Dead Rising 3 walks a fine line between thoughtfully streamlining the flow of its predecessors' weird mission structure, and stripping out too much of the quirkiness that has defined Capcom's other zombie-slashing franchise since the early days of the Xbox 360. Luckily, the game gets close to finding a happy medium between Dead Rising's signature weirdness and a slightly more traditional open-world format that makes this by far the most approachable game yet in the series.
The first two games confined you and your zombie outbreak to a shopping mall and a casino complex, respectively, while Dead Rising 3 moves the action within the entirety of the fictional city of Los Perdidos. You still get access to the retail mayhem of the previous games via the many toy shops, gun stores, restaurants, clothing outlets, and other shopping spots scattered around town--meaning there are still hundreds of everyday objects available for use as weapons--but the new game does away with the pervasive loading screens of the old ones, allowing you to move around the entire city and a surprising number of building interiors freely as you complete missions, combine weird weapons into weirder weapons, and look for the scads of collectible weapon blueprints and other trinkets that have been added here.
At the same time, Dead Rising 3 softens the overriding time pressure of the previous games to the point that you hardly have to worry about the fact that there's even a timer in the first place. In the past, it was nigh-impossible to do all of the side missions your first time through the game, and each step of the storyline had its own short timer that demanded you get on with the plot sooner than later, or else risk having to start the entire game over. Starting and restarting over and over to build up your character level and streamline your path through the various missions became a hallmark of Dead Rising.
By contrast, you could go through Dead Rising 3 and easily complete every side quest (which have very generous timers) and story mission (which have no timers at all) on your first try. Rather than putting a ticking clock on each individual plot point, you now begin the game under the threat of an air strike to occur six days hence, and then go about your business at your own pace. And even if you somehow don't make it to the end of the story in the ample time provided, you can restart at the beginning of any chapter right up to the final one, meaning you don't have to replay the entire game like you did in the past if you've squandered too much of your time.
The decreased time pressure and seeming tweaks to your health and enemy damage make Dead Rising 3 feel like an easier game than its predecessors--though thankfully the Nightmare mode that's unlocked from the beginning increases the restrictions on saving, health, and time limits more in line with the older games, if you're looking for that classic challenge. I originally worried the less demanding normal mode would make Dead Rising 3 feel less like Dead Rising. But ultimately the fact that side missions can still expire while you're screwing around--along with the big red warning that shows up every 12 or so in-game hours to go "HEY HERE'S HOW MUCH TIME YOU HAVE LEFT REMEMBER THERE'S A BOMB COMING?"--kept just enough of that sense of urgency in place for my taste, while allowing me to get into more of the other ridiculous aspects of a Dead Rising game without quite so much restriction.
Dead Rising 3 is still deeply stupid. That's primarily because of the combo weapons that return from 2, the absurdity of which has been amplified to the Nth degree. You're still jamming things like a motorcycle engine and a microwave together to produce nonsense like a nuclear death ray, and now you can combo already combined weapons with further add-ons to create even dumber superweapons. As Los Perdidos is a true open world, there are cars you can drive around, and you can combine several of these to create total nonsense vehicles that let you suck up zombies and spit them out wadded up into zombie balls, or place a steamroller on the front of a motorcycle to let you run down hundreds of zombies at a time. And I do mean hundreds; Dead Rising 3 crams more enemies into one frame than maybe any game I can remember, and maintains a (mostly) stable frame rate doing it. Mowing down those hundreds of monsters at once is the purest joy the game offers, and putting all those ridiculous destructive implements together has gotten even friendlier now that you can do it anywhere, rather than having to find a workbench just to build your weapons.
There have been even more enhancements to the way Dead Rising works, in the form of a variable skill tree that lets you customize your play style as you go. In contrast to the previous games, where specific upgrades to health and character speed and so on were tied to each level, you simply earn skill points when you level up that you can drop into any number of categories to make your weapons more durable, give you more health, make your followers heartier, and so on. This is a great way to make the game feel looser and more tailored to the way you want to play it, while keeping the constant feeling of character progression in place.
Again, though, the game is much easier than in the past; even the psychopaths that serve as the game bosses do less damage and die faster than their counterparts in the previous games, and the way you can build your skill tree and amass combo weapons (which you can simply spawn in droves from a safe house once you've built them once) will let you cut through hordes and hordes of zombies without much trouble. It's an easier game than the previous Dead Risings, but it's also a more gleefully entertaining one. If you relished the way those old games were built, you should play on Nightmare immediately. For everyone else, the regular mode will simply be a much better time.
Dead Rising 3 is a little less silly than its predecessors, but only a little. The story plays it just a bit straighter this time around, with a government conspiracy weaving in and out of this latest zombie outbreak, but the events of this sequel also follow directly from what happened in the last two games. So expect plenty of references to Frank West, Zombrex, Phenotrans, and so on, as well as some pretty absurd character encounters, scenarios, and boss fights. A couple of the psychos fall into slightly questionable stereotypical territory, but most of what's going on here is dumb and random in the amusing way that Dead Rising has always had about it. It feels more like a proper entry in this series than the flat, humorless image the early marketing for the game created earlier this year.
As a launch game, Dead Rising 3 has a lot to offer. You could easily spend a couple dozen hours maxing out your character level, doing every side mission, and scouring for all the collectible weapon blueprints and Frank West statues, and that's before tackling the stiffer challenge and more oppressive time restrictions in Nightmare mode. The game isn't quite as off-the-wall insane as the Dead Risings that came before, but it's close enough that it should satisfy most franchise fans, while also being a lot easier to recommend to people who have previously found the overbearing quirks of this series a little too much to handle.