Sunday, February 16

Dead Rising 3 Review (XB1): A fetching quest

Back in 2006, the arrival of the "next generation" was heralded with thousands of zombies. The first Dead Rising showed me what was possible as a result of those extra few megahertz and megabytes: an awkward, charming and relatively well-populated zombie apocalypse. I was convinced that there was no way a PlayStation 2 could render that many threats on screen at the one time; I'd need to shell out a few hundred dollars for an Xbox 360 if I wanted to see everything games could be from that point forward.

Fast forward to a few months off the present day and a raging impulse robbed me of a chance to test the waters. I couldn't imagine surviving the afternoon of 22 November 2013 without taking a "next generation" console home with me. Forgetting my posturing with sentiments such as "Microsoft can't be trusted with DRM (digital rights management) policy," or "the Kinect 2.0 brings the NSA into your living room," I blew roughly 900 bucks on the Xbox One, two games and accessories without so much as a second thought. I was happy to trust Capcom with justifying the jump to more powerful hardware once more.

Dead Rising 3 did what I needed it to do: it put a few hundred more zombies on the screen, it streamlined the series' set of clunky mechanics, and it managed to stave off what could've been a pretty severe case of buyer's remorse. By that I mean, of course, that I'm still playing it. Still grappling with the undead, vehicle fusing, its hints of racism, archaic quest structure and overt sexism. It's a guilty pleasure that I'm still indulging in months after I first completed it. That's pretty rare for me. I finish a game and I move on; it's something truly special that keeps me coming back for more.

If there's one thing I appreciate in a sequel, it's in seeing that action has been taken to address flaws from previous entries in a series. By removing the requirement to find workbenches to make combo weapons and by making AI companions a little more intelligent and lethal, it became that much easier to have fun slaying the zombie hordes. By implementing a checkpoint system and removing the requirement to find toilets to save your game (in Normal mode), it was that much easier to avoid agitation. There are fewer impediments to enjoyment and satisfaction here than in any other game in the series.

The new combo vehicle mechanic (haha, unintentional pun) takes a lot of the pain out of the game's outdated approach to questing. That is to say that Dead Rising 3 is a 10-15 hour collection of fetch quests, and trucks that spew acid, fireworks and gas canisters do a great deal to neutralise the threat and frustration that comes with every street, highway and alleyway being densely populated with the undead. You spend hours behind the wheels of large, often unwieldy vehicles driving item X back to person Y. As you progress, you'll find that your favourite routes to and from each of the four (let's call them) islands that comprise the fictional setting of Los Perdidos are blocked or otherwise reconfigured, meaning that the typical fetch quest can be drawn out to the point of farce. Navigation is a core, tedious component of play, and the addition of combo vehicles makes the repetition bearable, even fun in some instances.

Battles against the series' staple Psychos return and the glut of effective combo weapons serves to neuter another source of prior frustration. I bested all but one of these fights on the first attempt though, so we've gone from one extreme to the other. These fights are no longer irritating, they're just short grinds with some offensive scripted sequences book-ending the action. On the whole, this would have to be the easiest instalment in the series by a long way. Even Nightmare Mode fails to mount a challenge close to anything I encountered in Dead Rising 2; but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing.

Dead Rising 3 is written for all of us straight, white, middle class bros as it others pretty much anyone outside of that paradigm. The way in which characters of colour were written is particularly odious. I can only think of two black men that I encountered throughout the entire game and both end up betraying the player character in spectacularly cringe-worthy fashion. One side mission manages to be both racist and painfully sexist as you're tasked at first with rescuing a pimp, Big D and escorting him to his massage parlor. Upon arriving, you're greeted with a woman bound and lying on a bed. You can either kill Big D's "favourite bitch" or you can rescue her and murder her captor. I opted for the latter, only to find that Kandy moaned suggestively with as much as a slight breeze. Trying to get through a crowded doorway with my new companion gave me enough sound bytes to put together a sexy radio serial. The standard of writing is often embarrassing, and I'd hesitate to use the game to showcase the power of next-gen hardware to friends or family given how prone it is to instances or "broments" that portray women, overweight people, and people of colour in a less than positive light.

Despite these missteps, there's no denying that creating a hybrid automatic rifle shotgun or electric traffic light bow staff to mow down streets worth of zombies is a whole heap of fun. Dead Rising 3 is greater than the sum of its parts, with all-out chaos accounting for shitty, callous writing, and a heavily-populated zombie apocalypse proving distracting enough to forgive a litany of bugs and technical hiccups. The concept and mechanics of play are so well realised that Dead Rising 3 is, for mine, the best game currently available on any next-gen (current gen?) platform.