Full of zombies. Empty of appeal.
I’ve never enjoyed zombies as a narrative concept. Regardless of what they could represent, they always felt uninteresting as monsters go—ever shambling, moaning, and feeding. Many of the stories that include turn them into a background impetus; when characters are too busy talking or resting, a zombie or many waltz in out of nowhere to keep them moving or to bite into some limbs. The zombies themselves lack character, so you’ve got to hope that the narrative surrounding them is much more interesting. In the case of Dead Rising 3, that never comes to pass, so what's left is moderately entertaining gameplay mechanics and barely a desire to use them.
For the uninitiated, Dead Rising’s offering to the undulating masses of zombie games is weapon variety—the main protagonist in each game is able to mesh together two objects to form a new weapon. This new construction is often either more badass than the sum of its parts or it’s somewhat funny. Weapons such as gloves that emit arcade machine announcements and a gun that launches dildos drive the experience towards entertainment. In some ways, this is the folly of the game. One becomes so reliant on combination weapons that the regular ones strewn about (and boy, are they strewn) feel useless and underwhelming.
However, Nick Ramos, the protagonist in this entry, cannot put together obvious combinations unless he first finds a blueprint, sometimes leaving you at a loss unless he does. For a mechanic with enough tinkering ingenuity to strap together a sledgehammer and a car battery in the middle of the street, you’d think he’d have the ability to experiment. Alas, no. And I’m compelled to ask what strange benefactor specifically left these blueprints all over town for him: another mechanic? Nick himself under a trance? His real father? Regardless of the fact that these answers are never revealed, I found myself wishing for a system that fans of the series are obviously not accustomed to, one that utilizes the hero’s actual skills over shunting him into typical sandbox tropes laid bare.
And this is assuredly a sandbox game with discoveries abound, including the aforementioned blueprints, Frank West trophies, ZDC speakers to shoot out, and tragic deaths to witness. Nick can also find blueprints to put two vehicles together into some new death machine. Vehicles are necessary to traversing the city of Los Perdidos, but every zombie you hit wears them down considerably until they eventually explode, so it’s also best to rely on combination vehicles, such as a motorbike crossed with a steamroller, to navigate the terrain.
Navigation plays heavily into why I didn’t enjoy Dead Rising 3 as much as others may have. The zombies themselves are basically shambling masses of meat. Although they will grab and swipe at you, they exist merely to be cut down by your weapons and vehicles. In areas with larger concentrations of them, though, slashing through the crowds quickly wears down your weapons, of which inventory is limited until you level up enough to gain more slots. With a constant countdown clock ticking away, alleviated significantly in Story Mode, trying to get to an objective feels like a trial of patience. You cannot warp about the map, and some hordes are too dense to ignore. City streets also contain roadblocks and challenging vehicle navigability, and late-game chapters close off previously open pathways, often in the middle of a long connecting highway. When you want to knuckle down and level yourself up with wild PP gains, this methodology works, but when you just want to get to a nearby map marker, it’s a giant irritation.
Some of the side missions net you survivors of varying ability to join you on your trek around Los Perdidos. This isn’t notably useful until you unlock two skill tree abilities that each allow Nick to have two more followers, not including mission allies, to join him. Rolling with a crew of five armed kooky characters can be immensely helpful, though with some caveats. You’ll want to arm them with combo weapons, but weapon lockers in safe houses arbitrarily limit your ability to stock up. Next, the only vehicles that will fit six-plus people in them are vans, which are not frequent unless you generate one at random garages. Even then, AI pathing when it comes to getting into said vehicles often results in your ride being mangled by zombies while survivors figure their shit out. Also, on foot, your posse tends to surround you, and without the ability to select targets of your single action button, choosing among food, weapons, or interacting with your newfound friends is a chore every single time.
The main storyline is wholly uninteresting. Although it features some zany moments, such as a battle in a museum against a maniacal friend floating about in a spacesuit, it all feels like schlock to get you from point A to B with little substance. Nick is a stupidly banal everyman, who’s only interesting when dressed up in one of the many silly outfits he can find around the city. The actual story beats intent on adding mystery and intrigue to his background will not drop jaws or elicit gasps of surprise when revealed. All the other characters are boring or tropes you’ve met before in other, better-told stories. I only kind of liked Rhonda, Nick’s mechanic partner, but all of her strengths are constantly undermined by the nonsensical decisions she makes or, you know, when she’s sexually assaulted before a boss fight.
Speaking of boss fights, they are all frustrating. Some feature seemingly sentient machines or characters with vehicles which makes striking them with weapons, while dodging their attacks, irritating beyond measure. Others involve human characters which can be inexplicably be hacked at until defeat. Certain side missions require Nick to investigate areas and defeat deranged stereotypes with flaky motivations like an Asian man who randomly changed his whole persona to be a kung fu master or an overweight woman who just doesn’t want to share buffet food. With the exception of the Asian man, these felt like lazy potshots against Americans—unfunny jokes which have been done to death.
The jump from Xbox One to PC is not too significant except the graphical textures are noticeably cleaner. Though the realism is well done, your eyes will quickly adjust and get over it. Unlike the Super Ultra Arcade Remix DLC for the Xbox One, the visuals likely won't dazzle you unless you are more into technical accomplishments. Weirdly enough, the game is by default frame-locked to 30 fps, but I was given instructions on how to remove this cap. I don’t know if these are included anywhere for the consumer to view, but they do make animations smoother on machines that can handle it. Otherwise, in terms of value, you get all the “Untold Stories of Los Perdidos” for $10 less than the game cost at the Xbox One launch. That isn’t a bad deal if you’re into the game.
It seems that parading around in a banana hammock while flinging phalluses at undead masses is not my thing. I confess that I appreciate how unthreatening the zombies are in this series, but I have to lament their role as obstacles in a sandbox game. With a more engaging story that didn’t solely rely on zaniness and/or idiocy to sell itself, Dead Rising 3 could have been more worthy of recommendation. Instead, accept my lukewarm approval of it as a purchase decision.