Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition (PC) Review

Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition (PC) Review

 I’ve always thought the Dead Rising series is a good idea. While there is certainly no shortage of zombie-themed videogames, only very few of them embrace the ridiculousness inherent to what is, when you think about it, a pretty out-there take on the post-apocalypse story. When the dead get out of their graves and start walking the earth, writers have the license to get as weird with their stories as they like. That’s always been the basis of Dead Rising, a handful of Capcom developed videogames that place a greater emphasis on absurdity than melodrama. Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition brings the latest entry to the series from Xbox One to PC, faithfully translating both the best and worst aspects of the irreverent zombie game for a new audience.

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Dead Rising 3 stars Nick Ramos, a young mechanic with a mysterious background who wants nothing more than to escape zombie-infested Los Perdidos with his group of fellow survivors. To accomplish this goal, Nick is bounced around an open world full of the mindless undead, a vicious military presence, aggressive bikers, and a number of ordinary people whose personality has been changed—for better or worse—by the collapse of their city. The tone is light-hearted throughout and the game’s sense of humour is great when it’s confined to gags like Nick’s bizarre item combinations (a teddy bear strapped with machine guns or a motorcycle decked out with flamethrowers). It’s far less successful when applied to a cast of “whacky” characters who more regularly come off as repugnant than actually funny. The sadistic female police officer who communicates entirely in sex jokes (“It’s not fair. I finished before you,” she says, dying after a boss fight) and the morbidly obese, wheelchair-bound woman manically defending an abandoned all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant are too one-note in their depiction to transcend their “weird for weirdness’ sake” design. It’s junior high-level comedy writing that shocks or grosses out the player rather than actually making them laugh.

Luckily, Dead Rising 3’s cutscenes largely take a backseat to its gameplay, which is much more successful than its story. Despite the sense of repetition that can arise from spending hours with a game so dedicated to its primary gimmick, there’s something admirable about an experience centred totally on the wholesale slaughter of zombies and nothing else. Each of the weapons proves itself by offering new and novel ways of levelling crowds of the undead. Each campaign and side mission, regardless of how the narrative dresses up the action, is all about dispatching waves of zombies. The Los Perdidos streets are destroyed in such a way so as to funnel the creatures into confined spaces where they can be driven through en masse. Every part of the game exists in service to the simple act of knocking over zombies like so many shuffling bowling pins. And that myopic style of design is probably the best recommendation for Dead Rising 3. The player who can forgive the poor story and limpid character writing may be able to find something interesting in the strange sense of satisfaction that comes from mowing down enormous mobs of shambling undead—to enjoy the same feeling of visible accomplishment that comes from, say, mowing an overgrown lawn or having a long-overdue haircut.

Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition Review

This purity of intent means that Dead Rising 3 will or will not appeal to its audience depending entirely on how enticing they find the idea of repeatedly killing zombies with a creative arsenal. Nothing about the PC release of the game will change this. Aside from a strange, possibly system-specific glitch where exiting the game causes it to freeze, the computer version of Dead Rising 3 looks and plays just as well as its Xbox One counterpart. Capcom has done a good job of preserving the original experience, even extending it with the inclusion of all four of the game’s Untold Stories of Los Perdidos downloadable content episodes. In essence, Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition is the same game as it was before. It’s a silly, fairly shallow take on a well-established genre, but the commitment with which its zombie-killing mechanics have been designed also mean that the game is a lot of fun for those willing to embrace it for what it is.

The Ethics of Zombie Murder

The Ethics of Zombie Murder

I’ve played a lot of Dead Rising 3 over the past week and, for the most part, have really enjoyed it. While I’m not a huge fan of its story or cast of characters, Dead Rising 3 manages to remain entertaining for a pretty simple reason: it makes killing zombies really fun. Driving a flame-throwing motorcycle through a crowd of mindless monsters; wading into a mob of the shambling creatures with an electricity-spewing rake—the draw of Capcom’s latest entry to the open-world series is its gameplay, which centres on taking out enormous waves of enemies. It’s a basic kind of fun, meant to appeal to our lizard brain’s desire to slay monsters and—considering how much satisfaction comes from clearing a street of zombies—clean up messes.

Dead Island
Dead Island

I don’t think I’d enjoy it if Dead Rising 3’s streets were packed with human beings, though. The idea of slaughtering crowds full of real people is more nauseating than compelling since, y’know, there is a real sense of killing involved with that sort of act. The game only works as well as it does because it allows the player a level of detachment from the violence. Zombies aren’t people, so we don’t have to worry about our pesky morals spoiling the fun of killing them. Despite this, I still started to feel a bit strange about how much enjoyment I was getting out of playing Dead Rising 3’s hyper-gory campaign. Even though the undead don’t behave like humans, they still look an awful lot like them in the end. And close-up finishing moves as graphic as, say, cleaving an enemy in half with a jerry-rigged sword, only make this unsettling notion clearer by showcasing the normal clothes, hairstyle, and face of what looks quite a bit like an average person.

“Zombies apparently give us carte-blanche to be as gruesome as we want to be.”
Dead Rising is hardly the only videogame series to use zombies as a primary antagonist. Games like Left 4 Dead, the recent, action-focused Resident Evil titles, and Dead Island all provide examples of how the undead can serve as vessels for players to exercise unthinkable violence on, guilt-free. There are a number of logistical advantages that come with offering zombies up as an enemy force—they’re the most popular type of monster in mainstream fiction right now and their brain-dead behaviour provides an easy excuse for limited artificial intelligence programming. But, I think that aside from these reasons, developers (and players) also like being able to massacre an opponent that isn’t anything more than a walking corpse. Zombies apparently give us carte-blanche to be as gruesome as we want to be.

There’s a lot of evidence of this kind of thinking. Advertising for upcoming zombie game Dead Island 2 focuses explicitly on the creative ways in which players can mutilate and murder their enemy (freeze ‘em and smash ‘em into bloody bits!); Dead Space’s zombie-like necromorphs must be defeated by mutilating their gangly limbs; Killing Floor and Resident Evil lovingly render headshots with stomach-churning sound and visual effects; Lollipop Chainsaw and Left 4 Dead take a macabre joy in allowing players to sever the limbs of their enemies. No idea is too violent for zombies, even if it would make us feel sick to see the same treatment applied to virtual humans.

Resident Evil: Revelations
Resident Evil: Revelations

I have to wonder if we should feel as complacent as we do about this. Zombies, since their earliest videogame incarnations, have always been closely associated with gore. But, the increasing graphical fidelity of games means that violence that used to look like nothing more than clumps of bright red pixels now seems a lot closer to reality. As gross as this can be, should developers be re-thinking the ways in which players are allowed to kill zombies? I’m not sure. I know that games like Dead Rising 3 wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if they didn’t have such a carefree attitude about slaughtering their enemies. Maybe it all inevitably comes down to, like all types videogame violence, a matter of tone. Maybe we should treat zombies like their human counterparts: accepting the brutality inflicted on them in games with either a serious or comedic intent, but questioning it in other cases. I don’t have an easy answer. All I do know is that the kind of violence we’re comfortable with in zombie games may deserve a bit more examination than it’s currently given.