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Bigger really is better: Dead Rising 3 preview

A new hope?

I very keenly remember the first time I saw Dead Rising. Back in 2005 Microsoft was the first out of the gate with the Xbox 360, and I couldn't have cared less. I was still quite happy with the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation and every early Xbox 360 game I saw just looked like a fancier skinned Xbox game. Then I saw Dead Rising. It wasn't a showstopper graphically, but it did something not possible with the previous gen's technology. It created a world where hundreds of zombies could co-exist in the same place.

So when Dead Rising 3 was announced I wondered what it could do to push the hardware even further. The answer: bigger locations with more zombies. Having seen a 20-minute presentation of the Xbox One-exclusive E3, I'm delighted to say that this rather obvious direction still manages to wow.

Where the first two Dead Rising games were confined to a mall, this third numbered entry expands the scale to an entire town. Thankfully, the zombie count has been increased so drastically that even with the massively expanded real estate, navigation is still a sticky wicket. It actually appears to be harder than ever. In the last couple of Dead Rising games, the zombies themselves didn't pose much of a threat as you could just run past them most of the time. This time around, you'll frequently find yourself in that classic scenario where you're trapped on a roof with a writhing sea of the undead shuffling below, and you'll need to find a way past them.

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Sometimes this plays out almost like a platformer where you make a beeline for the tops of upturned cars, other times you'll use a flare to cause a distraction, or perhaps you'll opt to use a Smartglass feature where you can go on your phone and call in a support drone or air strike.

Capcom and Microsoft seem quite keen on this whole Smartglass thing, as there's also an option to use your phone or tablet to look up a gun shop location, which will then appear as a marker in your game, sort of like a in-game Yell for a zombie apocalypse.

The zombies are so plentiful that even the almighty car isn't just a "win button," even if mowing down hordes of the undead remains pretty sweet. Now zombies will hop onto your ride and try to attack you through the window. You'll have to shove them off or find something to smoosh them into, which is easier said than done as the attached bodies will affect the driving physics.

Not only will the undead be more plentiful, but they'll be smarter too. They're now attracted to light, motion, and sound and come in multiple varieties. For example, the ones who used to be firemen are beefy fellows who remember all too well how to swing an axe.

To combat these more intimidating odds, you're allowed to craft ridiculously deadly weapons out of ordinarily deadly weapons and other junk. Combine a sledgehammer and a chainsaw to form the almighty sledgesaw, or dowse a sword in lighter fluid and ignite it to pretend you're in Game of Thrones. This sort of weapon crafting isn't new to the series, but in the past it always required a workstation. New protagonist Nick Ramos is a mechanic, however, so he can combine items anywhere. He'll need to find a schematic first, though. Nick may be handy, but he's not brilliant.

Read books to increase your skills. I suspect How to Survive a Robot Uprising would be useful here, but maybe not.

In many ways Dead Rising 3 looks like a distinct improvement over its sandbox curio predecessors, but some of their flavour has been lost in translation. The previous Dead Rising games had a uniquely Japanese campiness to them. Survivors would stand around perpetually pantomiming the same goofy "I need help" animations and you could plop little smiley Servbot blocks on the zombie's heads. The only attempts at humour I can spot in the Dead Rising 3 presentation are its wardrobe options consisting of a foam shark costume and a ladies' sun dress. There's still humour in Dead Rising 3, but it's not as front and center as it used to be. This may not be a thing for some, but it is definitely a thing.

Elsewhere, the framerate often has trouble keeping up with the expansive zombie count. This has the positive side effect of making the most action packed sequences appear almost in glorious slow motion, but the loss of fluid control ultimately renders Dead Rising 3 the wrong kind of choppy.

With zombies at their zenith it would stand to reason that more zombies would suffer from the law of diminishing returns. The added horsepower of the Xbox One appears to not only apply a facelift, but heighten the tension as well by creating a zombie apocalypse that's simultaneously more expansive and more densely populated. But hey, if you're ever overwhelmed and in dire need of military support, there's an app for that.