Dead Rising 3 shuffles toward open world excellence

DeadRising3Dead Rising 3 is a deeper, more complex, more rewarding and more open game than its predecessors and Capcom Vancouver have set the bar for what to expect in the next generation of open world game design.  And it’s not blind faith and fanaticism for the Dead Rising series that made me love Dead Rising 3 so much. While I do have an incredible love for the seriesm, it sincerely felt incredibly rewarding to be slaughtering literally tens of thousands of zombies.  That I didn’t at any point notice that I didn’t care about the characters until the very end is perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay the game, because the game’s core mechanics are so strong  that I didn’t care about anything else the developers brought to the table.  So it was a surprising bonus that the narrative kicked in right at the end to deliver an incredibly memorable ending to a mostly mediocre story.

Dead Rising 3 is organised chaos.  Thousands of zombies cram the large open world, ready to kill or be killed, shuffling lifelessly all the way to the horizon.  Sure it is an impressive technical feat, but one that also happens to serve an important purpose in the structure of the game.  The player will be regularly swarmed by shuffling zombies and pitched against seemingly impossible odds and the developer leans strongly on evoking this feeling throughout the course of the experience, and that feeling of doom, perhaps more-so than in previous games in the series, is what makes it such a satisfying experience.  There is nothing quite like fearing for your virtual life, but it doesn’t come close to the feeling you get from surviving the seemingly impossible.

But while the odds are almost always stacked against you the game equips you with everything you need to survive.  It controls well and the weapons feel suitably dangerous without making you feel like an invincible superhero.   The player controlled character Nick has a sense of weight to him and the priority of animation gives close encounters with the walking dead enough anxious moments to deliver some truly heart-pounding moments.  While there is no doubt the designers have put a focus on giving the player as many ways to dispose of the zombies as they could think of, it’s not at the expense of challenge.  And credit should be paid to the imaginative combo weapons that the developer has dreamt up for the player to experiment with because they are a highlight of the game and one of the pillars the game relies on to keep the player moving forward.  Building upon the combo weapon system found in Dead Rising 2 there will be moments where you will be forced to construct weapons on the fly in order to survive. It is at the core of the gameplay experience and thankfully keeping track of your collected blueprints, which you find strewn across the city, and constructing them is a painless and user friendly experience. You’ll instantly be drawn to some weapons over others, but while you will have access to some incredibly powerful weapons by the end of the game, the deterioration of weapons manages to maintain some sort of balance and prevent the game from becoming an unconstrained bloodbath cakewalk.

Similar levels of credit should be aimed at the level designers.  Open worlds are difficult things to design but Dead Rising 3’s world provides an almost perfect balance between open path and linear crafting.  Streets are cleverly blocked off to force the player to travel on foot, and zombie hordes are organically placed and sized to accommodate the items placed around them.  If there are thick hordes of zombies there will more often than not be weapons, combo weapon blueprints or vehicles that are perfect for mass carnage.  Similarly in the quieter areas of Los Perdidos there’ll be weapons aimed at close quarters combat.  It’s clear that its not randomised from the outset but it all feels natural and organic enough that the excellent level design feels more like serendipity than strategic placement.  It is intelligent design disguised as evolution and its something that so many open world games could learn from.

Dead Rising 3’s narrative is nearly non-existent – that is until it pulls out all stops to deliver one of the most incredible narrative turnarounds I’ve seen in videogames.  When it began to feel that the narrative was an afterthought the developer cleverly decided to shake things up to such an extent that it gave such great gravity to everything preceding it.  It is as though Capcom Vancouver had taken a master class in pacing and with outstanding results.  Just as it was becoming difficult to polish off the dying moments of the game the developers gave an incredible impetus to pull through and finish the fight.   It also serves to mask some of the more linear, and unsurprisingly least exciting, passages of the game.  It was a stroke of pure genius and while it may in some ways rely too much on the franchise’s adoring fans, I have no doubt that even Dead Rising newbies will feel some level of gravitas, even if it doesn’t pack the same punch as it would with someone who had played the first two games.  Either way the developer knew when to pull its narrative punches and let the stellar gameplay do the talking.  But more impressively it also knew when to let rip with that killer uppercut to deliver a narrative knockout.  There’s not much there but when its firing, its doing so on all cylinders.  

Dead Rising 3 is a lesson in pace and player reward and just as things are starting to feel like a grind is the designers find another way to get their hooks in.  The compulsion loop inherent in the game’s clever but-not-so-original level up system only takes it so far, but the use of collectables to compel exploration and tinkering in the world provides enough impetus to keep coming back even after you feel the game’s systems are starting to outweigh its welcome.  The word ‘playground’ gets bandied around a bit too much for my liking but in the case of Dead Rising 3 there is no better description.  It is clear the designers know what the attraction of the series is and have focused on creating the ultimate zombie slaughterhouse.  The weapons are creative and you’ll never be lost for ways to dispose of the countless undead.  The number of zombies on screen in impressive and a real show of what the next generation of hardware can deliver, but its everything surrounding it that makes Dead Rising 3 a spectacular and almost must play experience.

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