Genre: First-person shooter (FPS)
Rating: M (Mature)
Publisher: bam! entertainment
Release Date: 02/24/2005
“Respect the badge! He earned it with his blood! Fear the gun! Your sentence may be death, because ‘I AM THE LAW!'” –Anthrax
After well over a year’s worth of delays, the UK’s popular comic book lawman Judge Dredd finally comes to the US in video game form. Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death is a multiplatform first-person shooter featuring many characters and themes from the Dredd universe…but is it worthy of parole, or should it be locked up in the iso-cubes for life?
First of all, forget the Judge Dredd movie. There’s no Sylvester Stallone or Rob Schneider to be found here; this is the grim ‘n’ gritty 22nd century world you’ll find in the original 2000 AD comic books. Our hero, Joseph Dredd, is a street Judge working in Mega-City One, a giant metropolis covering the entire eastern coast of what used to be the United States. He usually spends his time busting perps and enforcing the Law, but today, he’s got bigger problems. What begins as a series of vampire outbreaks quickly spirals out of control, as the four Dark Judges (Death, Fire, Fear, and Mortis) have broken out of their prisons and gone on a killing spree. To the Dark Judges, all life is a crime, so everyone is guilty and targeted for extermination! As expected, Dredd’s got his hands full.
Dredd vs. Death was developed by Rebellion, who also own the entire 2000 AD line of publications. As such, the story and characters seem to have jumped right off the page. Even games featuring Marvel and DC superheroes can’t claim the amount of synchronicity with the source material that Dredd vs. Death can.
The character models in Dredd vs. Death aren’t bad, but I’ve certainly seen better. Dredd vs. Death‘s graphics just seem “dated.” Today’s consoles are capable of much sharper and clearer images.
Fight crime, arrest creeps, and shoot vampires in the crotch.
Still, it’s not like the graphics are an eyesore. Draw distance looks nice, and while there’s some occasional slowdown and popup, everything runs smoothly. The cutscenes look good, too, and the overall art design is what you’d expect to see in a post-apocalyptic future. The only downside is one common to many FPS titles; from a distance, it’s hard to tell if that guy with the gun is an ally or enemy!
Dredd vs. Death gets many bonus points in the sound department for one simple reason: Toby Longworth. See, a bunch of Judge Dredd audio drama CDs were produced by Big Finish Productions, and Longworth was tapped as the voice of Dredd himself. You listen to this guy once, and you’ll immediately notice that he’s absolutely perfect for the role. He really is Judge Dredd! As such, Rebellion brought him in to record Dredd’s lines for Dredd vs. Death. Longworth really embodies Ol’ Stony-Face’s grim determination and attitude, and some of Dredd’s lines are straight out of the comics (like his ever-popular “I am the Law!”). Also joining Longworth is Nicholas Briggs as the voice of Judge Death; Briggs has also appeared in Dredd audio dramas. Top notch voice talent can really make a difference in a game, and Rebellion’s proven that they know what’s best for their characters in this case.
Music seems relegated to the background, but that’s a good thing. The last thing you want while playing an FPS is bone-jarring crap-rock to distract you; this is especially the case in Dredd vs. Death, where you’ve got multiple objectives to focus on. The background music is ambient and muted, and works well that way. More permissive scores are heard during cutscenes.
Dredd’s got plenty to do on his various missions, but since perps aren’t always going to come quietly, he’s packing plenty of heat as well. Dredd’s standard weapon is the Lawgiver, a powerful pistol with six types of ammunition (standard, heatseeker, incendiary, hi-explosive, ricochet, and armor piercing). Though the Lawgiver is the weapon of choice for most situations, you’ve also got access to stumm gas grenades, and you can pick up a secondary weapon off the corpse of a perp. There’s plenty of different secondary weapons (like shotguns, machine guns, and sniper rifles), but you can only hold one at a time. If you run out of ammo (and you will), Dredd’s still got his fists to deal out justice.
Even though it’s an FPS, Dredd vs. Death isn’t always blast-anything-that-moves. Often, your mission objectives will call for you to arrest gang members and other disorderlies. Some criminals will get scared at the sight of the Judge, and will immediately drop to their knees and put their hands on their heads. All you have do then is walk up and push the “arrest” button. But, as expected, most other perps will try to fight their way out of the situation. You can blow them away with reckless abandon, but that doesn’t help if the Judges need them for questioning. In this case, it’s better to wing them with a few standard shots until they give up.
Like any FPS worth its salt, Dredd vs. Death has a few different gameplay modes for variety’s sake. Story Mode is self-explanatory, and includes an optional two-player cooperative mode. Arcade Mode has various objectivs and substories, like block wars and tag. And, of course, there’s multiplayer.
Give your friends a taste of the Law.
Multiplayer battles are appropriately hectic, though some slowdown is evident when each player’s corner of the screen is really heating up. Still, four players blasting each other with Lawgivers and other nasty weapons is great fun. Now if only you could ride around on a Lawmaster motorcycle…
Each time you complete a mission, you’ll unlock extra characters for multiplayer, and/or additional maps and settings. A more difficult story mode is unlockable, too, which is par for the course for most games these days. While most gamers likely won’t go through story mode multiple times, it’s multiplayer mode that’ll keep people playing Dredd vs. Death. Get a bunch of comic book geeks in a room playing the game, and you’ve got a recipe for trash talk the likes of which you haven’t seen outside of a Microsoft convention.
The game starts out with a tutorial, appropriately enough. Before long, though, you’re thrust into a battle against savage vampires. While a bit of hit-and-run tactics (and incendiary rounds!) will make short work of them, newbies may be frustrated by just how fast these basic enemies can kill you, especially if you get stuck in a corner. Judge Dredd may be a tough guy in the comics, but he sure dies quick in this game. There’s medics in each level that’ll refill your lifebar, but they’re sporadically placed, and often manage to get themselves killed before you can even get to them!
Then there’s the ammo problem. While you’re given a relatively generous amount of ammunition to start, don’t waste it. Ammo packs are few and far between, and considering that powerful ammo is absolutely essential in later stages, you can be royally screwed if you run out too soon.
Futuristic FPS games are a dime a dozen. Duke Nukem 3D, Halo, Timesplitters, Metroid Prime…we’ve seen it all before. Dredd vs. Death gets special treatment, though, as the source material has been around since the late 1970s…far longer than any of the above examples. Dredd’s the quintessential future lawman, and all of his successors in the science fiction genre owe him a generous portion of respect.
This runs concurrent with the appeal factor (below). Readers of the 2000 AD comic books will obviously find Dredd vs. Death much more addictive than the average gamer, or even a hardcore gamer that’s unfamiliar with the source material. While the game is good, it’s likely not one that gamers will play for hours upon hours on end.
Dredd vs. Death will obviously make Dredd fans very happy. Casual FPS players will enjoy it as well, and it’s worth a rental at the very least for FPS fanatics. However, the long delay and the nearly nonexistent marketing may shove Dredd vs. Death into obscurity long before many fans even see the box on their local game store’s shelf.
Even though the overall premise of Dredd vs. Death is very serious, there’s still some bits of humor that have managed to show up in the game, just as they do in the comics. The funniest thing I’ve seen has to be some of the crimes that can get you busted in Mega-City One. When you arrest someone, text pops up that gives their name, offense(s) committed, and their sentence. Usually, at least one offense is directly related to what they were doing at the time, like spraypainting graffiti or shooting at civilians. However, you’ll also see other offenses listed, like my personal favorite: “owning a hamster without a license.” I had heard that silly stuff like this was in the game, but once I saw it with my own two eyes, I burst out laughing. And if that’s not enough for you, get a load of the fat people. These are citizens so morbidly obese that they have to cart their guts around on wheels. Disgusting? Yes. Humorous? Absolutely!
Overall Score: 63/100
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ABOVE AVERAGE!)