Sunday, 23 May 2010

Game Review: Dead to Rights: Retribution-PS3, Xbox 360

With its dark, compelling tale of love, loss and sacrifice, a tale brought together all the more sharply with its excellently paced and erudite narrative, Heavy Rain showed that video games can appeal to a much wider and mature audience without the need of gimmicky peripherals. Or in the case of Namco’s Dead to Rights: Retribution, gallons of blood and constant, poorly placed profanity.

Taking on the role of maverick cop Jack Slate and his K-9 companion Shadow, you begin the game as the aforementioned Shadow protecting a severely wounded Jack. On completion of this opening segment Jack begins to tell his tale via a series of chapter based flashbacks dealing with the events leading up to his father’s murder and thereafter. Your main objective is the apprehension of a mysterious villain who has been working with local hoods ‘The Union’ and who has also been involved in some shady dealings with the Chinese Mafia as well as key members on the board of police. For all its clich├ęd plot and schlock scripting, Dead to Rights: Retribution does deliver the solid makings of a good old fashion tale of revenge. Out of context it’s stupid, hammy and over the top, but here in this reimaging of the 2002 game of the same name it serves its purpose in carrying Jack through his relentless, violence fuelled mission to avenge his father’s death. Where the game really fails is in execution and design.

On the whole the game sports some fairly decent looking character models and visual effects, but as a complete package it struggles to rise above being anything other than mediocre. All the blood, guts, guns and foul language in the world aren’t going to cover up the many failings of Namco’s latest offering. Camera angles sweep and turn erratically, whether you’re in combat with multiple opponents or moving quickly through one of the linear, albeit impressive looking, decaying environments. The slightest overreach on the analogue stick will see the camera jerk and spin uncontrollably leaving you disorientated and confused. As is easy to imagine this isn’t very helpful when you’re hot on the tail of any one of the games boss characters, or surrounded by a group of henchmen-all of whom are intent on caving in our would be hero’s skull. AI characters become stuck in their routines, downed enemies float and spin on the spot and collision detection is questionable at best. The list goes on.

But fist fights are brutal, and unashamedly so. Punches and kicks hit home with a blood curdling smack sending gouts of claret in every direction. Bones break and tendons pop as Jack rains down blow upon blow onto his enemies like some drunken thug outside a nightclub on a Saturday night. Upon reaching a set quota of melee combos, Jack can unleash one of his many gruesome finishing moves which again are visceral in their execution and often result in one or more important bones being broken or, more amusingly, several swift kicks to the family jewels. When close enough to any gun wielding gangbanger, Jack can also perform a disarm movement. Disarming an opponent involves nothing more than a simple tap of the X button which results in their weapon being torn from their grasp before finishing the job with a bullet straight to the head. Sadly character animation is twitchy and often unresponsive making much of Jack’s repertoire in the heat of battle completely redundant. Even with a counter attack and guard break at your disposal you’ll often find yourself randomly hammering away at the buttons until each one of Jack’s aggressors are permanently put out of action.

Whereas in Manhunt the act of suffocating your pursuers with a plastic bag, or cleaving their head with a blunt hand axe are ultimately far more vicious when it comes to the dispatching of ones foes, it never really relishes in the moment and is arguably justifiable within the context of the narrative. In DTR: Retribution, however, our protagonist takes great pleasure in the disposing of hoodlums and seemingly does so for no other justifiable reason than being a police officer. Even before the murder of his father, Jack has a pageant for dealing out brutal sentences on anyone who unfortunately steps into his path. Snap someone’s neck to the tune of unpleasant gurgling closely followed by a spray of crimson gore and you’ll be rewarded with a string of profanities and any number of ‘tough guy’ one-liners. It’s not that it’s offensive or in bad taste, far from it, it’s just ridiculous to the point of being embarrassing and in no way does it endear you to Detective Jack Slate or his plight. As such, this over use of macho posturing feels very much a step back for adult themed video games where a level of violence plays an integral part in the overall tale. On the one had DTR: Retribution wants to be taken seriously with it’s tale of revenge and righteous indignation and on the other it wants to be the subway scene from Capcom’s Final Fight. Unfortunately it doesn’t sit comfortably in either camp and it isn't long before you no longer care as to what happens to Jack-or anyone else involved for that matter. This is more ‘50 Cent: Blood in the Sand’ than ‘Gears of War’.

Like many current developers, Volatile Games have incorporated a cover system into their 3rd person shooter and for the best part it ticks all the right boxes. Jack can shoot around corners, blind fire over the top of walls etc and zip from one area of cover to the next while avoiding gunfire. Jack also has the ability to leap over said cover to perform a mid-air stomp on any hapless villain hiding behind it. Again though, the use of snapping in and out of cover is poorly executed and you’ll often find our protagonist refusing to snap onto a wall or barrier just when you need it most leaving our trigger happy cop exposed to a relentless barrage of bullets.

The ‘Focus’ ability, (which allows you to slow down time for pinpoint accuracy and bullet dodging), from the original game has made a return, although its presence is less important here and you’ll often find yourself forgetting you have the ability at all. For those times you do remember to use it, it can be a very useful tool in getting Jack out of difficult situations. More often than not though, these problematic scenarios are created by the in-game camera suddenly having a mind of its own during the most inappropriate of moments; usually during a hectic gun battle or fist fight where Jack finds himself drastically outnumbered.

As in the original game you can command Jack’s four legged friend, Shadow, to attack enemies and bring you extra ammo and weaponry thus evening the odds when you’re up against numerous foes. If things get a little hot you can also command Shadow to take cover, but should he be put down by a hail of bullets a quick comforting pat on the back is all that’s required to get him up and running again. Surprisingly it’s during your time controlling Shadow that the game shines that little bit brighter and provides a welcome break from the endless slaughter. Like his master he also has his own gory repertoire of moves in which to takedown the enemy while at the same time proving to have a lot more guile and cunning. Shadow can sneak around on his belly, his heightened senses picking out individual heartbeats allowing him to sneak by the enemy undetected or unleash a fatal stealth attack, after which he can hide the body by dragging it to a secluded corner. Also, like Solid Snake tapping a wall to attract his enemies thus luring them into a trap, Shadow can give a low bark with which to attract guards before leaping upon them from out of the darkness, quickly taking them down with deadly efficiency. Not only do these elements break up the repetitive gameplay of moving from one stronghold to the next they offer far more sense of fulfilment; a shame then that these moments in which you take control of Jack’s K-9 companion are few and far between and very short lived.

Dead to Rights: Retribution isn’t a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination and when it works it does provide a modicum of entertainment. Snapping out from behind cover to take out several foes in one go as Focus mode kicks in can be very satisfying and, as already mentioned, those few missions where you take control of Shadow break up the pace nicely. Unfortunately the bulk of Volatile Games action adventure is marred by poor design choices and annoying glitches that threaten to break the gameplay at every turn. With so many other titles of this ilk offering a far tighter, more intelligent experience it’s difficult to recommend this latest offering as worthy of a full price purchase. One for the bargain basket.


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