This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dead Rising 3.
If you're noticing that these reviews have had more of an Xbox One leaning in this, the dawn of what I must now refer to as "Current Gen" as the phrase turned spiky and bitter in my throat, then well spotted, Field Marshal Observant, have a chip! I've had a bit of trouble getting a PS4, they're like bars of soap in the bath carved into very boring shapes. But everything seems to indicate that in the tradition of every console released in the last decade, both the PisS and the 'Bone are probably going to need a bit more time before they're worth getting. Thirty or forty years might be a good start!
Yes, I am bitter actually, 'cos my TV's run out of HDMI ports, and I had to unplug my Elgato to get the XBone in! I know, where's my fucking Live Aid? But I digress.
Dead Rising 1 was an Xbox exclusive, Dead Rising 2 was not, Dead Rising 3 is again. What a little strumpet you've gotten involved in, Microsoft. Have you asked what happened to Mister GameCube and his open-quotes "exclusive" relationship with Resident Evil 4? Capcom just ain't the marrying type, she's just gonna turn her moony eyes elsewhere when she sees your graphics all popping in like the top of a jam jar.
Dead Rising 3 establishes very little at the start, but then it hardly needs to. In an intro sequence straight out of the cutting corners playbook - i.e., some close-ups of the world map intercut with text dumps - the game essentially tells us, "Zombies show up in a city, and you basically know the rest." Who'd have thought that writing a zombie apocalypse story would start feeling creatively stifling? Later on of course, we learn that someone started it all on purpose. I'd spoiler that, but it was spoiled well enough by the words "Dead Rising" on the front of the box. Hey, Capcom villains, zombie viruses do not make good superweapons! What's easier to occupy, a city of people shopping and mowing the lawn or a city of murderers with a bite transmittable virus and no ambition in life except to bite things?
Our protagonist is Nick Ramos (Ray-mos, ra-MOS, look this up later) who in contrast to the squinty self-serving morally flexible meatheads heading previous games, is a wide-eyed awkward nice boy who wants to help, which gets a little bit incongruous when it cuts back to gameplay and he starts cracking skulls with a washing machine on the end of a dildo or whatever. So the combo weapons from Dead Rising 2 are back, in fact mostly the same combo weapons. Not that I want the game to think that being the launch title of a major new console obliges it to put some fucking effort in.
Now Dead Rising 2's combo system was a high maintenance sort of broad. (Why am I feminising everything this week? Perhaps it's time I started online dating again.) You can only make combos at a workbench and you had to use the exact right items the recipe called for. It wasn't one of those crafting systems that puts out after ten pin bowling and a Happy Meal. But Dead Rising 3 will take everything that it can get. "Oh, you don't want to go to a workbench? Just make combos where you stand. Oh, you don't have the right items? Just buy an upgrade that lets you use the same items in the right category. Oh, you don't even want to craft? Just go to a weapons locker and fill your inventory with clones of any item you've touched, glanced at or heard about. Then perhaps I can put on some stocking suspenders and bring you a selection of mixed drinks and nibbles. Do you love me yet?"
Previously, Dead Rising has been characterised by fairly meaty challenge and now it's gone a bit salad-y. I can go into every boss fight with three combo assault rifles and fucking take them apart like abstract art. Although in the last game, you could make the combos without the blueprint whereas now you can't, which makes things a lot less organic. If you run out of weapons, you can't just duck into a machine shop and start desperately rubbing things together hoping for the best, because Nick is unconvinced of the usefulness of taping a sledgehammer to a fire axe until he finds a random piece of paper on the ground attesting to it.
When you find a combo blueprint, the necessary items are always lying right next to it so you build it once right there and afterwards you can summon it endlessly from the weapons locker cornucopia. So there's no room for experimentation. The game comes alive during one boss fight towards the end when all your items are gone and you have to scramble around a burning building trying to find a happy marriage for a sledgehammer while the zombies offer you no helpful advice whatsoever, but otherwise it's too easy to load yourself up and things get dull pretty fast. Zombies become as stacks of forms to a data-entry clerk, a thing to be swiftly processed, shouldered past or occasionally attacked by a flamethrower.
I should mention there are combo vehicles now, and I'm not so proud that I can't admit that ploughing through uncountable hordes of the undead in a motorbike-steamroller didn't make me titter like a schoolgirl riding a bike with a knobbly saddle. But Dead Rising sort of has a history of deliberately unintuitive map design. Roadblocks are placed for no particular reason except to make you take the scenic route, and it's impossible to get a good fast zombie-crushing groove going when I had to bring the sodding map up every fifty yards to make sure I haven't taken the wrong alleyway, and the roads are littered with unusable cars like the front garden at your in-laws' house.
Oh, and if you've got NPCs following, then vehicles are fresh hell with a fuzzy dice. Firstly, more than one follower means finding a four-door vehicle 'cos the selfish dicks refuse to form human pyramids on a motorbike, and then once you've found one, you get to sit in the drivers sear meeping the horn while your followers attempt to unravel the mystery of the car door handles while zombies are bashing up the paintwork so that the thing explodes the moment that you do set off 'cos the cars are made of corrugated cardboard and oily rags. I wouldn't mind, but NPCs latch onto you like a bad smell after most side-missions and there's no way to scrape them off without taking them to a safehouse. At one point, I tried to get into the spirit of things and gave a combo assault rifle to the mouht-breathing hanger-on of the moment, but the very next boss mission I went into, it told me to piss off and come back alone. Perhaps the true challenge is to maintain the desire to bother saving people in which case they pull that off pretty fucking well.
So in summary, it's a game of many petty niggles. Here's fun: drop three items next to each other then try to pick the one you want under pressure. That's how, at one point, I fought my way out of a horde and found myself clutching a traffic cone that I thought was my electric firestaff. But Dead Rising is a series built on petty niggles, usually balanced by cathartis, a variety of challenges and a certain vibrant levity, all of which feel lacking in this game. And the plot's a half-hearted parade of uninteresting people turning evil for stupid reasons, but then that's the entirety of the Capcom guide to plot writing, isn't it? "Step one: Someone turns evil for a stupid reason. Step 2: Boulder punching!"
- Dead, but not dead enough: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I'd mention what Capcom gets up to with Marvel behind your back, Microsoft, but I like to think I have some class
- Sourced from the corpse of a horse of course