Mild-mannered mechanic Nick Ramos is wearing a giant novelty shark costume. Our co-op partner - a sturdy trucker named Dick - sports a full suit of armour. Together we're gleefully slashing our way through a hotel pool full of swimshort- and bikini-clad zombies with a pair of glowing laser swords that, for legal purposes, are absolutely not lightsabers.
As we climb out the deep end, a trail of eviscerated undead floating behind us, we find a sport bike waiting. "You ready?" asks senior producer Jason Leigh through the headset. Together we mount the motorcycle and speed off a conveniently placed ramp that launches us straight into an astonishing herd of zombies swarming in the street below.
For longtime Dead Rising fans, this should feel like business as usual, but for everyone who watched DR3's dark, gritty unveiling at this year's E3, this probably sounds like a completely different game. Where are the dimly lit rooms with bare bulbs ominously swaying in silence? Where's the terror and dread communicated in Nick's panicked body language? Where are the inexplicable airstrikes? According to Capcom Vancouver, DR3 potentially offers both humour and horror in equal measure. It all just depends on how you want to play.
"We still have humour, but it's really up to you to evoke it," explains executive producer Josh Bridge. "You can play it straight or you can go totally off the rails. We try to leave it up to you to blur those lines. The stuff we force upon you is: these zombies are scary; this game looks scary; there's tension; it's up to you to survive. And then it's up to you to deviate if you want."
We did plenty of deviating during our hands-on time in the form of ridiculous outfits and over-the-top weapons, but that genuine in-your-face intensity was obvious even if it wasn't quite as bleak as the E3 demo. Though populated with outrageous items, the world itself feels remarkably believable, as do its undead inhabitants. "If we went deliberately cartoony, we felt we'd never convince you this game has actual tension. And we wanted tension," says Bridge.
Fear and loading
However, with the Xbox One supporting all the on-screen action, the team didn't have to stop at mere tension. "Being next-gen, the fidelity of the graphics and especially the lighting effects mean we can actually make the game lean more towards serious horror because we can put you into dark environments - flickering lights, running around with a torch. Certainly in some areas it gets downright creepy," teases Leigh. We didn't experience much horror during our own play time, but the signs are all there: weapons still break with extended use, zombies act more aggressively than ever, and Bridge promises some deliberately-paced indoor sections as well as "more scare moments."
But that's not all. "You're going to die," deadpans Bridge. "Your initial thrust through will be purely, 'Holy smokes, I just need to survive and find stuff and stay alive.'" That may sound harsh - especially compared to the demanding yet relatively lighthearted approach of recent Dead Rising games - but according to Bridge, DR3 is actually the belated realisation of a much older vision: "We look at it as getting back to what [the first] DR was starting to do. It actually was intentionally trying to be serious and real-looking. The tech has finally given us the opportunity to go where we wanted to go."
DR3's renewed commitment to survival horror isn't the only change technology has inspired, though. As Leigh explains, the added next-gen horsepower has also "allowed us to make a legitimate, fully streaming open world game." While the team considers the earlier games more "free-roaming sandbox" than true open-world, they have no problem associating DR3 with titans like Skyrim and even GTA. It's a fair comparison. Not only does DR3 feature the series' largest, most densely populated world, it also completely eliminates load screens. Whether you're ducking in and out of stores, driving clear across the map, or gearing up for a boss fight, it all happens seamlessly.