Dead Rising 3 Review: More Than a Zombie Sandbox

In 2005, “Dead Rising” took next-gen console gaming by storm when it was released for the Xbox 360. The upgraded hardware and components allowed for dozens of bloodthirsty zombies on-screen simultaneously and the “everything is a weapon” concept was revolutionary, even if the subject matter wasn’t.

The 2010 follow-up “Dead Rising 2” and subsequent DLC improved on the mechanics of its predecessor and introduced the highly entertaining “combo weapon” functionality. The storylines were decent, but gameplay dragged at times, the loading screens were notoriously long, and the strict time limits in both games meant spending precious slaughtering time meticulously checking your watch.

“Dead Rising 3,” the newest addition to the series, was released just in time for the unveiling of console gaming’s eighth generation, exclusively on Microsoft’s Xbox One. Upon first glance, DR3 appears to be a fairly large sandbox-style open world game, a la Grand Theft Auto. But it’s far more than that.

“Dead Rising 3” embraces next-gen technology by providing the most solid effort in the entire series. What used to be dozens of zombies on screen is now hundreds and while the graphics aren’t quite as jaw-dropping as “Call of Duty” or “Ryse,” they’re still impressively polished and detailed- the game runs smoothly despite so many things going on at once. There is the occasional bug or glitch here and there, such as weapons disappearing from the ground and in some cases right from your hands, but no matter how many zombies are in your path there are no frame rate issues whatsoever, impressively displaying the raw power of the new console.

The frequent loading screens that plagued the first two are nonexistent. The game loads the entire map when you begin, which takes about 45 seconds. After that, you will rarely see another loading screen at all unless you die. Also gone are the strict mandatory time limits of the previous titles. The default story mode has no limit, allowing you to freely immerse yourself in the open world and eviscerate droves of the undead to your heart’s content. Most players should start with story mode, as there is more than enough time to complete any and all side missions throughout the game without fear of the clock winding down.

Hardcore fans of the series that prefer the time constraints can play through the appropriately titled “Nightmare Mode” if they want a more classic Dead Rising experience.

Keeping with Dead Rising tradition, there are no stereotypical heroes here. Main character Nick Ramos appears to be just an average guy, though as the story progresses you realize there’s more to him than meets the eye. The storyline is decent, but not exactly groundbreaking, save for a few pleasant surprises toward the end. The gameplay, on the other hand, is exceptional. The combo weapon system has been completely overhauled, discarding the work bench system and allowing your character to combine weapons on the fly by collecting blueprints scattered throughout the map.

The map itself is much larger than in previous installments, making vehicle use a necessary staple of the game and introducing the concept of combo vehicles. Combining vehicles can be done anywhere as long as the two vehicles are next to each other, and after you’ve crafted a vehicle once it’s available to you permanently via parking garages around the map. Whether you’re spraying acid at hordes from a hastily made junk car, or mowing them down in a steamroller motorcycle with dual flamethrowers, you can’t help but smile as you see your kill count skyrocket with each passing block.

The upgrade system has been revamped as well. This time around, as you accumulate Prestige Points and level up, you’re given attribute points. These points can be spent however you choose, whether it be health upgrades, weapon/vehicle upgrades, or even combo weapon proficiencies, which simplify the materials needed to create your favorite tool of destruction.

When you need a break from the endless crowds of undead, you can retreat to one of several strategically placed safe houses. Here you can find weapon lockers which store every item you’ve ever picked up or combined, making it easy to grab your favorite weapon when you can’t seem to find the right components. Also in these safe houses are clothing closets. Yes, despite the serious tone of the game,

“Dead Rising 3” hasn’t lost its sense of humor. There are hundreds of wacky clothing combinations throughout the game, including sports jerseys, ridiculous masks, summer dresses, and even lingerie. You can’t help but giggle as you put Nick in a leather corset and panties and hear him curse you out for it.

The characters you encounter range from average to gloriously awful, especially in the “Psycho” side missions. There are seven in total, representing the seven deadly sins in unabashed over-the-top fashion. Whether you’re facing a resentful 400 pound woman in a mobility scooter, or a bondage-masked nutjob with a phallic flamethrower and assless chaps, these battles are anything but ordinary. Co-op play is back as well, and the casual drop-in, drop-out gameplay via Xbox Live is easier than ever, with no limits to who you can play with regardless of how much further in the story they may be.

The game also makes modest,but functional use of Xbox One peripherals. The Kinect voice capabilities allow you to draw zombie hoardes away from survivors, as well as shout commands to allies. And those with a smartphone or tablet can use the Xbox “Smartglass” app to access specialty missions by picking up “App Updates” around the map.

All in all, “Dead Rising 3” is big, abrasive and ridiculous in the best possible way. The campaign easily has 20+ hours of gameplay including side missions, and achievement hunters and completionists alike will surely play through it multiple times. One thing’s for sure: it’s innovative, it’s fun as hell, and it’s REALLY hard to put down the controller once you start a game.

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