In the summer of 2002, Namco released Dead to Rights, a game that would be exclusive to the Xbox until about a year later, when it was also released to both the PS2 and GameCube. It was often compared to Max Payne because both were third-person shooters with a time-slowing dive mechanic. There were a few things Dead to Rights did differently, though, including the ability to disarm your opponent and using your dog Shadow to attack enemies and get to areas and switches you couldn't reach. The first game was good, sold well and spawned a few sequels on the home and handheld consoles. Unfortunately, those sequels declined in quality and the series faded into relative obscurity. With the current generation of consoles already firmly established in the marketplace, Namco Bandai felt it was time to bring back the franchise with a new developer and a complete reboot of the series instead of a proper sequel. Dead to Rights: Retribution retains some of the aspects that made the first game good while adding a level of brutality that surprises who thought the series was dead and buried.
The plot for Dead to Rights: Retribution is a little more complicated than the previous series entries. Grant City was once a bustling metropolis, but like every major city, crime became an issue. With the criminal gangs running rampant and the police either beleaguered or bought out, hope runs thin. Enter Jack Slate, one of the last honest cops left on the force. After a hostage situation produces some leads on the masterminds behind it, Jack, his father, and their faithful dog Shadow go in to investigate. Once Jack's father is murdered in cold blood, the investigation becomes personal as he goes on a mission of justice and vengeance.
There are two different characters you can play as, and while you cannot choose who you get to be, their play styles are certainly different. When you're playing as Jack, you take on a more aggressive style, and you'll be attacking more than defending. Gunplay is still a part of the game, and you'll be given a wide range of guns, including machine guns, pistols, rocket launchers, shotguns and sniper rifles. There is more than one sub-type of each gun type, and a handy guide informs you of the strengths of each gun as you pick them up. For example, one machine gun may have better stopping power, but another has better range and higher ammo capacity.
You'll find some guns just lying on the ground, but you'll have to obtain most guns through disarming methods. The disarm method is no longer a complicated affair, but the trade-off is an expansion to hand-to-hand combat, making the game feel like a more sophisticated brawler. You can punch into combos, grab enemies for close-up attacks, throw them off ledges or into other people, or take them hostage if you still have a firearm at your disposal. On the defensive side, you can sidestep attacks, block them or, with a well-timed block, quickly unleash a counter-attack combo. Once the enemy has been pummeled enough, you can also initiate finishing maneuvers that range from the brutal to the absurd. If you don't have a gun with you, you can give out devastating backhands, punch combos ending with a kick to the face, snapping neckbreakers, or neck twists ending with an impossibly high throw. If you happen to have a gun, variations would include throwing the enemy in the air before blasting off a few shots or a combination of stomps and gunshots while the felon is on the ground.
The idea of giving Jack equal proficiency with both hand-to-hand combat and firearms is fine, but there are some interesting decisions the development team made. For starters, you never seem to have much ammo in any of the firearms you pick up. Since Jack never carries any firearms of his own, he has to keep acquiring them from his opponents. It seems that every gun he picks up doesn't have a full clip of ammo, and unless you happen to run into a room full of enemies with the same gun type, you'll never have enough ammo to dispatch more than a few enemies.
In theory, you could try to sneak up to an enemy to disarm him, but since his natural reaction is to keep some distance away from you, your only tactic that works most of the time will be to rush the enemy and hope you have enough energy to absorb some shots before you can complete the disarm technique. The enemy AI is also smart enough to avoid standing still while you rush at them, so if you're hoping for a tackle to take down an enemy, forget about it. You also don't get to use the environment in combat or for finishing moves. If you see a wooden chair or table, it just gets in the way since no one can use it to damage the opponent. When using your finishing moves, getting close to a wall won't modify your move to use that to your advantage. As brutal as the moves are, a few environmental finishers would have been nice.
On the other end of the play style spectrum is Shadow, Jack's faithful dog. In previous games, players could use Shadow to attack opponents or retrieve weaponry, and during the majority of the Jack stages, those functions remained intact. This time around, the sections where you get to play as Shadow let you do more than manually retrieve items or cross narrow paths. Unlike Jack's more straightforward approach, Shadow is meant to be played with stealth in mind since he can't absorb as many shots as Jack. He can perform a sneaking walk, which will not only enable him to walk quietly but also see footprints and enemies beyond walls. His own sense will help him determine the alert states of enemies, and his variable barking volume will enable him to lure away enemies. He also has the ability to drag away dead bodies so as not to arouse suspicion.
This doesn't mean he can't fight, though, as his attacks are much stronger than Jack's; his sprinting speed enables him to catch up to enemies more quickly and even tackle them. His attacks use one-hit kills whether or not the enemy is alerted, and those hits are more vicious than Jack's finishing moves since Shadow often goes for the throat, stomach or nether region. A few of his attacks that require button-mashing still look inhumane since they disarm the enemy before going in for the killing blow.
While the Shadow portions of the game may not have any major issues, that doesn't mean that Dead to Rights: Retribution is flawless. Cover, for example, is something that the game does but doesn't do too well. You can still take cover and jump out of it, even taking out an enemy if you can vault over the object, but you can't exactly move from one cover point to another easily. Your partner AI, such as your dad in one mission or rescued hostages in the first level, is smart enough to fight back and pick up weapons to use in those fights. With so many games featuring AI that doesn't know what to do in a given situation, this is refreshing.
On the other hand, Shadow doesn't seem to exhibit all of these AI traits. He works fine during combat, subduing an enemy or keeping him busy so you can get in a few good shots. He'll also retrieve weaponry for you if it's close and obey your orders once you give them. However, if you take cover, he will sometimes go out on his own and try to subdue someone even if he isn't that close. This can be problematic if both of you aren't at full health; additionally, the environments can also pose some problems. Finally, the game is 10 chapters in length. The average length of time needed to complete the game (not counting Achievements or Trophies) is in the high single digits, which is the norm nowadays, but the default difficulty level and the overall length of each level make this feel like a longer game. It isn't a flaw, per se, but it is something to keep in mind.
The controls are done well. The layout is about the same as any other third-person action game, so it will feel immediately familiar to most gamers. Hand-to-hand combat feels fluid, though it will take some time to get used to the fact that Y and B are attack buttons while X is block. A is context-sensitive, so it takes care of initiating finishing moves and disarms as well as interaction with the environment, including switch activation and using ladders. Shooting is also easy to perform, though the stick sensitivity feels loose by default. Unless you change your settings, don't be surprised to see yourself hitting the Focus button and/or using the zoomed aim to correctly line up your shots. The looseness of the sticks also factors in anytime you charge at the enemy. It's no problem for Shadow, and the stick sensitivity suits his levels just fine, but Jack will never be able to rush in and get the first punch on an enemy. Most of the time, you'll charge forward, miss and have to turn around to find the enemy again before you can attack. It is annoying but can be adjusted through the options so it's not exactly a dealbreaker.
For the most part, the graphics are excellent. The character models are large and well detailed. Shadow is obscenely large, almost the size of a Great Dane, but his fur shading looks great. Jack and the other enemies look unique enough, and the textures for their clothes are so clean that you can read the logos. As long as everyone moves slowly or stands still, the animations present no problems. Slow walks are fluid, shooting stances don't look out of place, and Shadow often exhibits tame dog traits like rolling on his back if you choose not to move. Once any running or fighting occurs, though, the animations vary wildly. Jack's running animation makes him look like his shoulders are too broad, so his arms swing but are placed a bit further away from his body than normal. Climbing down ladders looks fine, but climbing up makes it look like he's leaping for the ladder at every grab. Hand-to-hand combat is quick, but the animations seem exaggerated, and they're amplified even more during finishing moves. Jack's finishing moves often have him throwing punches further, kicking higher, or throwing enemies higher than normal while Shadow's victims have their rag-doll effect activated almost immediately, making their body drags unintentionally hilarious.
The environments also sport lots of detail and look great, thanks to a lack of blurry or stretched-out textures. The rainy atmosphere looks great, as do the neon lights of the railway station and Chinatown. The problem is that, like most games that have been brought out during this generation, the lighting makes environments look dark. Since this is a city in decline, only a few of the interior environments look like they haven't been through wars. The explosions, blood splatter and other particle effects look nice so they don't clash with the environments, and an abundance of any of these things doesn't slow down the system. The camera will be compliant most of the time, despite being a little shaky when you're running, but there are times when it will get tripped up by the environment. Get close to an object like a wall or box while doing a finishing move, for example, and you'll see more of the wall or sky than the victim. There could have been more work done to iron out those quirks, but the graphical package is still a solid one.
The overall sound of Dead to Rights: Retribution is much better than what anyone would have expected if they had played any of the franchise's previous entries. The sound effects rank up there with some of the heavy-hitting shooters on any system. The punches and kicks are hard-hitting, and the explosions provide plenty of bass while Shadow's growls sound menacing. The music is an interesting mix of new film noir style taking over almost the entire score, with some heavy action pieces sprinkled in the middle. The audio certainly lends itself well to the gritty nature of the story and rarely feels like it's clashing at all.
For the most part, the voice actors do their jobs well. The cast is littered with some familiar voice actors, and their delivery is handled well. This especially holds true for the actor playing Jack Slate. The father's death scene alone proves he has some acting chops as it comes off as one of the more believable mourning performances in a game to date. Not all of it is perfect, though, as he tends to give off testosterone-filled screams anytime the enemy is killed with something other than a finishing move. The period right after his father dies is a believable time for this. The gameplay scenes in the beginning and middle sections aren't so believable and make Jack seem like an extremely angry cop rather than one who's simply seeking justice in a chaotic situation. Toning him down a bit would have gone a long way in making him a more believable and sympathetic character.
For those who happened to pre-order Dead to Rights: Retribution, there were two separate downloadable packages available, depending on where you pre-ordered. The Jack Pack gives Slate extra protection with some GAC armor, which can be helpful if you find the game to be a bit difficult in places or if you're tired of seeing the Alpine Stars logo on his jacket. The pack also gives you explosive ammunition, and while it disables the Achievements and Trophies, it only amplifies the game's over-the-top nature without slowing down one bit. The Shadow Pack gives Shadow some stealth camouflage as well as a filter that turns the game into a big black-and-white film noir. The graphic filter looks great, though there was barely any red coloring for the blood despite the pack stating that it would happen. All in all, while the extra DLC is nice and hopefully becomes available for the general public later on, you're not really missing out on anything essential.
At the end of the day, Dead to Rights: Retribution is a fun title with some issues. The graphics are great but have some animation problems. The sound is just as good but also has some quirks. The combat system is brutal, some design decisions will be questionable to some gamers, and the story is riveting but a bit short despite the game's difficulty level. Overall, this is a good return to form for the series, and fans will love this game. Action game fans who are a bit more cautious with their purchases should certainly rent this, as the lack of multiplayer may not immediately peg it as a purchase, but don't be surprised if the Shadow levels and the sheer brutality make you want to purchase the game.
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