Genre : Action
Release Date: April 12, 2005
To rescue the honorable Judge McGuffin (note humor) from an unknown kidnapper, Jack and his faithful K-9 dog Shadow will venture deep into Grant City’s underworld, nonchalantly killing anyone who gets in their way.
That’s the first thing that struck me as odd about Dead to Rights II: Hell to Pay. Ostensibly, it’s an action game starring a cop, but most of these games make at least a token nod to police activities. The cop hero investigates a location, asks a few questions, and oh shucks, he’s gonna have to shoot some people.
Jack doesn’t care; he just walks in and starts something. He seems to operate on the assumption that anyplace he goes is writhing with scum in need of bullets, which makes me wonder what would happen if he had to investigate criminal activity at a preschool.
Naturally, this is the sequel to Dead to Rights, a game that drew fire back in the day for being too damn many things at once. You’d be minding your own business, obliterating the local criminal element, and suddenly a minigame would kick in. You’d start collecting cigarettes or controlling a pole dance or lifting weights or sneaking past guards in a restaurant or something. This irritated many people.
Dead to Rights II doesn’t do that. It is totally and unapologetically about the fighting, to a faintly ridiculous degree. From the moment the main menu loads, you can jump into the Instant Action minigame, which pits Jack against a large number of goons in a series of preset locations, or you can opt for the main story mode, which is the same thing, except it has save points and cutscenes.
This is not a game that anyone will accuse of vast depth. It revels in action-movie cliches, from Jack’s nearly-constant bad puns (“This ought to heat things up,” he says, grabbing a Molotov cocktail) to the near-invisible story to the waves of idiot cannon-fodder who populate each stage. Sometimes, this is cool.
Often, it’s just embarrassing, like when Jack declares, apropos of nothing, “I’m Jack Slate, bitch!” He is speaking to a broken door and an empty courtyard. I suspect he has issues.
For what it is, Dead to Rights II isn’t bad. I have rarely seen mooks slaughtered with this kind of stylish brutality. However, Namco made a critical mistake; the problem with the first Dead to Rights wasn’t that the idea of the game was bad. It was that many of the minigames were no damned good, or that they threw off the pacing. When you strip those minigames out, you’re left with a repetitive shooter, albeit one with a good combat system.
When Jack’s shooting at people, Dead to Rights II resembles Max Payne without the film noir. You can blaze away with twin pistols or SMGs, assault rifles, shotguns, grenades, rocket launchers, and a .50 Desert Eagle, and avoid retaliatory fire with a slow-motion shootdodge. If you get close to someone, you can grab him for use as a human shield, or instantly dispatch him with one of more than twenty-five admittedly cool disarm moves, which all end with the victim dead and Jack holding his weapon.
In some stages, Jack goes bare-knuckle. With simple punch-kick combos, an occasional brutal throw, and whatever weapons you can get your hands on, you’ll brawl through a series of mooks en route to your next goal. In either style of combat, you can send Shadow after the enemy as a special move, or get him to fetch you discarded ammo.
Dead to Rights II isn’t without its own sense of fun. A good shootdodge is always welcome in an action game, and this one comes complete with flying bullet casings and a power-up effect. You do considerably more damage while you’re in slow-motion, which helps you achieve that cool they-all-fall-down effect. Several of the disarm moves are close to being worth the price of admission all by themselves. The graphics have vastly improved over the last game, but to be fair, that’s not saying much.
You’ll also find a fair amount of challenge here. Dead to Rights II isn’t an easy game, mostly because it likes to throw you up against small armies, all of whom are armed with grenades or Molotovs and all of whom do not fear death. You’re constantly being overrun and forced to stay on the move, using any bit of cover or stray explosive device you can to stay in the game.
It’s an artificial kind of challenge, though, since it’s mostly a question of volume. It’s you vs. five guys with automatic weapons; of course it’s difficult. They might use cover, they may rush you down, and they’ll probably flush you out with grenades if you linger too long in the same place, but there endeth their available tactics. Enemies will always do the same thing every time you go through a stage, and many times, they will not move from their starting position.
Since anything that can explode will in Dead to Rights II, the enemies also have a habit of blowing themselves up given the slightest opportunity. They haven’t quite grasped the fact that unstable explosives are not hard cover, or that they shouldn’t go full-auto while their friend Bob’s in the way. While playing this game, I do not feel like a genuine badass triumphing over unbelievable odds. Instead, I feel like an agent of natural selection, sent to help the enemy along.
Just for bonus points, Dead to Rights II runs out of inspiration early on. All the stages draw from the same inspiration: you begin at one point and must kill your way to the switch that unlocks a door. This will let in more things to kill. Proceed to that unlocked door. Sometimes, there’s a boss, who differs from his brethren by dint of an inexplicably longer health bar. You’re barely halfway into the third stage by the time the game starts hitting you with manic backtracking, refilling old areas with enemies so you can clean them out again.
All of this is set to what is either the same weak drum-machine beat, which sounds like something a depressed stripper would dance to, or a number of different tracks that all sound like the same weak drum-machine beat.
Dead to Rights II looks good, and it’s not without its own charms. If all you want to do is shoot some fictional people, it’ll let you do that, and it’ll make you work for it. However, if you’ve played any of a few dozen better action games that’ve come out in recent memory – either Max Payne, True Crime, The Punisher, BloodRayne 2, etc.—then Dead to Rights II is going to feel very shallow, very soon, and you’ll have a hard time getting to the end.