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June 24, 2010
Dead to Rights: Retribution - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
20/4/2010Namco BandaiNamco BandaiVolatile Games1None
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Dead To Rights Retribution is out now on PS3.
Dead to Rights: Retribution reminds me a lot of the Mel Gibson film Payback. Lead character, policeman Jack Slate, is an angry man out for retribution and anyone who stands in his way is going to pay – hard! Violence is the order of the day in this third-person action title, which combines beat 'em up, shoot 'em up and, umm, bite 'em up gameplay. Successfully combining these elements into an entertaining game will be no easy feat; has developer Volatile Games pulled it off?

Grant City is dying thanks to out of control gang violence and corruption. The underpaid and overworked police force is helpless to stop the rot, though that doesn't stop Jack Slate from trying. When The Union – a gang of violent anti-capitalist extremists – take over Temple Tower, killing and taking hostage its occupants, Jack takes it upon himself to set things right. As he makes his way through the tower killing Union members with aplomb, something doesn't feel right to Jack; the takeover appears far too sophisticated for the thug members of The Union. Before long Jack's instinct is proven correct - there is corruption afoot, and it goes deep. It's up to Jack and his trusty canine partner Shadow to find out just how deep it really goes.

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Looking down on the enemies.
Dead to Rights is an action game that follows a tried and tested formula – you enter an area, enemies swarm in, you dispatch the enemies before moving onto the next area where the process repeats. Jack Slate is so muscly he makes an in-his-prime Arnie look like an average Joe. That's probably lucky given Jack's penchant for using his fists to obliterate his enemies. In hand-to-hand combat Jack has quick and strong attacks at his disposal which can be combined into brutal combination attacks. If you put a couple of combinations together you will have the chance to push a button and perform a "takedown", a painful-looking animation where Jack eliminates his enemies by breaking their neck or just caving their head in with brute force.

Jack can also grapple his opponents, enabling him to throw knees at them, or take them hostage to use as a human shield. Taking bad guys hostage allows Jack to hurl them at another opponent gaining him a moment of surprise, or if he's feeling especially mean he can throw them over a nearby edge to a grisly death. There is plenty gunplay on offer too, with Jack jumping behind whatever he can for cover, whilst unloading on his enemies. Guns are largely disposable because you can never carry more than one spare clip of ammo for a given gun. Although you will run out of ammo early and often you can always grab another weapon from an enemy. This presents less of a problem than it might appear as enemies will happily swarm in on you, and stealing their weapon is as easy as a well-timed push of a button. Guns have “takedown” animations of their own, and these are often more disturbing than their fisticuff counterparts. Enemies will plead for their life only for Jack to throw them into the air and blast them into the afterlife, or swing them into the ground and shoot them in the face up close and personal. If you like blood and violence you will get your fill here.

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What the?! An invisible dog?
Takedowns and headshots also build up your focus meter which is used to slow down time (i.e. bullet time), as well as add power to your strikes and bullets, and increase your defensive capability. The focus meter will help you out of many a jam given you are almost always outnumbered and outgunned. Luckily Jack isn't alone on his quest -- his canine buddy Shadow tags along to help even the odds somewhat. Shadow is a large wolf-like malamute that combines brute force and speed to make him a savage killing machine that happily targets the crotch and carotid of his enemies.

During normal gameplay you can get Shadow to assist by killing enemies, retrieving a weapon, or protecting you, all with a push of a direction button. On some levels you will take control of Shadow directly, using him to infiltrate into enemy territory in order to obtain a key Jack needs to progress through the level. You have the option to do this stealthily by sneaking in and killing enemies and then dragging their bodies away so they won't be discovered. Or alternatively you can simply run in, abandoning stealth for a more direct approach. This is not advised given Shadow's comparatively low bullet resistance, but it can be fun. If you opt for stealth, Shadow has the ability to detect the heartbeats of his enemies from long distances as well as through walls, enabling you to see where the enemies are and plan your attacks accordingly.

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Your companion, Shadow the dog...
AI varies wildly during the game. There are times when your enemies are as smart as you could wish -- they run around grabbing weapons off their fallen comrades and seek the relative safety of cover rather than simply stand and shoot. There are other times though, when they seem oblivious to your presence even after you take down one of their mates only a meter or two away. Luckily those latter moments are rare, but where the AI really lets you down is with regards to Shadow, who requires instruction to do the most obvious of tasks. You would think that if Jack is being swarmed by enemies Shadow would leap in and assist unasked, but that would be a mistake. You have to tell Shadow to attack, and after he's dispatched one enemy for you, you usually have to tell him to help you again (there were times when he continued to kill unasked, but these were the exception rather than the rule). Although it is not difficult to give Shadow orders, you are often busy trying to fend off multiple enemies, and it's jarring to see Shadow watching rather than helping. Shadow is not particularly adept at taking cover either, which can result in many an unnecessary death. Luckily reviving him is a simple matter but again it feels a bit silly that Shadow can't look after himself. And finally, during the levels where you control Shadow, the enemy AI is woeful. If you are spotted the enemy will chase after you but they're far from thorough, allowing you to hide just around a corner or behind a barrel taking out your enemies one by one as they approach your hiding spot. This diminishes the need for stealth, making Shadow's levels unchallenging and less interesting as a result.

Aside from the AI the game is not without issues. Combining gunplay with brawling sounds great in theory, but it can be frustrating in reality. No sooner have you engaged someone in hand-to-hand combat than you are being shot by someone else. The reverse is also true; soon after engaging enemies in gunplay, someone will have snuck up on you from off-screen to engage in fisticuffs, usually stealing your weapon in the process. Both of these have the effect of slowing down the action dramatically and after a while it becomes a bit of a slog to get through the levels. The game also rewards you doing the same thing to your opponents – if you're being pinned down by multiple gunmen it can be less dangerous to sprint at them, steal their weapon and finish them off at close range than it is to use guns from distance. It reminds me of the line from The Untouchables, where Sean Connery scoffs about someone bringing a knife to a gunfight – Dead to Rights wants you to bring a fist to a gunfight, and the fist usually wins...

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Flame On.. wait.. wrong franchise!
Another issue is that many context-sensitive actions are mapped to the same button. Sprinting, taking cover, stealing an enemy weapon and performing a takedown are all mapped to the same button. Sometimes this works well, but there are times when instead of taking cover Jack will sprint out into the open, absorbing a ton of damage in the process, and other occasions when an attempt to steal an enemy weapon has the same result. Some context-sensitive actions are only possible if the camera is perfectly lined up, so if you approach cover from the side you actually need to pan the camera around to behind the piece of cover before you're able to use it. Needless to say this is frustrating when it happens.

Due to the colours that are used – gray, brown and black for most of the environments – the graphics can look a bit dull. When you first load up the game you are recommended to turn the brightness down in order to make the game more atmospheric. Personally though, I found that things looked a lot better with a bit more colour. There isn't much variety in character models, with enemies looking mostly the same throughout. You do face off against different gangs early on, but each gang has only a couple of character types. Cut-scenes aren't terrible by any means, but the characters aren't crisp, and the faces are waxy. Some of the cut-scenes also appear squashed down from the top, which is odd. None of these issues make the game look horrible, but combined they do mean that it never gets above average. One cool thing is that environments react to being hit by bullets – taking cover behind a barrel is not a long-term strategy as it will be blasted to smithereens in seconds, walls become pocked with bullet-holes and vehicles can be exploded, hopefully with a few enemies nearby. We're not talking destruction on a Red Faction scale, but it's still a nice touch here.

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Dead To Rights Retribution... zzzz...
The music is sparse, but it comes in at full force when you're being swarmed by enemies, thus heightening your tension. There aren't too many pieces of music though, so it can get repetitive as the game wears on. The sound effects are suitably beefy, though explosions could use a bit more feeling. Kicks, punches, Shadow's biting and all the guns sound believable enough. The voice-acting is very much over the top, but that is no doubt intentional to suit the style of the game. I found some of the voices difficult to understand at times, whether because of the way the character spoke or the effects added to them, which made turning on subtitles a must.

Dead to Rights: Retribution is a violent, over the top action game that can't quite deliver on its promise. Combining gunplay with brawling sounds entertaining and at its best it is, but more often than not combining the two bogs down the action. You'll be forced to brawl even when you have a gun due to the enemy rushing up and engaging you in hand to hand combat. The lack of a lock-on targeting mechanism is notable, as it might have alleviated this particular problem. Shadow's inadequate AI is also an issue, forcing you to direct his every move, rather than him behaving like the partner he is supposed to be. Also, the wonky application of context-sensitive actions makes it difficult to control your character precisely. Despite these issues there is a decent game lurking underneath the fiddly mechanics. There's violence, gore and an all action storyline but in the end it's just not good enough to stand out from the crowd.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSThe palette is dull, and there's not a lot of variety in environments or enemies. The environment does react to being shot though which is cool.
SOUNDSound effects are beefy enough and the sparse music adds tension. The voice-acting is way over the top and occasionally muffled. Typical B-grade action stuff here, which isn't a bad thing by any means.
GAMEPLAYTends to get bogged down brawling which can make some levels a grind. The cover-based shooting is decent, there's a pleasing variety of weapons, and some variety in missions. Control issues will cause unnecessary loss of life.
VALUEQuite short at eight to ten hours, but to be honest that's about as long as you'd want to spend playing anyway. Chapter select allows you to replay your favourite levels anytime.
OVERALLLike a B-grade action film, where violence and over the top action and acting are the order of the day. It has its moments but wonky controls drop it back to the middle of the pack.

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