Dead Rising 3 Reaches for the Call of Duty Crowd

The zombie-slaying franchise has gone in a new direction, but can it appeal to old fans while creating new ones?

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Zombies stagger around the decimated ruins of a gritty urban environment. A lone survivor stands before them, unfazed by the infected threat that relentlessly swarms and pulses. With one strike from the hero's sledge hammer, a zombie's head bursts into a shower of bloody fragments. A saw blade shreds the decaying flesh from another undead assailant, pieces of its body falling away, displaying the monster's anatomically detailed insides. This is Dead Rising 3, a "grown-up" take on the once-satirical action franchise. Its move toward the brown-and-gray art style that dominates the industry hints at the dark changes that lie beneath. This is not the Dead Rising that you know and love, and as it tries to be everything to everyone, it may find that it's not easy to rekindle a dying flame.

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Capcom Vancouver presented Dead Rising 3 behind closed doors, walking us through the demonstration that debuted during the Microsoft press conference while answering questions about the direction that they've taken. The changes that you can see in images were not a fluke. Capcom is pointedly trying to appeal to a wider audience in this latest iteration, saying it's going after the Call of Duty player. Gone is the cartoonish visual design, replaced by a more "realistic" interpretation of a viral apocalypse. That change is part of the maturation. By shifting the art style, the combat can be "more visceral" than in previous versions, with "real gore."

Another notable shift is to the pacing. The urgency that defined Dead Rising has been turned off in the demo we were shown. Time created "extreme pressure" in the original games, and Capcom wants the zombies to be your biggest threat this time around. In Dead Rising 2, you now run around broken-down neighborhoods, killing zombies in horrific ways without real motivation to push forward. Because of the shift in artistic tone and the nonstop combat, this Xbox One launch game now looks like any other open-world game. The team is confident that the ability to create unique weapons will separate Dead Rising 3 from the crowd, but that spark of originality was absent in the demo we were shown.

There are some additions to the expected zombie slaying. The Kinect is used to communicate to zombies (a loud noise is enough to get their attention), and there are motion controls as well. You know how games often force you to wiggle the stick when enemies grab you? Well, in Dead Rising 3, you can shake your arms to get them off. SmartGlass is also implemented. By using your phone or tablet, you can call in an airstrike or locate items on the map. It will be handy to find a sledgehammer whenever you need one, but it clashes with how Dead Rising used to familiarize you with environments. Before, you would play and replay until you learned the layout. Now? Everything is handed to you.

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Capcom is confident that even though it's trying to draw in those who just want to kill zombies without any restrictions, it hasn't turned its back on longtime fans. Nightmare mode brings back the time limits that were such a core aspect of Dead Rising. So for those who like the idea of having to be prudent with your decisions, without the ability to save anywhere and with real punishment for death, that is still in the game. However, we were not shown how Nightmare mode would work, so it's unclear if it will be as balanced and engaging as previous entries. It's clear that Capcom's focus is to draw in as many people as possible and hope the existing fan base can stomach those changes rather than build upon what worked before.

Dead Rising 3 is walking down a dangerous path. It's trying to be everything to everyone, and that's a formula that rarely works. Play with dour seriousness or wear zany clothes; implement time constraints or roam without a care; wave your arms or ignore Kinect completely; pull out your smartphone or focus on the television. It sounds ideal, right? We'll see if they've successfully pulled off the impossible or if Dead Rising 3 is just another wannabe that burns bridges without building new ones.

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