Platforms: Xbox One
Developers: Capcom Vancouver
Publishers: Microsoft Studios
In line with Microsoft's seeming inability to get their PR and marketing messages straight earlier this year, I don't think any of us were particularly thrilled by Dead Rising 3's appearance at this year's E3. The trailer looked dour and grim, anathema to our memories of a series that has often been characterised by over-the-top, hilariously creative undead bashing.
Then Dead Rising 3 turned up in playable form at Gamescom, though we didn't have time to see it sadly, and all of the reports there were of dodgy framerate issues, but there were hints towards the freeform, anarchic nature of the older games, lashings of crafting and customisation, and Chinese whispers of yes it is pretty grey and brown, but I carved zombies up with a nitrous-boosted digger.
As it turns out, we can have our cake and eat it too. Alan Jarvie's art direction for this game might lean rather more towards the gritty, realistic end of the spectrum, but that's ok. The zombies in Dead Rising 3 do feel a little bit more fearsome, the tone is set a little darker, there's actually a bit of a horror feel to things this time around. But that doesn't mean you can't have hilarious, side-splitting moments of emergent brilliance and rampant hilarity. Dead Rising 3 is looking like a game that gives the best of both worlds, with enough variety in terms of game modes, customisation, and crafting to play the game however we want.
And just in case you haven't been listening to Game Buzz or read any of our stuff over the past...forever, we love choice.
"Coming out of Dead Rising 2, we wanted to have you choose about how you wanted to play, just so you have that sort of freedom," explains executive producer Josh Bridge. "So you go out into this big world and you can do whatever you want, tons of items, tons of weapons. You're stuck in this city full of zombies, how are you going to survive? And I hope that freedom makes it your game whether you want to play more shooter, more melee, more goofy, more serious, it depends on your mood and it's all there for you."
You play as everyman Nick Ramos, a young mechanic who finds himself stuck in a city called Los Perdidos, which has been locked down by the military to try and contain the zombie infestation therein. There are throwbacks to the earlier Dead Rising games and plenty of little hidden bits of fna service, so I'm told by Bridge, but it's also a completely new setup, a new location, and a game that newcomers approaching the series can sink their teeth into without knowing anything of the previous games. As such, it makes it a prime candidate for leading Microsoft's next-gen charge as the Xbox One hits the shelves.
Speaking of which, what has partnering up with Microsoft brought to this third game, and how has the Xbox One's hardware feature set been incorporated into the game and used to the greatest effect?
"We were really able to target the [Xbox One] and had the honour of partnering with Microsoft again, and repeating the experience of delivering Dead Rising 1 on the Xbox 360, only now with this game on the Xbox One itself which is amazing," replies Bridge. "We worked really closely with them on just how far we could push the size and density of the world of Dead Rising with no more load screens, you're just streaming all the time, a greater level of density when it comes to the zombies and the items, but really pushing the boundaries on that sense of scale. Dead Rising 1 and 2 could fit inside of Dead Rising 3 several times over.
"And now without that [development] time pressure, we can go deeper on systems: more animations, better AI, there's more stuff you can do within those systems, more depth in the combat, and that's thanks to the increase in, and ease of access to, the memory. And then you add in the new Kinect sensor as well. It's awesome to be able to evolve quick-time events: you get grabbed by a zombie and your body just automatically reacts as if to push, and there you go, you're pushing them off, which is really cool.
"And then we have SmartGlass, and the way we looked at that was we said, You know what? It'd be great to have a character actually calling you. It's all unique to that device too, so you just hook it up, download the free app, link into the game, and you'll get a call on your phone as you're playing the game. You'll have to answer it and it'll feel like a nervy phone call because the dude's calling at the worst possible time and he'll just go to Call Waiting if you don't pick up. So we've got that and a load of exclusive missions and it feels like we're pushing the boundaries of what a second-screen experience can be. But not only that, also evolving what core experiences can be with little Kinect features built in, and still be heavy on the action, it's just been awesome to have this opportunity."
Structurally, it looks like the team at Capcom Vancouver have considered Dead Rising 3's position as both a hardcore attraction for series veterans, whilst also taking into consideration the fact that a flagship launch title needs to have some semblance of wide appeal and accessibility. "We have two modes," Bridge explains when I ask him about the game's structure. "Nightmare mode is a throwback to Dead Rising 1. Time is really your enemy, along with those zombies. You've got save in washrooms, there are no checkpoints, no manual saves, you've got to find out where to pee. And if you paint yourself into a corner, you've got to restart the whole game. Normal mode removes that time limit, so you have time to complete the game, you can save anywhere and it's not as hard. But the challenge is still there with the zombies, so it's a different type of pressure in that mode: it's the dread and pressure of staying alive."
Jumping into the boots of Mr. Ramos, I swiftly deck him out in a kid's superhero costume, jump into the street and use Nick's extensive mechanical knowledge to craft a cross between a hog and a steamroller called the Rollerhawg. Yes, you can craft vehicular hybrids in this title with a nudge of the right bumper. Then I cackle with glee as I proceed to mow down waves of the undead, until I become a bit over-zealous and blow the damn thing up accidentally thanks to a few exploding barrels. You often find yourself being slightly reserved at press events, with the rather business-like atmosphere colouring the experience of the game. Sat in front of Dead Rising 3, however, I'm not ashamed to say that most of my professional stoicism went out of the window, I kind of forgot where I was, and proceeded to laugh my arse off for a good half an hour.
Thankfully, so did Mr. Bridge.
Given the reliance of this game on player agency -- that is to say Dead Rising 3 is a game predicated on open-ended, diverse swathes of player-driven action and opportunity -- I ask Bridge what favourite moment from the game sticks in his brain the most. He begins his answer by explaining that the emergent nature of the gameplay meant that those favourite moments changed often on a daily basis. To cut a long story short, though, he tells me that it came about one day when one of the dev team stuffed a stick of dynamite into a zombie's mouth, then combined that with a super grapple move that you can get after chaining a bunch of kills together. He basically ended up lobbing the smart bomb zombie into the shambling horde, and walked away slowly as they all blew sky-high.
I'm not enormously interested in the missions at all (I rather lose track of time and start playing the way I would at home), and so Bridge whips out the debug menu, stuff the weapons locker full of weird and wonderful crafted weapons and shows me the Ultimate Shout. It looks like someone's taped a whole bunch of traffic cones together to make the world's most cumbersome megaphone. Bridge advises that I find a large huddle of zombies so I wander back out in to the street and onto a main road. There are hundreds of shambling corpses crowded around a jack-knifed tanker but it isn't long before one or two see me. I mow a few deadites down with the Jazz Hands, noisily uppercut a few into oblivion with my rocket-powered, spike-laden, power gloves called Dragon Punch, and then as the horde turns it's attention towards me, I unleash the Ultimate Shout.
It makes Fus Ro Dah look like a whimper. Limbs, bodies, cars -- everything in my way goes flying. I'm laughing so hard I give myself a stitch.
I've been rather underwhelmed by the exclusive offerings of both Sony and Microsoft up to this point, but Dead Rising 3 has given me a hefty hook and provided some much needed excitement. With more news each day of further game delays, and the wise choice looking like patience and prudence this Christmas, Capcom Vancouver have turned up with a game that I really, really want. I don't know how good it's going to be, I don't know just how deep all of the systems run, but I do know this: that game put the biggest smile on my face at Microsoft's Xbox One showcase yesterday, and it still hasn't come off. It's funny, it's empowering, it's expansive and ambitious, there's reams of choice and customisation. This is how you craft catharsis.