Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition is a game about killing zombies. Lots of lots of zombies, and then lots and lots more. Previously the series has been set primarily in a mall, but now it moves to a GTA-style open-world city. The clock’s ticking, and you – and anyone you can rescue – need to find a way to escape before Bad Things happen. There’s still time to play dress up and build your own mad weapons and vehicles, though. An Xbox One ‘exclusive’ last year, today it releases on PC. Here’s what I made of it.
I’ve long inclined towards games that create anecdotes. I love to share brief vignettes with people, and so demonstrate why that game meant something to me particularly. Dead Rising 3 does do that, but the potential anecdotes arrive in a constant rush, a dozen stories per second, and are pushed out by still more before they can leave an impression in the wet cement of my memory. Comical genocide. Mayhem without end. Harrowing last-second escapes because I found a carton of apple juice on the side, or an improbably lethal dildo on the ground. Oh look, I did remember one. Even after four Saints Row games, hitting dumb videogame NPCs with big plastic willies is still a bit funny, after all.
Anyway, my point is that Dead Rising 3 is like those coin pusher machines you find at the end of piers. Second-to-second you’re the most engrossed and engaged you’ve ever been in this tiny act – be it dropping 2 pence into a hole or slapping a zombie about with an electrified sledgehammer – but by the next second all the tension and drama of the last 2 pence/zombie-slap has vanished from your mind.
I will invariably partake of both activities for some time given the opportunity (and enough tuppence pieces), but once I’ve finished there is that moment of slightly chagrined self-reflection. ‘What did I just do?’ ‘Where was I just now?’ ‘What was it about this that seemed to matter so much?’ If all this also sounds like a metaphor for masturbation, well, yes, probably.
That’s a round-the-houses way of declaring Dead Rising 3 to be perfectly entertaining in an entirely shallow way, and by God there’s nothing at all wrong with shallow if you’re looking for shallow. Zombie headcounts have risen dramatically since the last couple of games, and the destructive capabilities of the available arsenal have followed suit. This is a wide-open zombie slaughterhouse in which it’s entirely possible to deanimate over a thousand reanimated in less time than it takes to make a lovely cup of tea. Clearly it’s best played with or in front of friends for maximum chuckles, but the sheer scale of deadhead destruction is solidly amusing even played solo.
This is despite the game’s attempts to be alternately grimdark and hyper-macho, pinging wildly between disjointed and ugly shouting-based dialogue, and unconvincing attempts at being totes emosh. On the other hand, this remains a series in which you can dress your male character howsoever you wish and not a soul in-game will judge you for it.
The arguably over-sombre palette and pantomime pathos are really only surface, however, and underneath that lurks a game that is fundamentally silly and knows it. (It also boasts a great Romero/Carpenter-style dark, sparse synth soundtrack at times).
While I miss the cartoon colours of the previous Dead Risings’ malls, and a further switching of focus away from ostentatiously weird weapons towards nebulously-spiky combinations, this is still very much the game about killing loads and loads of zombies with found everyday objects while wearing Mariachi trousers.
That said, it is much more of a scavenger hunt than ‘oh, what do we have here and what funny thing will it do when I twat a zombie with it?’. The aforementioned combo weapons can now be made in the field, so a great deal of my time was spent searching for just the right parts for a Mini Chainsaw or a confusingly effective football/bowie knife DIY mace, or a robotic bear with a machine gun and a stereo.
I got pretty caught up in that stuff, but it does come at the expense of making hay with whatever’s on hand – and indeed the essential zombie-twatting takes a back seat to combing buildings for a meat cleaver or sledgehammer. Dressing my guy up in a miniskirt or general’s outfit or giving him a handlebar moustache or whatever barely even registered, which is a great shame.
I am well aware that this may be down to having been spoilt for choice, in terms of making my game characters look weird or amazing or progressive, since Dead Rising 1’s cock-a-hoop take on Day of the Dead as much as it is Dead Rising 3 arguably being too monomaniacal about combo weapons. If you haven’t played a Dead Rising or Saints Row game before, you’re going to think the outfits and facial hair and whatnot are brilliant, and I envy you deeply for it.
The vehicles, which can also be combined into improbable machines of megadeath, made much more of an impression. It’s with these Mad Maxian hybrids that the undeath toll with mount most steeply, and where the size of DR3’s zombie crowds is most breathtaking. Ploughing through hundreds of shamblers on a fusion of motorbike and steamroller is a heck of a thing to witness. The murky art style keeps Dead Rising 3 from being impressively attractive, but there’s some incredible crowd tech powering it.
Sadly the openish world city it’s set in isn’t quite so impressive, at least in terms of scale. Initially it seems overwhelmingly huge, because it’s not easy to get from A-B when a couple of thousand deadheads are lurching into your way, but once crowd-dispersing vehicles are in play its boundaries become all too apparent. It tries to conceal this by placing assorted insurmountable barriers that force you take the long way round much of the time. Once you start the recognise the sights, and know full well that the graveyard’s right on the other side of this big fence but you’re being forced to tour half the city just to approach it from the other side, the spell breaks and weariness starts to set in.
Fortunately there are enough optional objectives, such as rescuing other survivors, battling human ‘psycho’ bosses, or collecting a healthy smattering of blueprints for new weapon types, that the trek is reliably filled with ad-hoc diversions, but the ‘oh wow, it’s GTA with an enormous zombie horde!’ shine doesn’t return.
Let’s not forget that this is a game about hooting and cackling as you carve your way through an army of undead with a selection of batshit weapons and vehicles, and on purely that front it’s impossible not to call Dead Rising 3 a success.
I do think it suffers from significant tonal misjudgements, but it does a very good job of keeping me busy, keeping me pushing pennies into the slot, and keeping me fed with micro-anecdotes that, though they might dissipate immediately, are instantly replaced by new ones.
A couple of quick codas on practical matters:
– The ‘Apocalypse Edition’ refers this PC version including all the DLC that the Xbone version saw right off the bat. Otherwise it’s the same game, albeit with more graphical options.
– By default the game is locked to 30FPS. You can unlock it by creating a text file called user.ini containing just the line “gmpcr_unlock_frame_rate = True” with no quotes, and putting that file in the same directory as the game’s executable. However, in my experience the frame rate has been wildly inconsistent once unlocked.
Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition comes out on Steam at various points today, depending on your timezone. At time of writing, it costs $45/£36.