Introducing your game to the world by bisecting a zombie with a circular saw duct taped to a sledgehammer is certainly one way to attract attention. In a typically understated manner, Capcom demonstrated that everything we know and love about open-world zombie-murdering is returning better than ever in Dead Rising 3. The series is back, bringing its unique blend of dark humour, hordes of the ravenous undead and hundreds of weapons with it.
With the development team returning from Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, Capcom Vancouver have made some significant changes for the latest instalment. Immediately clear are the crisp, next-generation graphics and the darker more realistic visuals that contrast with the garish colour palette from the previous titles. However, while the game has certainly toned-down some of the really outlandish aspects of Dead Rising 2, it resolutely maintains its sense of humour.
Taking place a decade after the Fortune City incident, Dead Rising 3 follows a new protagonist, Nick Ramos, as he tries to survive a new zombie outbreak in the Californian city of Los Perdidos. Nick is a garage mechanic but has something of a mysterious past and will have to search the city for survivors in order to escape. It is a typical set-up for the series but the formula has been tweaked substantially to provide a more streamlined gameplay experience in response to criticisms levelled at the earlier titles.
One of the first alterations Capcom Vancouver wanted to emphasise was that the save system has been overhauled and players are no longer required to travel to a bathroom to store their progress in limited slots. Saving is accessible at anytime, anywhere and that will have a big impact on gameplay: removing the need to constantly fret about running the risk of wasting time to trek to a restroom. Time is the other major change: Dead Rising 3 no longer has the pressure of a ticking clock mechanic. Nick is free to pursue story events and cases at his own pace without the risk of a game over screen.
These are major departures for the series and, in many ways, the developers have already foreseen fan backlashes against the changes. This led them to create the ominously named "Nightmare Mode" that gives players a more traditional Dead Rising experience with restroom saves and a time limit before the military bomb Los Perdidos. It is initially accessible from the start but the developers have designed it to be especially tough and recommend getting used to the game first. Handily, character stats and abilities are persistent between Nightmare Mode and the main game making it easy to switch between the two.
Jumping into the game demonstrates how much work has gone into Dead Rising 3 and it looks and feels like a true progression of the series. Los Perdidos is truly enormous, the biggest world seen in the series yet and is comprised of four different districts. Even more impressive is that there are no loading times when entering buildings or transitioning between locations. Our demonstration began with Nick hiding from the hordes of zombies on the roof of a diner. Looking out over the city, fires burned on the horizon and the draw distance has been significantly improved allowing for distant buildings and points of interest to be clearly identified.
The streets around Nick's location were swarming with zombies but he was poorly equipped so decided to find an access point into the cafe to search for supplies. Smashing a nearby roof with a thrown brick, he dropped into the dark interior and managed to locate a flashlight. Capcom Vancouver are intending to make interior locations more useful, interesting areas and have spent time encouraging players to explore every nook and cranny for useful items. Stumbling across a handgun, Nick combined the torch and firearm for a simple combo weapon. Combinations can now be created on the fly, without the need for a workbench but it is important to do it somewhere relatively safe to avoid a zombie attacking when you are busy taping items together.
Unfortunately for Nick, the light from the flashlight and the noise he was making caught the attention of the undead outside and they proceeded to cluster around the window, pounding their bloody fists against the glass. The weight of the zombies caused the thin panes to shatter and bodies began to start climbing inside, forcing Nick to break open a nearby fire escape. Fleeing into the street he was faced with hundreds of shambling corpses and needed to create a distraction in order to escape.
The developers were keen to make the zombies a much more dangerous threat in Dead Rising 3 and they are intended to be a source of constant pressure for players. Their AI has been completely updated and they now have a horde mentality, when one reacts others will notice and follow. It will also be tougher for Nick to work his way through crowds and he will have to use his initiative to find efficient ways of clearing groups of zombies or locate alternate paths.
Spotting a cabinet of emergency supplies, Nick grabbed a flare gun and fired a round into the sky. The blazing projectile soon got the attention of the undead and as they lurched toward it, Nick darted down a side alley but was soon faced with a new threat. A crashed fire engine blocked the end of the cut-through and a group of reanimated firefighters noticed him and began to shuffle forward. Wearing tough clothing and wielding axes, these zombies were dangerous and Nick was not equipped to deal with them, choosing to flee into an adjacent building for temporary safety. We were told there would be many more variant zombie types that could take and deal more damage and would have to be dispatched with care.
Finding a stash of tools, Nick used an earlier blueprint to craft a sledgehammer-circular saw, the aptly named "Sledge Saw", before exiting into a parking lot. Here he mutilated his way through a group of zombies, building up notches on a new combo meter displayed at the left-hand side of the screen. Building a combo allows Nick to execute (pun intended) a "Skill Kill": a gruesome kill that provides him with a large boost of Prestige Points, or PP, Dead Rising's form of experience. Throwing the saw at a hapless zombie, slicing it neatly in two, meant Nick was temporarily unarmed but allowed him to show off his hand-to-hand skills, which have more moves than ever.
Jumping into a truck, Nick started making his way towards a safe house he had cleared earlier. Due to the size of Los Perdidos, travelling by car will be important but it is no longer as safe as it has been in previous games. The undead can, and frequently will, grab hold of parts of your car and try and attack through any opening. Seeing two or three zombies hanging off the bumpers, wing mirrors or doors is pretty daunting. Thankfully, Nick can remove them by turning suddenly, sending their bodies flying in a grotesquely satisfying manner. However, the best way is to grind the car against a nearby concrete wall or obstacle and squash the rotting bodies with a horrible burst of gore. It is safe to assume Dead Rising 3 will be for mature audiences only.
When we say "mature" audiences, we mean strictly in terms of legal age, as arriving at his safe house (denoted by symbols on the exterior of the building) saw Nick change into a woman's dress with a felt shark headdress. It was nice to see the bizarre humour return and it works well against the new more serious backdrop, providing a real contrast with events. Safe houses are important locations in Dead Rising 3 as they contain weapon lockers. Every time you pick up a new weapon or blueprint they are stored in a locker and are accessible at any similar cabinet anywhere on the map (similar to Resident Evil's item boxes). It is a great addition, rewarding players for exploring and giving them access to their favourite weapons without having to search for hours across the map.
Nick also found a skill book, which no longer has to be equipped to be useful. Books now act as perks that can be selected one-at-a-time from a menu as an active effect. Once a book is read the skill is permanently unlocked in this menu, allowing you to change perks as and when they are required. When levelling up Nick can also select Attribute Points, in a similar manner to RPG games, which provide him with different abilities that suit a variety of play styles. Having gained a level getting to the safe house from killing plenty of zombies, Nick chose an attribute. He picked an ability that meant he could craft combo weapons with broadly similar items, not necessarily the exact one specified in the blueprint.
Using a machete in place of a katana, Nick created the Mauler: a sword with a saw blade attachment. Similarly experimenting, he created the "Boom Cannon", an improvised grenade launcher made from a shotgun and grenades. This weapon was powerful enough to decimate an entire street full of the undead, raining fiery death down on dozens and dozens of zombies. Clearing the street, he received notice of a survivor trapped on the roof of a building in Chinatown and made his way there.
Grabbing a katana and some motor oil on the way, he quickly whipped up a Flaming Sword combo weapon before igniting and slicing his way through a small horde of zombies. Spotting the desperate survivor, surrounded by a very large group of the undead he decided to deploy some additional firepower. The developer running the demonstration then grabbed a SmartGlass tablet, loaded up an in-game app and showed that Nick had a range of support options to choose from. Selecting a strafing run from a military saw the zombies cut down in a hail of high calibre machinegun fire.
As Dead Rising 3 is an Xbox One exclusive there has been a lot of emphasis put on the compatibility with the Zombie Defence Control PDA app. According to Capcom Vancouver they will be delivering exclusive missions, weapons and content related to this smart phone and tablet application that is only available in this manner. Players will be able to complete missions to unlock air strikes, which was the reward Nick received from saving this survivor. It is a divisive move and one which will no doubt anger some gamers and, in all honesty, it felt more like a gimmick than a solid gameplay function. The presentation of the power of the app and its associated gameplay impact felt very much like a "pay to win" mechanic, so it will be interesting to see how it is balanced in the full release.
Alongside this tie-in, the Kinect will also be utilised by Dead Rising 3 in another gameplay decision that seems more like a Microsoft checkbox than a genuine developer-led idea. When enabled, the Kinect will detect noise in the room, if it is too loud it will potentially attract zombies towards the player's location. This can also be used to create distractions to lure the undead towards a specific point before quietly doubling back and sneaking past them. We were not able to see this in action due to the volume of the E3 show floor, but it will be interesting to see how much impact this will have on gameplay.
Nick then jumped into a modified muscle car, heading towards a raised section of freeway, obliterating countless zombies on the way (and clearing his vehicle of several reanimated hitchhikers). Crashing into the wreckage of a ruined school bus, he emerged overlooking an enormous horde of hundreds of zombies before using the Zombie Defence Control PDA app to firebomb them to hell with a military airstrike.
In some ways it was a slightly disappointing end to an otherwise amazing demonstration, focusing on what seems like a crow-barred in app feature rather than the other exciting gameplay developments. Aside from the seemingly unnecessary technological additions, courtesy of SmartGlass and Kinect, Dead Rising 3 is looking like the best launch title for the Xbox One. It is already looking polished and has the kind of addictive fun factor that could well be a system-seller.
Capcom Vancouver has done the tricky job of creating a different enough game to avoid criticisms of rehashing old gameplay while preserving the core ideals of the series. The darker humour and style fit perfectly with the city of Los Perdidos.
Equally, the tweaked gameplay and decisions to address long-held criticisms, especially regarding saving and the time limits, could well create a real classic. Ignore the suggestion that the developers are pandering to the mainstream, they are simply experimenting with a wider appeal while preserving the original experience in a different mode.
In an E3 packed with sequels and titles making their first steps towards the next-generation, Dead Rising 3 was one of the few games that felt like enough of a step forward to be classed as an eighth-generation experience. Despite some issues with the frame rate (that the developers were aware of and working hard to fix), it was a technically impressive achievement. With a release in November, it will not be long before we can start throwing Sledge Saws around. Maybe it is time to look long and hard about buying an Xbox One: if Microsoft keeps delivering exclusives this promising it will be a hard task to resist.