When I was asked to review Dead to Rights: Retribution I wasn’t sure what to expect.
It's one of those games that seems to appear almost out of nowhere and take you somewhat by surprise. As it's published by Namco, we weren’t expecting a Game of the Year contender, and perhaps that's why we were positively surprised.
Dead to Rights: Retribution puts you in the shoes of Jack Slate; an angry cop whose drastic actions would probably see him thrown out of any reasonable police force within moments of entering. But when a bunch of rough gangsters start pushing their weight around and killing cops, then a guy like Jack comes in all sorts of handy. Jack isn’t on his own though, he has his trusty hound Shadow. Shadow is also playable in various stages of the game, unfortunately not nearly often enough because he is by far the most original and awesome character on offer.
The plot is your general "double-crossed cop" story. Some elements of the dark plot remind me of Max Payne and other similar stories, so its nothing original. Perhaps it's not quite as tormented as Max Payne, although it certainly shares the same sense of foreboding.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the controls are relatively fluid, and the face buttons control attacks quite simply. Stringing together combos takes down enemies with ease, and the difficulty curve makes it a no-brainer to pick up and play.
String together enough combos and you can activate finishing moves. Unfortunately, they're not particularly varied, and the game generates cut scenes momentarily which really causes the action to be disjointed and confusing at times. These really are a pretty awful gameplay element, and simply don't work at all. That said, some are pretty brutal, and if it weren’t for the fact that they were so damn repetitive they might actually be tolerable. Some of the attacks though really are exceptional, and the combos themselves are fun, but the killing moves really should have been dropped.
On top of this, the gameplay offers another Max Payne remnant; bullet-time. This has been done to death by other similar titles, and again it's nothing new nor inspiring. In fact, the game is easy enough without it, so it doesn’t get nearly as much use as it should. Thanks to a pretty fluid and easy to use aiming system, headshots are easy and effective to pull off, making it a breeze to mow down a range of enemies. Throw in a cover system and you have a pretty decent run of the mill shooter.
The coolest aspect of playing as Jack are the disarm moves you can do. These allow you to tear the gun away from your enemy, and then by timing a one shot kill just right you can take your opponent out instantly. These not only look cool, they are awesome to execute. You can also control Shadow, your trusty canine sidekick, and have him pick up items and weapons for you, or take down enemies.
The best gameplay occurs on the stages where you actually control Shadow. These are mainly stealth levels, where you can catch enemies by surprise after utilising Shadow's senses to see them through walls. These are quite fast paced levels because of Shadows speed and agility, which makes them very fun to play.
Shadow's finishing moves (unlike those of Jack Slate) are actually pretty good - having Shadow grab an enemies throat and fling them to the ground, or dig his way into their rib-cage is surprisingly entertaining. It's just a pity there isn't a higher percentage of the game on offer with which to flesh out this character.
Graphically the game is nice to look at, but unfortunately elements of it seem very blurred. The art direction leans towards dark and brooding, occasionally touching on disorientating, but this style certainly adds to the atmosphere, and does a nice job of getting you into the role. Again though, to emphasize the decidedly average experience that Dead to Rights: Retribution is, the levels that you play through are about as inspired as Halo’s Library. Most levels feel like they repeat themselves over and over, and you will see similar portions of the map again and again, despite the fact that you aren’t covering the same ground. This is pretty much unforgivable in modern gaming.
The level of gore involved though is marvellous, and there are some distinctly graphic scenes.
Despite these flaws, it is a fun game at times. It's more of a jump in, jump out experience, and not at all the kind of game that you’ll play for six hours non-stop. This can be a good thing because all too often games now require real commitment to get in and enjoy, when all you might be after is half an hour of fun before moving on to something else.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is a decent shooter, but it simply has nothing new to offer, and doesn’t do a particularly good job of presenting itself. That being said, it is actually fun to play at times, which is a pretty redeeming factor in anyone's books. The levels where you play as Shadow alone make the game worth picking up.
It just goes to show that innovation and thinking outside the square in gaming goes a long way.