Zombie Awareness Week.
The Dead Rising franchise is the Saints Row of zombie apocalypses. It's not as serious as The Walking Dead or Left 4 Dead, where even a single zombie can be a life-ending threat, and it's rife with silly antics like combination weapons tied together with duct tape, psycho bosses who have ridiculously deranged personalities, and oodles of shameless references to other Capcom titles. Dead Rising 3 has all these in spades, and though it's not the best third-person action title this year, it's certainly among the strongest console launch-day exclusives between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Following the events of the previous two Dead Rising titles, this latest installment follows the do-gooder footsteps of Nick Ramos, a mechanic stranded in Los Perdidos (based on Los Angeles) after the zombie outbreak strips all civilization from the city within 72 hours. Hordes of infected clog the streets, all but a few survivors remain, and after Nick discovers that the tunnels leading out of the city have been blown apart in the tutorial level, he and his motley crew must hobble together an alternate escape route. Within the first few chapters, the team finds that there is an airplane that can be repaired with missing parts, all while the ZDC military are attempting to capture survivors for some unknown reason. Both of these discoveries propel the plot forward toward the underlying truth to the zombie infection and even wraps up several dangling threads from past Dead Rising titles.
As opposed to Chuck Greene's steely, eagle-eyed stares in Dead Rising 2, Nick Ramos has an honest, almost innocent expression with eyes that widen nearly as much as Jak's or Nathan Drake's. The story is equally simple, with an obvious love interest that tries to be subtle at the start and psychopathic villains who don't have much dimension apart from being power-hungry, insane, or both. Most of the survivors Nick can save on side missions are just as irrational, disregarding the immediate threat of the zombie outbreak for the sake of something inessential like high fashion or zombie porn shoots. Nonetheless, as ridiculous or as throwaway as some characters are, the plotline should succeed at keeping you entertained and driven to see the best ending.
Dead Rising 3, like its predecessors, challenges you to complete all of the main cases before the bomb drops on Los Perdidos on the seventh day, effectively removing the zombie threat and everything else with it. Finishing every case in time will unlock the final chapter in Overtime, which tasks Nick to race through the four boroughs of the city and prevent the central villain from accomplishing his plans. Story Mode makes this all a breezy task, giving you ample time to complete side quests, finish off optional psycho bosses based on the seven deadly sins, and recover all manner of collectibles before reaching the optimal Ending S. You don't need to visit bathrooms to save and you can complete cases pretty much as you dictate without strain, but for those looking for a more difficult, more traditional Dead Rising experience, you can start the game on Nightmare Mode instead.
In more ways than one, Dead Rising 3's gameplay is limited but still incredibly fun. The open-world map of Los Perdidos doesn't stretch beyond four medium-sized areas that are each about five blocks by five blocks and connected to one another in a rectangle by way of highways. Completing every mission as they arrive in the quest log means hopping from one district to another an exorbitant amount of times, as you encounter more resistance from the zombies and the military with each passing day. However, the city is dense enough and side missions unlock specific areas often enough that both alleviate some of the tedium of backtracking.
Exploring Los Perdidos successfully within the allotted time limit means leveling up Nick assuredly in any of the numerous ways to gather PP. You can collect limited edition Frank West statues, destroy ZDC speakers, discover Tragic Endings, complete PP Trials that work like challenges in Borderlands, earn gold medals in Survival Training locations, assassinate psychos, and save procedurally-generated stranded survivors. As Nick raises his level, he can place attribute points in seven categories, where upgrading Life, Inventory, and Melee abilities early on is recommended. Reaching the level cap of 50 unlocks the special abilities in each category, where the Indestructible Vehicles perk in the Mechanic stat and the Equip All Books perk in Smarts stat are both indispensible.
The vast majority of your PP earnings, though, will come from killing zombies with combo weapons. Neither Nick's rough hand-to-hand skills nor the basic assortment of weapons have proper crowd control power to handle the undead hordes, but his natural ability as a mechanic allows him to craft weapons that not only have higher strength and durability, but can be shaped on the fly without needing a workbench as in DR2. Take a pair of boxing gloves and a motorcycle engine and you have the Dragon Punch for epic shoryuken uppercuts. Combine a shotgun with an assault rifle and you get a Z.A.R. that even bosses should fear. Nick can even fuse two vehicles together to create a fortified, co-op-ready tank with turrets.
These combo weapons can be upgraded even further by finding the right item and weapon blueprint, creating super combo weapons that decimate enemies. My favorites are the Ultimate Grim Reaper, which Nick can swing three times while dispersing waves of fire bombs, and the Elemental Staff, which has plenty of medium-range blasts and can switch between electricity, fire, and ice. Whipping out any of these weapons against the horde will generate an incredible kill streak and loads of PP quickly—so quickly in fact that I reached the level cap two chapters before the final boss. Along with a combo firearm like the Split Shot, there wasn't a boss I couldn't handle with ease.
If I have any complaints, it's the imprecise system for items. More often than not, every time you try to pick up a specific item from among a pile of items, you won't be able to target what you want without several tries, which is made more frustrating when you're in a boss fight and are rushing around the level. There also needs to be a button where Nick can eat food off the ground directly without having to drop whatever weapon he's holding, consume the item, and then pick the weapon back up. Moreover, the regenerating weapon lockers would have been slightly better if they had a simple repair function, and they unfortunately make getting weapons almost too convenient, if fighting against a rather harmless zombie horde wasn't already easy enough. The only thing you need to worry about for zombies is their grab attack, which can be escaped via quick-time events or motions with your Xbox One controller.
Luckily, Nick Ramos doesn't have to save Los Perdidos alone. After clearing Safe Zones of zombies, they will become locations where you can generate weapons from lockers, put on any crazy clothes you've found like a cocktail dress or a latex S&M outfit, and create a posse from any survivors you've saved in side missions. Up to five survivors (plus any required members) can be recruited, but you likely won't want to deal with having them around. It takes time getting them healed, giving them suitable weapons, ordering them (or yelling at them via Kinect) to scavenge, attack, or follow, and finding a vehicle that can hold all of them. In fact, it's usually better just to have one follower like Doug, who has strong toughness and ranged ability, and give him a Split Shot. Otherwise, survivors waste too much time getting inside vehicles and need too much pampering.
Instead, getting an online co-op player who acts as another survivor named Dick (yes, Nick and Dick… the ambiguously gay duo…) is far better than an AI teammate, as you both can conquer the story together. Not only can a partner hop onto the turrets of vehicles and revive you if you're down, any story progress and collectibles your pal earns will transfer to his or her single-player campaign too.
Dead Rising 3, despite being a decent sequel and a fine exclusive for Xbox One, has strangely become the target of gamers who desire next-gen graphics and nothing else, damning the game for some blurry textures and some slowdown issues when there are too many zombies on the field. These are valid claims, but I did not experience severe issues as others have, and I can overlook minor technical hiccups so long as the game design is solid all-around—as it is here. Though Dead Rising 3 doesn't have the most detailed graphics nor the most groundbreaking gameplay, it's a thoroughly entertaining ride that anchors the Xbox One far from the grave.