Dead Rising 3 review: Combo party

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There aren't too many problems that can't be solved with a blow torch and a few well-scrounged supplies.

This is what I've learned from Dead Rising 3, which evolves the patchwork weapon-crafting mechanic introduced in Dead Rising 2 in some very natural and helpful ways. Now you can build custom weaponry and vehicles, often to great comical effect, anywhere you want in the game world of Los Perdidos.

Dead Rising 3 doesn't greatly deviate from the series' sandbox formula, but rather chooses to dump loads of new toys and even more zombies into the play pit with you.
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Dead Rising 3 (Fall Preview)

Dead Rising 3 stars straight-laced good guy mechanic Nick Ramos who, along with a few friends, is trapped in the fictional southern California coastal city of Los Perdidos. The government plans to level the city in five days, so Nick and the gang need to find a way out. All exit roads are blocked, but there's hope for Nick and his pals: a plane that needs a few parts, a literal vehicle for fetch quests.

Los Perdidos is made up of four smaller sections connected by a pair of bridges. It isn't tiny but it's not very big, either - the entirety of Los Perdidos could rest comfortably inside of GTA 5's downtown Los Santos with room to spare. The city is part of the terror, however, in that it feels claustrophobic; Nick must continuously navigate each neighborhood's maze of tight alleyways and blocked, zombie-filled streets. The city's cramped design means that, in addition to the undead, Nick has to contend with a close-cropped camera that proves troublesome, especially within small shops and houses.

Still, Los Perdidos is the biggest world that developer Capcom Vancouver, which handled the many iterations of Dead Rising 2, has ever built. And with no lengthy loading screens, a lot of the rigmarole of moving around in previous Dead Rising games has been mitigated – tight alleyway detours and blockades notwithstanding.

Los Perdidos is also a much more packed and bustling zombie sanctuary than the Willamette Parkview Mall of Dead Rising or the Las Vegas-inspired Fortune City of Dead Rising 2. It's not uncommon to see hundreds of zombies occupying one city street and, in some areas, they get so tightly jammed together that they can slow a van or SUV down to a crawl. It's impressive to wade through a mob of this size, and it's all the more satisfying when you're doing it while dressed as Blanka in full plate armor.

Between completing story missions and exploring, Nick can choose to aid random, uninfected survivors struggling out on the streets of Los Perdidos. Sometimes this amounts to simply thinning an encroaching horde, other times it's fetching meat for a man trying to feed his zombified family who have fallen into a dried-out swimming pool. Some survivors are grateful and pick up arms to join your cause, while others run off on their own after you've saved their bacon. Either way, your incentive is always the same: Completing quests yields experience points and earns you friends.

One of the biggest improvements in Dead Rising 3 is that workbenches are no longer required to craft weapons; you can craft anywhere and at any time. You'll find blueprints teaching you how to create individual custom weapons or vehicles – or you can simply unlock combo weapons within a certain category by spending an attribute point. Attribute points are earned as you complete missions and kill zombies, and with each level gained, more attribute points become available to spend. Attribute points can also be used to boost stats like health, vehicle durability, inventory size and so on.

This new system, along with the ability to craft items at any time, trims a lot of the series' cruft and expedites the growth of your preferred play style. Want to solely use guns? Purchase the combo firearms categories and spend the rest of your points on upping your ammo and firearm damage. Want to be a swordsman? Unlock the custom bladed weapons category and spend points in your melee skills, increasing the durability of your katana. Dead Rising 3 makes it easy to discover how you want to play, and it supports you as you progress through the campaign.

As you go along, you'll constantly discover new weapons and a few special vehicles to craft. By the end of my first run, I had discovered 53 custom weapons and used them with glee on the undead horde. Some weapons make a return appearance – like the self-explanatory knife gloves – but there are several new and ingenious inventions. The Dragon Punch straps together some boxing gloves and a motorcycle engine, allowing Nick to perform the iconic Street Fighter uppercut. The Jazz Hands basically turn you into Edward Scissorhands – except you have gun barrels for fingers instead of blades. Combining a car battery with a stop light will yield an electric staff that can be slammed onto the ground for an area-of-effect attack, or you can simply walk forward and watch hundreds of zombies get shocked into submission.

Vehicles also offer plenty of creativity. Combining a fireworks delivery van with a forklift will produce the ForkWork – a little rig with giant spikes on the front that can plow over zombies with startling speed. It even has a turret on the back that shoots fireworks, in case you've got an NPC or a friend in tow.

Speaking of which, untethered co-op is another welcomed improvement over Dead Rising 2. Before, both players had to stay within the same area and couldn't travel into different zones unless without each other. In Dead Rising 3, Nick and co-op partner Dick can go anywhere they want in Los Perdidos, at any time. This is great for tackling side missions, though these almost always amount to more fetch quests heaped onto the pile.

Dead Rising 3's main campaign also eliminates the Dead Rising series' love-it-or-hate-it save system, which required you to track down a bathroom in order to save. Now there's a checkpoint system, which is a godsend for those times when you stumble unprepared onto a particularly tough boss fight or lengthy mission. Series purists who enjoyed the tension of the old save system can still use it by playing Nightmare mode, a more difficult version of Dead Rising 3 that makes zombies tougher and adds greater pressure via a speedy in-game clock. Naturally, the Psycho boss fights are harder as well.

Psychopaths are humans who have gone bananas during the zombie outbreak, and they serve as bosses. In Dead Rising 3, they're each modeled after one of the seven deadly sins and, unfortunately, they forgo the laughable absurdity and over-the-top antics Psychos were so good for in the previous two games. An obese woman on a motorized scooter, for example, is a far cry from the original Dead Rising's chainsaw juggling clown. Most encounters lock you in a tight space and ask you to mindlessly flail away at an enemy who behaves in simple, predictable ways. The Dead Rising series has been known for some annoyingly cheap boss fights, but Dead Rising 3 swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, and the result leaves these moments deflated of all tension.

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Dead Rising 3 ultimately feels very familiar, taking a safe route to its destination rather than trying to innovate or take the series into any bold new direction. It's a calculated execution of the most beloved aspects of the previous games, coupled with the welcome removal of the loading screens and bench-restricted crafting that ate away at the experience. But in doing away with those inconveniences, Capcom Vancouver has introduced new ones – mostly technical.

Bugs abound in Dead Rising 3. Survivors get stuck on objects. I had multiple game crashes and even discovered a repeatable glitch on the final boss battle in Overtime mode, where skipping the pre-fight cutscene would cause both Nick and the boss to fall through the game world. I would respawn back into the battle, while the boss would disappear entirely. The only way to fix this was to reload the checkpoint and sit through the cutscene again. On top of all this, the frame rate takes a substantial hit during the more zombie-packed segments – and even during some cutscenes.

And yet, despite those technical flaws, Dead Rising 3 proves that increasing the size of the sandbox and tossing more toys inside is enough to compensate for the inconsistency in execution. The persistent hiccups are hard to ignore, but they're not so great as to stall the engine for goofy creations that is the heart of the game.

Dead Rising 3 is a worthy entry in the series and, for the most part, gets out of your way. It knows that all you really want to do is discover and create new playthings to dismember the undead. As a vehicle for that, it's a comfortable ride.

This review is based on review code of Dead Rising 3, provided by Microsoft.

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