal with--works for Dead Rising’s oddball mix of comedy, social commentary, and outright gore, but it never really gels into something deeper than your average B-movie plot.
For better and worse, Dead Rising 3's story sticks to the franchise’s goofy roots, but this game does finally ditch many of the series’ biggest faults. Previous entries often felt like they were punishing you for wanting to have fun with their interesting setups. Sure, you may be stuck in a large room with dozens of items that could split open a zombie’s head, but first you had to answer your constantly ringing Walkie-talkie.
Dead Rising 3 throws out all that shit. While there’s a ticking clock for the entire campaign, the story gives you more than enough time to catch your breath and/or decapitate an undead football team. The side missions are still timed, but you otherwise set your own schedule, and the game doesn’t give you a massive guilt trip for having fun in the time allotted. And loading--once the bane of DR’s pacing--is virtually gone.
The crafting system also lost some of its more masochistic features. Nick can combine household items to create duct tape-infused zombie maulers that are much more efficient than your average baseball bat or machine gun. And unlike his predecessors, Nick can build stuff anywhere at any time, so long as he has the items on hand. This streamlining of Dead Rising’s more grueling aspects allows players to get on with the fun of bashing zombies to a bloody pulp. It all makes for a great first few hours of a game that takes around 15 hours to truly beat.
As a showpiece for brand-new hardware, Dead Rising isn't all that flashy, occasionally featuring visuals that look like 360 graphics with a new coat of HD paint. But when you take in the sheer volume of stuff on screen at all times with so little loading and technical hiccups, the actual next-gen power of Dead Rising 3 is more obvious. And the zombies have a surprising amount of detail when their organs are exposed.
That said, after your 3,000th exploded undead skull, you start asking yourself if there’s more to Dead Rising 3. And once you’ve killed your 10,000th zombie, you know the answer: no, not really. You’ll likely spend a good while marveling at the number of zombies on screen and savoring the many tools you have for killing them, but eventually the walking dead will become increasingly annoying obstacles on the many, many fetch quests Nick undertakes. It’s rare when the story doesn’t have Nick running from one side of town to the other for someone else’s benefit.
And the sheer volume of exasperating fetch quests is made worse by Dead Rising 3’s setting. Los Perdidos is certainly big for an open-world game filled with countless items and monsters, but the large amount of real estate means you spend too much time driving from one end to the other and back again to complete the many mission goals. I’m no longer shouting at my TV in anger for missing a plot point by mere minutes, but I am shouting to the heavens because (for the fourth time in row) I have to drive to the other side of town to complete the newest assignment.
Continually driving through the streets of Los Perdidos gave me time to take in its blandness. Previous settings of malls and casinos were vibrant and full of personality, even if they were much smaller than Dead Rising 3’s city. Los Perdidos has pockets of charm in the occasional adult bookstore or fireworks warehouse, but much of the town is just grey, bombed out, and on fire, so travelling its streets increasingly becomes a slog.
The same lack of personality goes for the many people you’ll meet in Los Perdidos. Both the bosses you fight and the bystanders you help show shades of personality, but most feel like their humor was lost along the way from conception to execution. The pornographer planning an all-zombie adult film might've seemed funny at some point, but the reality is wincingly unfunny. The Psychos suffer the worst, as the once-ridiculous bosses are simply vile instead of entertainingly gross, though Dead Rising 3 does have one of the most disgusting (but not enjoyable) boss fights I’ve ever played.
Dead Rising 3 excels at what it does best, which is mainly killing zombies in deeper ways as your undead-slaying skills grow over the game. And it’s smoother than ever to maximize that quality time of chainsawing a zombie in half. Yet the lack of combat annoyances only amplify the flaws of the writing and the lack of mission variety. Dead Rising is closer than ever to realizing its full potential, but its many mistakes make it clear that it isn’t quite there yet.
Dead Rising 3 has made its brand of zombie-slaying as much fun as possible, but it needs to fix a lot more than that before it becomes the king of the undead.