Capcom’s Dead Rising series has become a benchmark for Microsoft’s gaming hardware. When the original was released in 2006, it was the first Xbox 360 game that was truly "next-gen" - its shambling zombie hordes just wouldn’t have been technically possible on the previous generation of consoles.
The same is true of Dead Rising 3 on Xbox One - the exclusive platform the title is released on - which ups the ante of zombies threefold over the last game, resulting in hundreds of procedurally generated corpses on screen at a time. Recent movies such as World War Z have shown us what zombies can do en masse, but this is the first time we’ve had to fight such numbers in a video game.
Dead Rising 3 has also moved into an open-world environment - a fictionalised Los Angeles - with four different neighbourhoods linked by a freeway. You play as a mechanic who’s pretty handy at piecing together vehicles to get around. In fact, customisation is one of the key themes of the game, with Dead Rising 2’s combo system expanded upon for some hilarious weapon pairings. The latest title also features co-op multiplayer, SmartGlass functionality and Kinect integration - so is it the zombie game good enough to wake the dead and make everyone want to go and buy an Xbox One?
Drinking in LA
The story picks up 10 years after the events of Dead Rising 2, with you playing as a mechanic called Nick Ramos. You have a week to escape the city before it’s bombed into oblivion by the government, so you band together with other survivors - including a real co-op human compatriot, if you have Xbox Live Gold - to escape in a plane. These non-playable characters can die, but they mostly take care of themselves, and if you save them, they’ll help resupply you from one of the many safe houses across the city.
More zombies in the new landscape means a need for much more space. Which is exactly what we get. Dead Rising 3’s Los Perdidos - which translates as The Lost - is substantially larger than the first two games’ environments. This, in turn, has meant a couple of substantial changes to the gameplay mechanics as well.
The countdown clock is gone, which will be a welcome change for many fans of the series - while it undeniably added tension, it was also incredibly frustrating at times. The developers have also made the protagonist much faster than before, and he can grab items and fix his health on the move. This means that where the original games were fairly rigid and linear, Dead Rising 3 now has a sense of pace and freedom.
Dead Rising 3’s story is predictable and sadly has aspirations above the B-movie grade of the previous games, which fondly ripped off genre cinema by George A Romero. It’s slightly less fun because of this over-aspirational attempt, and the subdued recreation of Los Angeles suffers massively next to GTA V’s, which was much more varied and detailed.
Humour vs horror
Making your own fun in Dead Rising has always been pretty easy - who doesn't like mashing up zombies? - and Dead Rising 3 is no different. While the opening of the game is relatively grave and serious, you’re soon able to strip down to your underwear, construct a weapon that fires penis-shaped projectiles, and mow down zombies in a RollerHawg, which, in case you were wondering, is a motorcycle with spikes and twin flamethrowers. It's silly, but it's fun.
It’s this customisation, which builds impressively over what was achieved in Dead Rising 2, that’s key to Dead Rising 3’s success. You can combine items using blueprints which are often conveniently placed right next to the parts you need to build them, and the combinations are as varied as they are imaginative.
In an homage to Capcom stablemate Street Fighter, you can combine a motorcycle engine and a pair of boxing gloves and unleash a Ryu-style Dragon Punch, complete with a "Shoryuken!" scream. There are other brilliant devices to build, such as a teddy bear machine gun, which can be set up as a sentry unit.
The previously mentioned RollerHawg is one of the many vehicles that go way beyond the simple bikes from the previous game, with multiple parts that can be incorporated in an incredibly unrealistic fashion for transportation and zombie killing. You can also create potions from food and drink this time around, such as the ability to breathe fire by combining vodka and sushi, or cabbage and soda to make you immune to zombies for short periods of time.
Open-world zombie hunting
There’s plenty to do in Los Perdidos aside from following the main story, with survival training challenges, psycho missions, and hidden collectibles. If you’re a completionist, there’s plenty to do - but if you’re not, you’ll find it frustrating driving from one end of the map to the other following the story missions.
Dealing with the undead masses on foot is also a chore, and it’s often easier to just find an alternative route. When you are tackled by an affectionate zombie, the game combines two of our least favourite things - motion controls and quick-time events - to see you shaking the controller to push them away.
The boss battles are a particular low-point - awkward controls mean that fighting these more powerful enemies is frustrating, and the high difficulty level meant that we had to repeat some over and over again.
Some of this frustration can be alleviated in co-operative mode, as Dead Rising 3 does a good job of working multiplayer into the game. When you begin, you tell the game your preferred playing style - story only, completionist, and so on - and the Xbox One Cloud figures out who best to pair you with. All of the vehicles in the game can be ridden by two people, which makes sticking together easy when covering large distances.
READ: Xbox One review
If you’re looking for a game to show off the graphical prowess of your new Xbox One, Dead Rising 3 isn’t quite it. The sheer number of on-screen zombies impresses, but we encountered repeated slowdown when things got hectic.
Things aren’t much better during quiet periods - the game looks unremarkable overall, while the 720p output results in the sort of ugly jagged edges that we’d hoped next-gen hardware would have eradicated. Thankfully, loading times are mostly done away with once you get into the game itself.
Forza’s 1080p, 60 frames per second video output is a much better demonstration of the power held within the Xbox One’s significantly large chassis.
It’s worth noting that Dead Rising 3 has some really clever uses for SmartGlass, Microsoft’s mobile and tablet link-up technology. For example, you can answer calls in the game using your actual mobile phone, or use a tablet as a map to order in airstrikes. We’ve seen these features at the preview stage, and they’ve worked really well, but they sadly weren’t available during our pre-release playtest. Something to look forward to though.
The first Dead Rising set us loose in a zombie-infested shopping mall and allowed us to finally play out our Dawn of the Dead fantasies. Dead Rising 3 is more like World War Z, with huge numbers of zombies that significantly change the scope, difficulty and pace of the game.
It’s great fun, with vehicle and weapon customisation helping to retain the series’ sense of humour and experimentation beneath the obviously more serious tone.
There are some technical issues, though, and annoying boss battles and frankly less-than-perfect visuals to contend with. But overall, Dead Rising 3 sets a new standard for zombie games on next-gen consoles and given the current trend of zombie mania across TV and movie land we suspect that this well-advertised and largely fun game will be one of the Xbox One's deal-breaking titles.
Dead Rising 3 is available exclusively on Xbox One from 22 November.