Release Date: June 28, 2005
Dead to Rights: Reckoning begins in film noir style, with series protagonist Jack Slate receiving an anonymous message stating that a girl has been kidnapped. Jack is instructed to go to the “Pink Starfish” club if he wants to help the girl in question. He knows the message is probably a set-up, but it’s his only lead so he goes there with his dog Shadow to investigate anyway. Chaos ensues, of course. It’s a simple premise, but one that fans of the Dead to the Rights series and other hardboiled action games will easily get into. Fans of this genre have never really had much in the way of portable games that catered to their tastes, but Reckoning is out to change that.
A host of new gameplay options in the Dead to Rights engine will debut with Reckoning, each geared to make the game a faster experience than the previous games in the series. Part of this is a reaction to fan demand on Namco’s part, and part of it is a concerted effort to try and optimize Reckoning for portable, on-the-go gameplay. In Reckoning, Jack Slate is a more agile and mobile character than ever before. Among his new moves are a diving tackle, a dive into a prone position, a diving roll, and a whole host of disarming moves. Camera control has been vastly simplified and streamlined, so that the camera can easily follow Jack and be just where the player needs it to be with a minimum of fuss. The targeting button is primarily used to control the camera, in the situations where manual control is necessary.
As in prior Dead to Rights games, Jack’s faithful dog Shadow accompanies him into battle. To use Shadow, the player has to keep the dog’s energy meter sufficiently high. When Shadow is unleashed, he will immediately perform a sort of diving tackle move on enemies. What’s new to Reckoning, in terms of Shadow’s behavior, is that he can now participate in battles against bosses. Although he cannot land the final blow on a boss character, he can knock bosses down with his tackle move. The developers also hinted that Shadow would be used in non-combat oriented ways later in the game, but weren’t forthcoming on exactly how. The implication is that Shadow could perform some tasks that would help the player progress through the level.
Gameplay strategy in Reckoning focuses heavily on skillful manipulation of the new “prone” position. Inspired by action movies like Hard Target, diving to prone will let the player make Jack into a target that’s much harder to hit without sacrificing their own ability to aim shots. The developers noted that it was a position particularly well-suited to diving into a crowded room and getting some fast kills that would otherwise be very dangerous to attempt. For instance, a player could dive into a room and then shoot a character from behind, using an angle that would otherwise be impossible. The prone position also makes it easier for Jack to successfully take cover behind objects in the environment, although doing this negates the player’s ability to return fire in many cases.
Of course, no FPS is really complete without a robust multiplayer mode, and Reckoning is no exception to this. Reckoning’s multiplayer uses the PSP’s ad-hoc mode to connect up to 4 players for deathmatch play. The maps available for multiplayer are identical to the ones from the single-player campaign, and a map is available in multiplayer once it has been completed in the single-player campaign. Similarly, the weapon and ability selection for the multiplayer mode is identical to the single-player options. The only special options for the multiplayer game are the ability to use a selection of unlockable skins to customize your in-game appearance. This is, as the developers put it, to make sure that a multiplayer game doesn’t always consist of four Jacks running around. Instead, each player should be able to build a unique appearance using a mixture of unlockable models and other accessory options.
Unlockable options in Reckoning are purchased by spending combo points. Combo points are, unsurprisingly, earned by scoring combo kills. There are a lot of stunts that will count as a combo in Reckoning, such as getting a succession of one-shot kills or killing multiple enemies with a single move. One scenario the developer outlined as a possibility is a situation in which a particular building is going to explode, and a group of enemies can be tricked into standing right in front of the building just before this happens. Every enemy in the group who died in the blast would be considered part of a combo kill. Aside from the multiplayer skins, another major unlockable feature for Reckoning that the developers mentioned was the Super-Deformed mode. When pressed about what Super-Deformed mode was, they refused to elaborate, but mentioned that it was intended to homage the cute big-headed characters often seen in anime and some video games. This implies that Super-Deformed mode will let you play Reckoning with cute, big-headed versions of the cast, but we cannot even begin to imagine this actually existing. If it does, then Reckoning may have single-handedly made itself one of the greatest games ever made, at least in terms of pure entertainment value.
When asked about how they felt about working for the PSP, Namco’s developers expressed a real sense of enthusiasm. Rather than just a chance to make fast money on the Dead to Rights franchise name, they viewed the PSP game as a chance to stretch the series into styles of gameplay that were compatible with basic premise of the games but still new and different. In particular, their attempts to speed up and streamline FPS gameplay for the portable audience lent a noticeable arcade-like quality to the game’s action, and they were quite up-front about this being an intentional change. Reckoning will definitely be a unique entry in the Dead to Rights franchise when it hits on June 28th … especially if they had the moxy to include that Super-Deformed mode.