Review: Dead to Rights: Retribution
Dead to Rights: Retribution actually made me giddy a few times. It's not the best game in the market; there are several issues in presentation and game play, and it's definitely overshadowed by several shooters, but I acknowledged one of Namco's purposes. This game definitely had the spirit of an old school rough-and-tumble cop in the streets game, and that did elicit nostalgia during my experience. The main problem is that Dead to Rights wasn't consistent in reaching that amazing potential. It's a great concept, bringing back the sense of a game like Streets of Rage (one of my all time favorite games) and translating it into our contemporary schema of shooters, but Namco's execution was lacking.
The melee combat was one of Dead to Rights's saving graces. Were it not for this element, this game would be a numbingly thick, way-to-milky milkshake of a shooter. There was a melee combo list! Yes, a lengthy list of button combinations that would execute different iterations of hurt. Unless we're talking about a fighting game, a combo list is unheard of today. Though there's a parallel between melee/shooting in Uncharted, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, it's important to note that melee is not explicitly showcased in that series and combos were rather simplistic. CQC was actually simplified in Uncharted 2. The fact that DtR's melee system is integral to game play makes it standout in today's action-shooter crowd.
In almost all contemporary shooters, melee combat is ergonomically designed to be executed quickly with a single button, usually in the form of a knifing, or the gentle caress of a rifle butt. Even in games showcasing melee combat like Batman: Arkham Asylum, 90 % of the fighting is done with a single button. With Jack Slate, our protagonist, you have both a quick and hard attack button, something that brought me back to those old beat 'em up games.
And of course, you also have the ability to counter. What I liked about the countering, is that it didn't lead to an automatic take down, you got an extra punch or two in, but it wasn't the end for your opponent. There are automatic take downs, but you have to work for them, and like I said, in a world following smart Ikea design, it was nice to have to work a little for my kill moves. This was especially so with disarms. I had to rough up most enemies first before I could disarm them. Disarming is especially satisfying because Jack automatically aims for the head in a quick slow-mo to let you pull of the kill. I also really appreciated that I could get disarmed as well; it's a little detail, but it added to that rough-and-tumble world.
Unfortunately, execution of melee combat is still an issue. Melee in a shooter is tough to pull off and I definitely saw where the two conflict. In order to give you the melee experience, enemies who get close enough to you automatically engage in close quarters combat, even if they're pointing a gun at you. I couldn't suspend my disbelief here. In reality, if I'm shooting a target with a seemingly uncanny ability to absorb bullets, I'm going to keep shooting him until he's down, especially if he's unarmed. In every firefight, I had armed guys who clearly had the advantage over me, drop their weapons and asked me to fist tango. Even worse were the guys who just bolted at me while I was clearly holding a large rifle. And not just the CQC specialist guys, I mean garden variety thugs, even ones with holstered sidearms as well.
The movement for CQC was also lackluster. When you're swinging, you don't so much dash as you seem to glide in the direction of your fists. It looked goofy and I felt I was trying to fight like superman. The unarmed take down kills were really overdone as well. I always “attempt” to execute any combat I see as a professional amateur combat specialist, but I can predict a lot of broken lamps and ill-tempered roommates with these take downs. They were more like a five year old's spastic interpretation of Enter the Dragon than cleanly executed take downs of a Krav Maga master.
Fortunately, someone was a little more creative when designing the armed take downs. One has you shoot out both of an enemies knees before Sparta-kicking him at the end of an assault rifle burst, and another involves an impaling shot to the back of the head with a sniper rifle. But I saw some Caravaggio crafting in the pistol kill. When someone tries to translate hate during an execution, it usually runs the risk of being contrived (as Dead to Rights did sometimes). But nothing drips spite quite like getting a shock trooper in a kimora lock, un-holstering his pistol, knocking him on his face (arm break included), to put one in his medulla. Talk about taking you out back.
On the shooting side of things, it was everyday third-person-cover-based shootouts. Levels are long and enemies are plenty, so the shooting would have gone stale quick without the melee combat. This game does have some of the most satisfying head shot animations and sounds I've ever seen. There's always a slight slow-down when you get one, allowing you to step back and really look at your marksman canvas. Actually in this case, it's almost like I felt the force of the head shots. One thing they could've done to make the game play move a little better was as simple as providing less enemies. It would have allowed me to really think out my combination of CQC and shooting instead of having it devolve into a button mashing frenzy as I tried to fight off six guys at a time while being shot by three others.
The puppy (I call all dogs puppies) in the game is hands down the best dog ever. There were a number of technical issues that came up as I played him though. As Shadow, you can drag corpses to keep your presence concealed, but there's actually no connection between Shadow's jaws and the corpse during the animation. This shows where the game gets sloppy as it looks like you're pulling corpses on an invisible string. Just a little more polishing would have cleaned this up. The same could be said about Shadow's running. I had to run on particular missions to defend Jack, but it was a hassle. The controls became too too lose and jerky, so I missed my targets several times as I ran them down.
But other than that, I think the puppy should get his own spin-off game. Shadow's take down's are absolute eye candy (if you don't mind a little blood on your candy). Sometimes he knocks people over from behind and goes for the jugular, at other times he spins the person around by the hand and then kills them. My favorite though is when he goes for the crotch; I winced more than once because the movements are realistic. It really is the fastest and most efficient vasectomy I've ever seen, well, if you ignore the dying part. There's that gurgling growl and blood drenched breathing over the muffled squeals of highly trained mercenaries. There's also a lot of that carrion ravaging head shaking when Shadow takes down his target. Think Discovery Channel in Tijuana.
Shadow also acts like a real hunting dog. When you're surrounded and the screen starts going gray, you can sic Shadow on enemies to give you a little breathing space, or even a tag team opportunity. His movements also exhibited nice detailing. You're not attached at the waist; he wanders off and returns, scoping out enemies ahead and alerting you. After a fight, he even automatically fetches guns, grenades, and ammo for you. One funny detail is that he pees on downed enemies, and once I caught him rolling around in a coke den we had just cleared (No! No rolling in narcotics!).
Again, this game's main issue was one of reaching potential. There were really exciting moments where I felt twelve again. In the last fourth of the game, you find out Julian Temple, a media titan in Grant City, is one of the people behind the recent rise in crime. You storm his skyscraper, and return the favor, compliments of the city, by arresting him. Getting out isn't exactly easy but that's okay because you use the body armored billionaire as a quote “ammo and mobile cover mule” (wouldn't you love to do that with Donald Trump). I actually got to run and gun with a billion dollar shield!
My favorite moment though involved a mech suit with a Gatling gun and rocket launcher, and yes, infi-ammo! How many times have you been in an enemy base and end up getting bogged down in nameless henchmen. Don't you wish you could just steam roll them at this usually late part of the game? Well, here was my chance. With the slow pace at which game play was moving, I didn't think I'd get to use the suit when I saw it in the base's lab. But when that cut scene came in of Jack looking at the thing, I swear it's the same reaction I would've had: “Can I keep it mom, please? I won't use it in the house!”
That's what Namco needed to do more of, because other than these few moments, the rest of the game is kind of forgettable. Honestly, I can't really recall the minutiae of the story because it was so run of the mill. In general it's about the few good cops in a city of bad cops. Jack loses his father who dies in a light, sighing rain on the job. But wait there's more! The captain of the city's SWAT team, the reliable one Jack looks up to, was behind the plot against the city! And yes, he did it for the greater good. By the way, he's also the one who killed Jack's father. It's a pretty weak story, and it doesn't exactly help that the game has no other mode. So though the game's entertaining enough it's still quite lacking. I definitely saw great intention and some good effort on Namco's part with Dead to Rights, but in the end, this still feels like a rough draft that has plenty of room to grow.
This review was based off a retail copy of the game.