Namco's own brand of “cop-and-dog” action returns in ‘Dead to Rights: Retribution.’ Off the collar, making a return from its prequel fiasco follow up in 2005, ‘Jack Slate’ and his trusty K-9, ‘Shadow’ are back in Grant City serving up their own brand of justice, one ripped groin at a time.
'Dead to Rights: Retribution' is the third installment in the series that began back in 2002. The original 'Dead to Rights,' the introductory offering of 'Jack Slate,' the Grant City cop wasn't the most excelling game of the year, but it had its own unique stamp that made you think hey, “this could be the start of something cool.” Well, that something cool tried to come around in 2005 with its prequel follow-up ‘Dead to Rights II.’ The prequel’s adventure into the crime syndicate in Grant City was easily a let down, which led me to think my original statement was a little overzealous. Returning in 2010 on the latest brand of hardware, Namco is having another stab at the ‘DTR’ franchise, and this time with a lot more bite.
Turner and Hooch Xtreme?
‘Dead to Rights: Retribution’ (DTRR) opens with Jack being dumped off a boat to be verbally assaulted by two clown school rejects. After taunting our lead, chiseled faced hero, Slate’s dog Shadow appears out of the darkness to rips apart one of the face-painted assailants. With one clown down and the other on the run, ‘Retribution,' surprisingly, hands the controls over to you... as the dog! Quickly taking control of ‘Shadow’ you get to hunt down the remaining thug with the perseverance and ferociousness of a trained canine. From this moment it is clear, DTRR is not going to be your run of the mill action game, this one is pure 80s action... a new ‘Die-Hard,’ ‘Turner and Hooch’ with an edge.
We Know our Dogs
‘Volatile Games,' In their first time out with the 'Dead to Rights' series, you can tell they have all the ambition in the world to deliver a rock solid experience, on par, or better than the original. Volatile is no stranger to daunting tasks as they had the role of adopting the film ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ into game form. Volatile tackled this project like DTR with drive and innovation, but unfortunately the end product felt unpolished and dated. Reservoir Dogs wasn’t much to write home about, and in an unpopular choice, either is ‘Retribution.’ I’m not calling DTRR a bad game, it has its moments. However, it is not going to win any game of the year awards, especially given the competition this May.
Shadow in the Shadows
Retracting judgment, let's look a little deeper, and continue with our focus of ‘Shadow,’ who is undoubtedly the star of the show in ‘Retribution.’ More than a sidekick, ‘Shadow’ gives the action buffs something different to sink their teeth into. Controlling ‘Shadow’ might be a little loose, but that goes for the whole game. 'Shadow' is basically a stealth type character in his solo missions, one with some brutal takedowns, and a controllable NPC during some of Jacks missions. Playing 'Shadow' is a lot of fun and the brutality of the takedowns is pretty wild. Pawing through an enemies chest, ripping out their throats, and painful to watch groin takedowns are only a few of the common actions from our four-legged friend. Fans of violent acts in games will get a kick out of this soft killing machine. This is not your typical "doggy in a window."
Aside from mauling enemies, 'Shadow' has a few hide-and-seek/stealth missions where you have to sneak around the villains, dispatching them one at a time. Helping 'Shadow' is his canine sense that enables him to observe enemy vital signs through walls (think Wonderdog X-Ray vision.) Using this skill to his advantage, you can get the drop on the enemies easily. Along with the this cool trick, 'Shadow' can also drag dead bodies, and hide them to stay undercover (Shadow now has one up on the new Sam Fisher.) Lastly, Shadow also has a bark command that he can use to lure enemies into a trap. This sets up the classic scenario of "what was that sound" ambushing. The stealth sections with 'Shadow' are oddly rewarding, and a great change of pace from the beat em' up flavour DTRR relies on.
Detective Jack Slate
The other side of DTRR follow detective ‘Jack Slate’ who is more the standard 3rd person action star. Jack missions alone, or with friends (including Shadow) are either beat em’ up missions or run-and-gun affairs. The mission structure is very traditional and asinine as it follows a predictable pattern of “dog - beat em’ up - shoot em’ up.” However, nonsensical predictable shootouts or not, it is still fun to give into DTRR’s iniquitous offerings of action. When fighting 'Jack' can transition flawlessly between guns and fists, with the A.I. trained to come at you depending on your stance. Start shooting and they shoot, put up your dukes, and they come to meet you with their firsts up. As you can tell the artificial intelligence isn’t perfect. It’s a world of drones, baby, keep those headshots coming.
The gunplay in DTRR is nothing special, aside from a nice selection of repainted weapons. Luckily, the hand-to-hand combat doesn't feel as dull, and is ultimately more rewarding. With fisticuffs raised, you need to use a bit of strategy between blocking, dogging, and attacking your opponents. Jack has a few combo moves, but nothing overly complex. Lastly, Jack also has some spectacular takedowns, like ‘Shadow,’ Jack can activate a one-shot-kill that takes the enemy out in a savage manner... minus the groin bite. :/
Dead to Rights: Fists of Vengeance
‘Retribution’ defiantly pulls some influence from classic beat em’ up games like 'Final Fight' etc... However, an odd little game that kept popping in my mind was the lesser known brawler from 2005 called ‘Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance.’ Similar to ‘Beat Down,’ DTRR tries to build a dark atmosphere of low-life crime and cool ultra-violence and ultimately fails because of limitation in the game engine-- and game mechanics. ‘Dead to Rights’ comes closer to pulling it off, however, the variation is limited, making the action repetitious. DTRR comes from the old school of game making with loose controls, pause-and-start game sections, and end of chapter statistics. Considering it has been a long time since I have played an action game that felt so last generation, I didn't mind the old flavour in ‘Retribution,’ but I am probably on the minority on this one. The majority of gamers would probably call this approach "lame" or "cheesey."
Turning the Gears
Even with its flaws, DTRR has some neat innovations within its combat. Like the ability to take a hostage on the fly, or disarm enemies in a single click. It is fun to tie up your enemy and steal their weapon to use against them. On top of the button mashing fun is a 'Gears of War' styled cover system complete with ripped off icons appearing when a movement is available. Yes, DTRR has something in common with 'Gears' and unbelievably, 'Gears' could use a few of DTRR moves in its game. I especially like the "jump over cover- kick to the head move", its pretty badass... maybe in Gears 3? Of course, Jack doesn’t look as suave pulling off these moves because of the poor animations and graphics quality, but it is somewhat cool to see him hustle over obstacles to deliver an untamed roundhouse to the head. This type of ferociousness is needed to take on the Locust clan. Hmm, maybe action star ‘Jack Slate’ should make a guest appearance in 'Gears 3.'
The story behind all this murderous debauchery is a silly, but good enough for an action game tale of crime in the big city. Greed and corruption serve as the culprit in ‘Retribution,’ as a new force looks to impose his influence over the darker side of life. DTRR is totally movie of the week grade cheese that returns to my original reference of 80's actions flicks. Take your pick, they are all here. In attempt to deepen the experience, 'Jack Slate' will have fall victim to some unnecessary acts of violence that make his exertion of evil much more personal. You cannot blame the developers for trying, but really, who is playing ‘Dead to Rights’ for its academy award performances anyway.
Re-Skinning the Basics
The rest of the game plays out much as you would expect. Beyond the adrenaline rush of being outnumbered in battle, ‘Dead to Rights’ takes it easy without too many departures past the basics. Expect to use an assortment of different, yet similar weapons, fight a number of re-skinned enemies, and muddle through a plot without much care. ‘Dead to Rights’ will never draw you in like other crime based action games, but it gives it a go. After viewing the multiple concept shots and behind the scenes clips, it is clear that the art team had the vision and by a quick comparison, it is the boys doing the hands on work that didn’t come through. Along side the concept galleries and behind the scene clips, you can also unlock radio reports and the cut scenes as you progress through the levels. Although, I am not sure why you would watch the anemic cut-scenes again. The voice acting is lacking in certain spots (looking at you News Presenter- Marla Bales,) and the basic animation is weak in comparison to the current crop of action releases.
'Dead to Rights: Retribution' showed a lot of promise with some innovative side-steps, but fails when it comes down to line. Compared to the current action releases like ‘Splinter Cell: Conviction,’ ‘God of War III,’ and ‘Just Cause 2,’ it is hard to recommend 'Retribution' as a main event attraction. As a weekend rental, you will likely be satisfied with its ephemeral button mashing brutality.
Gameplay:6.0, Graphics:6.0, Sound:6.0, Innovation:6.5, Mojo:6.5 Final: 6.2 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 05.17.10