Review: Dead to Rights: Retribution (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dead to Rights: Retribution
Genre: Action/Third Person Shooter
Developer: Volatile Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 04/27/10

Dead to Rights is one of those franchises that always seems to be missing something in each of its releases. The core concept of a hard-boiled police officer and his dog taking it to criminal scum is neat, to be certain, but the games never really worked for various reasons. The games never really felt like anything other than unoriginal, derivative products that would only appeal to the most hardcore action game fans, and they never really took advantage of the subject matter, instead presenting something that was trying so hard to be cool that it missed the point entirely. Namco Bandai hasn’t given up on the franchise, either out of stubbornness or love, as they’ve just released the newest chapter, of sorts, Dead to Rights: Retribution. Acting as sort of a remake of the first game, this new release seems to be a way for the franchise to be reintroduced to gamers, without all of the baggage the prior games carried, which is inventive, if nothing else. A shiny new coat of paint on what was a less than stellar game is not, on its own, enough to really salvage the concept, however, and while the game looks at first glance to be a superior product, its developer, Volatile Games, isn’t the sort one would trust at first sight either. All research indicates that this is their second game, and their first, Reservoir Dogs is generally reviled by pretty much everyone, so from the get-go, the game has a lot working against it. Does it manage to overcome the odds? Let’s take a look.

Dead to Rights: Retribution puts you in the role of Jack Slate, a vice cop who embodies all of the traits of action movie cops: gifted, doesn’t play by the rules, is constantly in hot water with the top brass, and generally gets the job done. Jack lives and works in Grant City, a major metropolis that has seen better days, and as the game begins, so has Jack. It seems Jack and his canine partner Shadow have fallen into a major conspiracy involving local gangs conspiring together to bring down the city, and as the story progresses you, as Jack, find yourself digging deeper into said conspiracy to determine how far everything goes, at the cost of his well being, among other things. The story is fine enough in the sense that it keeps the game moving from place to place, and it’s interesting enough in a campy sort of way to keep you playing, but it’s fairly stereotypical in most respects, and anyone who had played the original game will know how certain events will play out before they even happen. The story is also very reminiscent of an eighties action film, which is good because it keeps the pace moving and it makes things exciting, but bad because it’s fairly by the numbers and cheesy. The plot isn’t bad in the strictest sense of the term, but it doesn’t do anything exciting either, and while you most likely won’t be playing the game for the narrative, you won’t take much away from it either, except perhaps the feeling of playing through a Cannon Group film.

Dead to Rights: Retribution is a solid looking game overall, and while there are some notable visual issues here and there, it’s generally fun to watch in motion if you can look past them. The characters look good, both in design and in motion, and the action is visually powerful at all points. The game world is appropriately gritty and dilapidated, the special effects generally look solid all around, and the game uses all sorts of little touches, like slow motion camera shots when you’re taking down enemies, to great effect. On the other hand, there are some clipping issues around thirty percent of the time, and the enemy models repeat often enough to be noticeable as the game progresses, which hurts the game overall as you play through it. Aurally the game is also pretty solid. The game music, though not especially memorable, gets the job done and fits the mood and tone of the game nicely. The voice acting is generally good across the board, and the sound effects are fitting whether you’re letting your fists or your guns do the talking. Nothing especially stands out, aurally, but nothing really lets you down, either, and all in all the presentation works, even if nothing in it is terribly impressive.

Dead to Rights: Retribution attempts to combine third person shooting elements, beat-em-up elements and stealth elements throughout various points of the game, and for the most part, it’s successful enough that the overall product works. Jack will spend most of his time running into large groups of enemies and either blowing them away with whatever ordinance is available at the moment or pounding them into pudding with your fists and feet, depending on what works best at the moment. The shooting sections play similar to something like Gears of War, as Jack can pick up the weaponry and ammo from downed enemies, switch between different weapons at the press of a button, duck behind cover when under fire and shoot down enemies from the hip or while zoomed in, none of which should feel particularly new to anyone who is a fan of the genre. When enemies get up-close and personal, Jack can switch to melee combat to deal out the damage. He has light and heavy strikes available to him to lump up enemies, and can grapple with foes and open up the defenses of blocking enemies with a couple of simple button combinations, allowing him multiple ways to defeat his opponents as needed. The stealth sections of the game switch over to Shadow, Jake’s canine cohort, as he sneaks around the area, ripping enemies apart as he does so, usually with the goal being to clear an area of bad guys or to find some sort of hidden item or another. These sections are somewhat less involved and less frequent than the sections involving Jack, but they’re often no less involved, and help to break up the gameplay well.

The Shadow segments of the game are interesting enough on their own, as there aren’t too many games that allow you to take control of a dog and rip off a man’s dangly bits, but Dead to Rights: Retribution has a few other interesting elements up its sleeve to keep things interesting. The most notable of these are Takedowns, which are essentially powerful finishers that you can use on enemies to immediately take them down in battle. As you lump up on an enemy, after enough damage, you’ll see a context-sensitive button pop up indicating that a Takedown is available, and by pressing the button, the game will slow down as Jack unleashes a full can of whoop-a$$ on his opponent, effectively giving you a breather while taking said enemy out of the fight. As the game begins you’ll only be able to perform melee Takedowns, but as the game progresses you’ll be able to use weaponry as well, which can lead to some creative and amusing Takedowns, especially when rocket launchers are involved. Jack can also build up bullet time, dubbed Focus here, which allows him to view the world in slow-motion, which is good for lining up shots when they count most, as well as for giving you more timing opportunities in melee. Jack can also disarm armed opponents at the press of a button, which then allows him to give them a lead lobotomy as they dimly realize they are sans weapon. Enemies can also disarm Jack, of course, meaning that you’ll have to be on your toes if you want to avoid the business end of your own weapons. Jack can also send Shadow out to help him out in a number of ways, from picking up weapons and ammo to distracting enemies while you move into a better position, but if Shadow takes injury in the process you’ll have to go and revive him, meaning that you can’t just abuse your canine companion, especially in large groups.

The game is purely a single player affair and can be completed in about six to eight hours, though there are multiple difficulty levels to plow through for those who like a challenge. The game also offers a decent amount of unlockable content, including avatar items like shirts and Grant City armor and gamer pics to unlock. There’s enough variety to the game to merit a second playthrough if you like what it does the first time around, and you’ll find there’s content to come back to if you’re a fan of the game. Namco Bandai will also be releasing DLC for the game shortly that will combine the pre-order DLC with some additional game modes on top of what comes on the disc, giving the game even more content to offer if you missed out on the pre-order, as well as added content that will provide more of a reason to return.

That said, Dead to Rights: Retribution, for all of its positives, is a somewhat unpolished product, enough so that it’s hard to recommend unless you’re somewhat of a serious fan of third person shooters or beat-em-ups. While the game controls fine enough, it’s not always easy to interact with the game world. Context sensitive actions can pile up on top of one another, meaning that when you attempt to go for a Takedown you might accidentally disarm another nearby enemy or jump into cover, thus robbing you of your Takedown and completely disorienting you. Further, and this is perhaps the biggest problem with the game overall, even if you can adjust to the fact that there are some mechanical issues, the game simply doesn’t inspire much feeling beyond that of simple apathy. The sections where you play as Shadow are interesting enough on their own merit, but they’re not involved enough to base a whole game around and don’t distract from the feeling of repetition one gets from the missions spent playing as Jack. The gameplay is just interesting enough to make the game playable without aspiring to anything greater, and the concept and execution are generally uninspired on a fundamental level. The game feels like it’s asking you to shoot and beat on people just because instead of because of some greater purpose, and the experience delivers no tension, no excitement, and no real emotional response after about the first hour. Ripping someone’s nuts off with a dog or giving them a reverse Stunner is fun once or twice, but after the tenth time there’s little to keep the game moving, and considering you’ll end up doing the same thing another hundred times before the end of the game, the experience ultimately feels flat and uninspired by the end.

While Dead to Rights: Retribution is competent in most respects and generally does nothing to be offensive or openly bad, and while it’s a notably better game than its predecessors, it’s also not a game anyone who isn’t a big fan of third-person shooters or beat-em-ups needs to play, as it does nothing to impress anyone but fans of those genres, and even then only barely. The story is amusing, if not good, enough to keep the experience moving along and keep you entertained, and the presentation is generally solid, though there are some visual hiccups throughout the game and the audio isn’t especially impressive. The game is fun enough to play, offers enough variety to keep the experience going, and has enough of its own interesting gimmicks, like Takedowns, Shadow and Focus, to give the game its own feel. With multiple difficulty levels to play through, unlockable goods and DLC on the horizon, there’s just enough to the game to keep you coming back if you’re interested, as well. That all said, the gameplay can be sticky at times, and unfortunately, for all the game does, it doesn’t do enough to be interesting beyond the first hour. While the game can be fun in small doses, it doesn’t have much to show you after the first couple of chapters to keep you interested unless you really like what it’s doing, because it doesn’t really do anything beyond the bare minimum to keep you interested. As a rental or a budget title, Dead to Rights: Retribution could be a fun time, and if you love lumping people up with your fists or shooting bad guys in the face it has enough novelty to be worth a look, but casual genre fans or those looking for a more robust experience won’t find anything worth their investment here.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: POOR
Balance: GOOD
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: POOR

FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dead to Rights: Retribution is probably the best game from its series yet, and to its credit, it’s enjoyable enough if you don’t have high expectations, but it does nothing to elevate itself to anything more than “average” as an experience. The story is enjoyable enough, if cheesy, and the visual and aural presentation is solid, though there are some graphical issues throughout the game and the audio isn’t anything memorable. The game controls fine and should be easy enough to pick up, and thanks to the Takedowns, disarms, Focus mode and time spent using and playing as Shadow, the game has just enough of its own feel to be interesting for a bit. There’s an acceptable amount of content to the game all in all, between the multiple difficulty levels and unlockable content, and with the coming DLC, the game promises to offer enough for fans of the genre to feel as though they’ve gotten their money’s worth from the experience. That said, there are some mechanical issues when dealing with context sensitive elements of the controls, and sadly, the game has nothing exciting to show off after about an hour or so, which hurts its long-term play value. That there are some amusing elements to the game doesn’t assuage the fact that most of the game is repetitive and lacks any sort of impact or purpose, and in the end, it won’t really draw you in unless you’re easily amused. Dead to Rights: Retribution isn’t bad, but it isn’t really worth your time unless you’re a huge fan of beat-em-up or third-person shooter games, and you can safely rent it or wait for a price drop without feeling like you’re missing anything worthwhile.

2 Comments
  1. Mark B.

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