June 12, 2013 at 11:47 AM ET
The new generation of gaming seems to be largely composed of open-world zombie adventures, but "Dead Rising 3" — the latest installment in the weird, darkly humorous zombie-smashing hit — arrested our attention because of its eye-popping graphics and gamer pedigree.
Apparently grim tone, at odds with the silliness for which the franchise is known, is just a "veneer of seriousness," say its developers. Underneath, they insisted, it's "as madcap as you like it." And the demo we saw is testament to that — mowing down undead, in a hearse, in a cemetery, then donning a sundress and wielding a homemade grenade launcher.
The focus of the Xbox One exclusive title is 100 percent on making a believable and detailed world. Sure, there's a story, but the game's makers want players exploring and taking down hordes of zombies, not sweating some critical moral choice like whether to sacrifice a team member to save another — like in the thematically uncompromising "Walking Dead" series.
Instead, the team was careful to make the city of Los Perdidos as real as possible. Stores and buildings are all explorable, there are cars and survivors strewn about, and of course there are zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.
In fact, the developers said, there can be three times as many zombies on screen at once as in the previous game — and that wasn't exactly short on the undead. Regular zombies, firefighter zombies, big ones, small ones, even a "Paris Hilton" zombie that can be found in the swankier area of the city.
There are also hundreds of weapons, outfits and item combinations to find and unlock. In the demo we watched, there were no less than 20 guns, almost 50 outfits and 101 "combos," like a circular saw strapped to a sledgehammer or a shotgun that shoots grenades.
The density of the world comes at a cost, though. For one thing, the demo we watched was bogged down by frame-rate issues — to be expected on pre-release software but still troubling. And Los Perdidos, while considerable in size, is nowhere near the square mileage of the massive playgrounds being put together by Rockstar and Ubisoft for their open-world games. ("The Crew" will apparently encompass the entire United States.)
Since "Dead Rising 3" is a marquee Xbox One game, it of course has some Kinect and Smart Glass integration.
The companion app lets you call in airstrikes if you need them, or look up locations of gun stores or safe points, adding in-game waypoints to help you find your way. Meanwhile, the Kinect can be used in lieu of the controller to throw off a clinging zombie. No need to hit B — just make a motion like you're tossing him off and watch him fly.
A more sinister feature is that the Kinect will allow zombies to hear noises from the real world. Trying to sneak around a zombie horde, and your phone starts to ring? Cover blown.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.