Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition
Format: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
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.
The original Dead Rising was noted for its 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 instalment. Unfortunately, Dead Rising 3 sees developer Capcom Vancouver choose a reductive approach rather than innovation, resulting in a rather homogenized experience.
Dead Rising 3‘s open, vehicle-crammed world removes a lot of the choices that helped make the first two games so challenging. 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. 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 you need to do more than that to keep the attention, especially when you have sluggish controls that make searching for items with two dozen zombies jumping on you at a time a regularly frustrating experience.
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 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.
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 too, with Dead Rising 3 coming to PC in a decidedly less than optimized form. It runs particularly roughly for a console port, and many users have reported regular crashes to desktop while attempting to play; 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.
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 downloadable 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.
It’s hard to recommend Dead Rising 3. PC gamers are advised to hold back version 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.