Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: Q4 2009
I wasn't expecting the Dead to Rights franchise to ever reappear. The original game was all right in a weird sort of "everything and the kitchen sink" way, where you tripped over a mini-game every time you turned around. I liked DtR2 more than most people did, but really, it played like a mean-spirited, uninspired parody of itself. The PSP game, Reckoning, came out with little fanfare and quickly disappeared.
After nearly four years, though, Dead to Rights: Retribution marks the series' return. Volatile Games is hitting the reboot switch on Jack Slate and Grant City, and starting the franchise over again. Grant City is a crime-ridden slum seething with scumbags in need of a bullet, and Jack Slate is the hard-bitten cop on the edge who's out to arrest them all. In this instance, "arrest" is an odd synonym for "shoot."
Dead to Rights has, in the past, blended a combination of shooting and martial arts, and like a lot of games that have tried to include more than one kind of action gameplay, it didn't do either particularly well.
Volatile's goal with Retribution is to make the transition between Jack's various styles of combat smooth and intuitive, so one moment, you're punching it out with a couple of armed goons, and the next, you're huddled behind cover blowing people's heads off. When Jack is armed, you can take human shields or blind-fire around corners, and Retribution resembles a number of recent action games. When Jack isn't armed, things get a little freaky.
Retribution features one of the major selling points of past Dead to Rights games: the disarms. If Jack can get close enough to an armed opponent, he can take his gun and basically feed it to him. One of the disarm moves involves shoving a shotgun into a downed opponent's mouth; obviously, rebooting Jack's history doesn't remove his penchant for police brutality.
As in the past games, Jack is accompanied by his K-9 dog, Shadow. Shadow's role in the larger game has yet to be revealed, but you can still get him to devour a criminal's entire trachea, so the important things are present and accounted for. One late stage features Shadow as a playable character, defending a wounded Jack from a kill team sent to finish him off. Since Shadow's a dog, the stage plays out in dull monochrome, with enemies lit up from afar to represent Shadow's keen sense of smell. When you get up to an enemy, Shadow knocks him down, and then jumps on top and bites until the individual stops moving.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is shockingly violent, even by the standards of the past games in its series, and even by current-generation standards. With something like Gears of War, chainsawing somebody in half doesn't quite have the visceral impact, no pun intended, because it's blatantly ridiculous. The ability to feed somebody his own shotgun barrel, though, is something that has an odd air of reality to it. Combined with Retribution's film noir sensibility, it gives the game an odd edge.
Retribution is set to come out late this year. It doesn't have the greatest history behind it, but Volatile has set out to deliberately try to break the curse of a varied combat system. If the final product matches up with their claims, this may be one of the few action games to ever successfully change between styles of gameplay on the fly.
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