Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Evolved Games
Release Date: March 25, 2004
All things considered, Judge Dredd has had a rough ride when it comes to leaving his comic book roots and transferring onto other mediums. The big screen movie a few years back was so-so at best, as was the SNES game released almost a decade ago. The PSX game didn't even achieve so-so status and left many fans of the comic book to wonder whether or not anyone would take the established material and make a decent game. Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death is the latest title to attempt to bring justice to the Judge Dredd name, but where it differs from its predecessors is that the game is not only better than its so-so brethren but is actually fun.
In Dredd vs. Death you play as none other than Judge Dredd himself, one of the many judges that preside over Mega City One. In the future the powers of judge, jury, and executioner are all granted to the Judges, a sort of mega-cop for those totally in the dark about the Judge Dredd universe. Mega City One is a really big place, filled with nooks and crannies where criminals run amok, towering skyscrapers populated by lazy and indifferent people, and hundreds of unemployed and homeless people just scraping by with what they can. Among other problems, it is up to Judge Dredd to deal with more common crimes such as bank robberies and taggers to more sinister events such as the appearance of strange vampire-like beings and zombies. Even worse, the spirits of the four Dark Judges have been set free to wreak havoc on the populace of Mega City One. These Dark Judges are essentially champions of evil and death who believe that since all crimes are committed by the living, life itself is a crime, which must be punished by death.
Dredd vs. Death is a fairly linear FPS like most, but where it lacks in freedom in that regard it makes up in the freedom found in the gameplay at any given time. Three of Dredd vs. Death's strong points are the smart gun, the ability to arrest lawbreakers, and the law meter. The smart gun is essentially the combination of a multifunction pistol and a computer, which uses the same base ammo in different ways. You can fire the pistol in a three shot burst, a single armor piercing slug, a ricochet round, an incendiary round that lights enemies on fire, a high explosive round, and even a round that homes in on a person's heat signature. Each one of these modes uses the same ammo, and can be switched at any time on the fly using the D-pad. If you want to ricochet a few rounds around a corner before you plug an enemy in the head with a three shot burst, you can easily do so without having to fumble around with various controls or weapons.
Arresting lawbreakers can be easy or difficult, depending on how determined they are and how persuasive you want to be. Common populace can be arrested simply by pressing a button to tell them to get down, and then cuffing them by pressing the action button. Of course, regular citizens won't commit crimes much worse than the possession of a goldfish without a license, so the main lawbreakers you want to arrest are those who are armed and dangerous. When in battle with a perp there are numerous ways to get them to drop their guns and get on their knees, and using a stern voice isn't one of them. Simply shooting the gun out of their hands may force an enemy to give up the ghost while others may need a more extreme form of persuasion, like blowing his nearest comrades head apart with an armor piecing slug. It is this gameplay dynamic that makes fighting regular enemies rather fun, sure you can just kill them outright but it is much more fun to use skill and tact to arrest as many as possible, which awards you unlockable features.
Even as judge, jury, and executioner you still have limits, represented by the law meter. Arrest people and accomplish objectives and you raise your law meter. Use unnecessary force such as blasting people with explosive rounds, punching or shooting cuffed perps, or blowing peoples heads apart, and the law meter goes down. Once all the way at the bottom you yourself are considered a criminal, headquarters sends other judges to take you down, and the mission is considered a failure. Thus, this can almost be played like an awards system, arrest enough perps and hand out enough life sentences and you can have plenty of space on your law meter to punch that smart mouthed hood cuffed in the corner.
Besides the human enemies the player will have to fight off unconventional foes consisting of vampires and zombies. With these non-human foes you can use all the force, incendiary rounds, and headshots you want without fear of a drop in your law meter. The vampires are essentially humans with white eyes, pale skin, and a mouth full of teeth that just love to jump and claw at people using their speed as an advantage, while the zombies are essentially slow yet tough bullet sponges who are only a threat when in close quarters or en masse.
Though the smart gun is multi faceted and can be used in almost any situation, there are a few other weapons that are at the players' disposal for a more specialized approach. A conventional pistol can be used as a last resort when your smart gun's clip is empty, while a shotgun can be your best friend when your foe is in close combat with you. Laser pistols and rifles can be used to accurately attack enemies at range, but the king of all long range combat is an assault rifle that doubles as a high powered sniper rifle. To round out the bunch there is a grenade launcher that can kill many enemies in a fairly wide area. However, with all these guns you can only hold two at a time al la Halo, though the smart gun must always be one of them.
Graphically Dredd vs. Death ranges from so-so to pretty good depending on what particular piece of the graphics engine you are looking at. Character models look like they could use some higher quality texturing, but their animations look very fluid and realistic. Effects such as smoke, fire, and especially blood are all done very well and actually look more 3D and real than in some other titles. The levels themselves steal the show for the most part with not only models that look real and designs that make sense, but also a strong attention to the detail work. If you walk up to a wall and look at it closely instead of seeing just the texture in less detail you see another layer of detail not unlike that seen in games such as Serious Sam. In the cityscape levels you can look around and see a mostly rendered version of Mega City One towering around you, a far cry from the skybox paintings in first person shooters only a few years ago. There is nothing in Dredd vs. Death's graphical toolbox that will make you gasp with its realism or beauty, but at the same time there is nothing that looks like it needed more work or looks out of place.
Dredd vs. Death is much better grounded on its sound capabilities, which are almost all done well. The voice of Judge Dredd himself is heard numerous times in the game, talking to fellow judges, yelling futuristic obscenities such as "Frock!", or even delivering statements reminiscent of Duke Nukem although without quite as much sheer machismo. Other voice-overs aren't done nearly as well, ranging from the slightly annoying to barely listenable, though almost all of the problematic ones are used by civilians who don't really speak up much anyway. Sound effects are a major part of any first person shooters audio ensemble and thankfully Dredd vs. Death is more than equipped. Upon closing your eyes you can recognize any gun from what it sounds like, from the sheer concussion from a high explosive round to the punching sound of a armor piercing slug.
There are a few other things that set Dredd vs. Death apart from other FPS games. Keeping in trend with some of the latest titles Dredd vs. Death has ragdoll physics, though admittedly they aren't as good as the industry norm. Shooting a normal enemy will make them keel over realistically enough, but shoot a lunging vampire and they might fly 50 feet in a different direction. However, such a thing could foresee-ably be fixed before the games release so time will tell if that slight annoyance will make it into the final game. Another one of Dredd vs. Death's more subtle features is its dark humor with such things as its unsettlingly ironic portrayal of fat, lazy people who need wheels under their bellies to move and cheery ads heard in the background about wonderful products followed by the quick blurb "Warning, may cause death".
Overall, Dredd vs. Death is shaping up rather nicely, and barring a few relatively minor annoyances it seems to be fully capable of pleasing not only your standard gamer but also fans familiar with Judge Dredd. As a first person shooter it looks and sounds decent and plays much more fluidly and entertainingly than many other first person shooter titles. If, after the lackluster SNES game and horrible PSX game, you found yourself on your knees begging the heavens to have someone develop a decent Judge Dredd game, Dredd vs. Death is likely to be the answer to your prayers when it finally hits the shelves later this month. Instead of another butchery of yet another license, Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death is actually worthy of a second look regardless if you are the biggest fan of the Judge Dredd comic books or simply want to play through an entertaining game.