Initially released in the first year of the Xbox 360 (August of ’06, to be more precise), Capcom’s Dead Rising was a unique mix of hardware-pushing tech and oddly Japanese gameplay tropes that guaranteed its cult success. The game showcased the Xbox 360’s then-powerful processor by rendering hundreds of zombies onscreen as players slogged their way through the Willamette Mall to try and uncover the truth behind an undead outbreak, all while keeping players’ time-management skills honed to a razor’s sharpness as they tried to take on side missions before the clock ran down.
The saga continued for 4 more games, starring both original protagonist Frank West and newcomer Chuck Greene as they faced off against the widespread pandemic, but with a new crafting ability to allow for hilariously diverse weapons. The storyline becomes a little weird and muddy at times, with downloadable prequels and epilogues (Case Zero and Case West), as well as an entire alternate timeline for the sequel (Dead Rising 2: Off the Record) delivering the same quality gameplay.
Capcom Vancouver has once again tried to get everything back in check for Dead Rising 3, an Xbox One exclusive that, miraculously, winds up being the best the series has to offer as well as one of the best launch titles for a new console that has ever been released.
Set years after DR/DR2, DR3 gives us a new protagonist in Nick Ramos, a grizzled mechanic who has to evacuate the California city of Los Perdidos. The government has tried to control the zombie population with the pharmaceutical treatment Zombrex, which is now administered via a microchip implant. The catch? The microchips are also trackable via GPS, which leads to a small resistance movement that refuses to have its privacy compromised. Unfortunately, this comes to a head after a plane crash starts a new epidemic and the government declares martial law. This all ties in to a conspiracy involving the military, the president, and loops everything back to the original games in a smart way that’s equal parts fan service and smart world building.
The gameplay is streamlined dramatically over the predecessors, with weapons crafting now being able to be done on the fly (the DR2 quartet required stationary workbenches), and a new vehicle crafting skill allowing players to build new means of terrifying transportation to traverse Los Perdidos and slaughter the thousands of zeds that walk the streets. This gives the game a very Grand Theft Auto feel, although the gameworld of DR3 is considerably smaller than those games, and some of the vehicle combos are sadistically satisfying. You don’t know true joy until you’ve combined a motorcycle and a steamroller into the Rollerhawg, a zombie-flattening bike that belches flames like a diesel-fueled dragon.
The Xbox One’s new hardware capabilities are also well employed by the game. The Kinect is used for specific voice commands during boss battles. My girlfriend quickly became by copilot, shouting taunts when onscreen prompts popped up to goad my foes. My neighbors must wonder why there was a constant chorus of “you’re crazy” coming from my apartment. It’s also used in a more sinister fashion, with too much noise alerting zombies to your presence…or luring them into potential deathtraps. There’s also the SmartGlass integration, which makes your smartphone or tablet into an in-game device to manage maps and missions, as well as call in airstrikes or drone attacks. It becomes a little clunky at times (trying to juggle a traditional controller, voice commands, and my iPhone was daunting), but it’s an intelligent integration that’s still in its infancy.
The most exciting aspect of it being on a new console, however, is just how damn pretty the whole thing is. The game never slowed down for me, even with seething masses of zombies onscreen or blood-soaked explosions filling the streets. The game also boasts procedurally-generated foes, which means that the regular zombies have randomized body types, decay patterns, and outfits, meaning that you wouldn’t likely spot the same zed twice. I’ve killed well over 20,000, and aside from a few looking a little similar (the football players have little more than jersey numbers to differentiate them), each was as unique as a putrescent snowflake. The game’s score, by Celldweller, is also worth a mention as it manages to blend new-school rock sensibilities with a synthy soundtrack that would make John Carpenter proud.
While the Xbox One’s 500 dollar price tag makes buying one a hard pill to swallow, launch titles like Dead Rising 3 make it a much easier proposition. It’s familiar enough to placate longtime fans, but streamlined and simplified enough to attract new players.