No entry in the series until Dead Rising 3, the upcoming Xbox One launch game, has created a big enough sandbox for vehicles to be a crucial component of the experience. There have been cars before, but their use was limited by confined spaces and the lack of a real street system.
At an Xbox One showcase event in San Francisco last week, I was able to sample two of Dead Rising 3's planned seven chapters from its single-player campaign – which sets players loose in a massive city called Los Perdidos as mechanic-turned-hero, Nick Ramos. Los Perdidos is big, so you finally have the chance to put your driving skills to work instead of being forced to hoof it all over town.
There's just one problem: the frame rate.
I should stress that, for the most part, I had no problem with Dead Rising 3's visual presentation at all. Explosives are loud and bright, a suffocating number of zombies appear on-screen at once and Los Perdidos streams a massive amount of content without ever subjecting players to a loading screen. Capcom Vancouver has achieved quite the triumph.
But as soon as I had to travel somewhere far to trigger the next cutscene or event, I discovered any kind of speedy vehicle kills the frame rate.
A ninja bike ripping down a long street caused noticeable stutter, as did an expensive sports car I found in an alley. The slower steam roller, on the other hand, not only was a smooth Sunday drive through zombie-infested streets, but also had the added benefit of squishing the undead into jelly. Faster vehicles pretty clearly seem to be the culprit; it's a worrisome pattern, given the little amount of time before the game's release on November 22.
The herky-jerky visuals might've been easier to brush off if the driving was more fun, but many of the stock vehicles in the game feel like boring, rigid blocks of steel. They don't turn well, they don't brake well and they don't feel like you have enough control over them.
At least the custom vehicles, which have a similar crafting system as the game's over-the-top weapons, had a bit more variety to make up for the poor handling. The Roller Hawg, which is made possible through combining a motorcycle and steam roller, not only flattens zombies but has flamethrowers on the front of it because Dead Rising. The ForkWork, a combination of forklift and fireworks van, presents another interesting combination that provides a handy service: It fires explosives and doesn't go so fast the game starts to suffer.
One of the chief appeals of any sandbox is playing with all its toys, and being forced to avoid certain toys because they make the visuals churn brings down the overall fun factor. I could soldier on through the dips in frame rate but if it frustrated me during a short demo session, it's certainly going to grate my nerves more over many hours of play. Sticking with slower vehicles or going everywhere on foot is a way around the chug, but I have to wonder if my slower speeds will cause me to fail during time-sensitive missions and tasks.
While I am absolutely worried about that frame rate, I'm not worried Dead Rising 3 will be every bit as comical and ridiculous as its predecessors. Without going into too much detail, I ran into a memorable Psycho; somebody got bitten and of course needed some of the Dead Rising universe's magical prescription drug cure, Zombrex; and protagonist Nick gave an impassioned speech of hope in the face of great adversity while wearing a child's super hero costume.
The game looks like it'll be another campy jaunt, but more importantly a bigger box full oddities, to sift through and clack together like a child discovering objects for the first time. And, when you get down to it, that's exactly what playing Dead Rising 3 feels like.
Dead Rising 3 launches on November 22 for the Xbox One. The game's Season Pass, which has been priced at $30, will cover four independent stories, starring different characters, and is set within Los Perdidos.