There are many ways that Dead Rising 3 has made big changes to the franchise's formula. Many of the sources of aggravation have been addressed, and little tweaks to the gameplay have made it the smoothest game in the series. At the same time, the large open world and a lack of fast-travel means you spend most of your time trying to get from point A to point B, and you can only kill about 10,000 zombies or so before that starts to get old.
You play as Nick Ramos, a mechanic who has unfortunately been working in Los Perdidos. The city has recently had a zombie outbreak, and in six days, it's slated for an incendiary bomb that will wipe out all organic life. The plot mostly focuses on Nick trying to gather his friends and find a way to leave the city, but that's no small feat considering the army has the city surrounded and has orders to shoot on sight. Time passes at an accelerated pace in the game and has a day and night cycle, but that six-day time frame is plenty of time to explore Los Perdidos.
The city is broken up into four districts, separated by a series of highways. This makes it relatively easy to navigate between them, although the roads are absolutely crawling with zombies. The districts are filled with many buildings and storefronts that you can access, including clothing shops to change your character's appearance and restaurants to find food items for healing. There's also no shortage of specialty stores for items that you can use to create combination weapons.
Combo weapons can be created at any time, as long as you have the blueprint and parts in your inventory. Blueprints are awarded at the end of some missions, but the majority must be found in the wild. Weapons can sometimes have multiple upgrade stages and form super combo weapons. Firearms also factor into these combinations, such as taping a flashlight to a pistol or bolting together an assault rifle and shotgun.
Peppered across the map are safe houses, which contain a closet and weapons locker. The closet lets you switch your clothing to any item that you have tried on in the past, though they're all cosmetic. The weapons locker is the real star of the safe house, as it allows you to take any weapon or non-food item that you have ever handled. To balance this out, taking anything from the locker depletes a chunk of its stock bar, which slowly refills during gameplay. You might want to take two flaming death scythes, but know that doing so drains the entire bar. This is still a great feature for grabbing a selection of weapons before a boss fight or if you find yourself running low on weaponry.
You'll need all the weapons you can get, since you'll need to kill thousands and thousands of the undead during the course of the game. Thanks to the extra power of the Xbox One, the game can feature hundreds of zombies on-screen at a time, and there will be times when you'll have to cut through all of them to get from one place to another. Much as it has been in the past, weapons wear out and break over time, so you'll want to pad out your inventory with extra weapons. Ranged weapons seem more effective this time around, though mainly in their single target damage potential. For cutting through a horde of zombies, you'll still want to stick to your tried-and-true melee weaponry.
Killing zombies nets you PP, which are the game's version of experience points. Gain enough, and you level up to spend attribute points on Nick. These let you choose perks, such as increased inventory space, more melee damage, or substitution of alternate parts in crafting blueprints. You can also find books in the game to unlock always-on perks. You can only equip one of them at a time, but they provide benefits like extended melee weapon durability.
Vehicles are nothing new to the game, but Dead Rising 3 marks the first time you can craft them into combo vehicles. Park two vehicles near each other, and if they are in a blueprint that you have learned, you can craft the resulting vehicle. They're usually some insane mix of the two, like a motorcycle with a steamroller front end and flamethrowers. They also have much higher durability, which is important since every zombie you run over lowers the car's durability until it eventually explodes.
Much of the gameplay comes in the form of the side missions, which are completely optional but award huge amounts of PP in addition to the possibility of blueprints or new survivor companions. These side missions are almost always some form of fetch quest, though there are a few that serve as optional boss fights against one of the game's many psychos. Each boss fight has a theme based on the seven deadly sins and has you facing off against some rampaging lunatic that has weaknesses that must be found and exploited.
These side quests are one of the few areas of the game that involves a time limit, barring the whole "six days until fiery death" part. Side missions are only available for a certain amount of time, as represented by a gradually shrinking bar beneath their titles. Every chapter of the main store seems to have a selection, and thanks to the game's generous main time limit, you can pursue them all and reap the benefits. You'll enjoy it at first, but simply reaching them begins to drag down the entire experience, and it does so quickly.
The only means of realistic travel is to use a vehicle, so you can quickly plow through zombies and cover a lot of ground. However, you hit enough zombies to wreck the vehicle before getting from one end of the city to another, so you'll have to change vehicles once or twice on the way. This element of the gameplay becomes incredibly monotonous — to the point you'll see a side mission is "all the way over there" and decide to skip it.
A lot of the time spent in the game boils down to trying to get somewhere, and unfortunately, this is also the least entertaining aspect of it. Vehicles have their issues, but you fare no better on foot since the streets are absolutely filled with zombies, and alternate routes are often either unavailable or only shave off a tiny part of the journey. You'll often find yourself mashing the X button, mindlessly cutting through 50 yards of zombies and hoping you can get to a spot where you can start sprinting again.
Rescuing survivors is much more streamlined now, since survivors either go off on their own once saved (if they can't be recruited) or immediately join your posse. In theory, you can use the Kinect to give them basic orders, but the implementation is so poor that you'll just end up using the d-pad instead. More worrying is how badly the survivors fare in combat; more often than not, they are a liability that end up getting themselves killed. They are also completely reliant upon you to give them weapons and to heal them. They serve no benefit to you, so you'll find yourself unable to care about the lot of them.
The plot is one of the few threads that spurs along the gameplay, and even then, it seems to have a hard time figuring out what tone it's trying to set. The series has always had a loose hand on the throttle when it comes to camp, but it gets badly overdone this time around. The psycho fights are ridiculous caricatures to the point that you wonder how it's possible all these people went crazy in the few days since the outbreak began. The only serious plot threads revolve around escaping from the city and finding the cause of this outbreak, and these story points also involve the most entertaining missions.
Dead Rising 3 suffers from numerous issues, but the biggest problem is that the next-gen power is squandered on delivering tons of zombies while not improving the gameplay enough. As a whole, the game plays more smoothly than any other, and a lot of the series' baggage has been cut away. As you near the end of the game, killing zombies becomes a chore because it entails carving a few feet ahead of you rather than something resembling enjoyable combat. The game may have shrugged off the time limits of prior entries in the series, but Dead Rising 3 feels like an endurance test of how many zombies you can kill before you just don't care any more.
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