After a few years in hiding, the Dead To Rights series has crept back onto the scene in the form of this reboot. Originally released for the Xbox and the PS2 in 2002, the game introduced volatile cop Jack Slate and his K-9 partner, Shadow (Shadow Dancer, anyone?). The original told the story of Jack’s quest to avenge his murdered father, and this new retelling sticks to this plotline and sprinkles it with some current generation tech.
With a story that’s about as original as a yearly FIFA update, there’s not really much to dwell on here, and thankfully, this isn’t the kind of game that really needs a deep, involving plot. It’s a third-person hybrid beat ‘em up/shooter, with a helping of canine adventuring thrown in.
As in the original games in the series, the prime character here is Jack, and he possesses a host of brutal combat moves and combos, including the usual flurries of punches, guard breaking power moves and throws. Using the simple combo system you can quickly attack multiple foes, and after landing a successful string of hits, you can execute a violent finishing move.
Hand to hand combat is fast and fluid enough, and also emphasises the use of the game’s counter-attacking mechanic. By pressing block at the right time (just before an enemy attacks) you can counter their blows and hit them hard. This becomes an ever more important skill to master as the levels tick by, and is especially useful against the various bosses.
It’s not all hand to hand combat, though, and Retribution also has a heavy focus on ranged combat. Jack can make use of various weapons such as pistols, shotguns, rifles and rocket launchers. This combat is also fitted with a paint-by-numbers cover system, which every game seems to include in this post-Gears Of War market. Jack can stick to walls and other places of cover, and return fire by popping up and shooting, and he can also blind fire and run from cover to cover quickly.
Gunplay is all about one thing, though: the headshot. If you’re going to get anywhere in this game you’re going to need to master taking foes out in one shot, and this is the best way to go about it.
Another reason to go for the headshot is the Focus system. A remnant of the original games’ attempt to recreate the now truly dated and trite Matrix-themed bullet time, this mode slows everything down so you have more time to aim for kill shots, or to use hand to hand counters and so on. To use this you need Focus energy, which is gained by performing certain acts, including brutal finishers and headshots.
Of course, one of the series’ most unique features lies with Shadow, Jack’s large attack dog. Retribution once again brings back this bloodthirsty doggie, and it’s probably one of the game’s real highlights, if a flawed one.
Shadow is implemented in two ways. For the most part he’ll fight alongside Jack. In this state, you can issue simple orders to Shadow, including wait and attack, and he’ll also occasionally retrieve weapons and ammo for you too.
The other Shadow mode puts you in full control of the mutt, and switches gameplay from all out action to a stealthy affair, which occurs, for example, in situations when Jack can’t gain entry into an area and needs keys.
Now, don’t groan too loudly, this isn’t all that bad, and isn’t simply a shoehorned in stealth mechanic. As Shadow you’re not exactly armoured, and so you have to be even more careful not to take shots to the face. Using his canine senses, which basically means you can see through walls, you have to sneak around, perform silent kills, drag dead bodies out of sight, and generally be as quiet as possible. If you’re found, you’d better run and hide, or you’ll be eating Pedigree Chum in puppy heaven.
These stealth areas work quite well, and although they’re no Splinter Cell, they break up the unrelenting combat, and help to keep the game varied and fresh as you plough through the dingy locales of Grant City.
Mixing multiple game types into a single whole is always a big risk, and Retribution, like its predecessors, attempts to mix hand to hand combat, gunplay, a cover system and stealth elements into a single title.
Volatile games has managed this quite well. When playing as Jack, both types of combat are woven together smoothly enough, but there are problems. It’s often a little clumsy trying to mix the two together on the run, or in hectic situations, especially when you’re using weapons and some goon runs right into your face, leaving you frantically trying too blast him into next week.
Hand to hand combat could be better too and, while the game does include a series of combinations and powerful attacks, you’ll often find yourself simply mashing the light and heavy attacks, with the odd counter. This makes the combo system a little redundant, and although enemies can supposedly learn your attacks, which should force you to mix things up, this isn’t really the case, and even on the hardest difficulty, spamming attacks is usually enough to see you through.
The cover system is also a little wanting, mainly due to issues with its usefulness. Often, even though you appear to be safely behind cover, your foes will still hit you, even from a good distance away. This means you’re never quite sure if you’re safe.
Despite these niggles, the core gameplay in Retribution is pleasantly solid and enjoyable. Shadow, on the other hand, it a bit more unbalanced.
The problems with Jack’s furry sidekick mostly come to light when he’s running around as his backup. The order system is all but useless for the most part. Shadow will certainly attack when you order him to, but don’t bother trying to stop him wandering into the path of a firefight.
Ordering him to stand still will simply result in him stopping for a couple of seconds, before running off again. Often this leads to him getting mown down by a thug with a shotgun, meaning you have to go and revive him, risking your life in the process. It’s not game over when this happens, though, and he won’t die (he’ll spring back to life on his own if you kill all foes in the area), but it does mean he can be totally useless a good deal of the time.
Still, although Shadow can be a pain, it’s undeniably cool when he takes out a punk who’s laying into you, saving your life, or gives you some much needed ammo in the middle of a fire fight. I just wish his AI was a little more aware of its own safety.
It’s also a crying shame that Volatile didn’t think to include a split-screen two player mode, seeing one player control Jack, and the other Shadow. There are levels where Jack and Shadow are apart, which may explain this omission, but it would be a brilliant addition.
Other more basic problems can be found in Retribution. Most are small, but still unfortunate. I noticed quite a few sound bugs, with stuttering audio and instances when volume levels were shot to bits, often almost muting SFX, but perhaps Retribution’s main problem, though, is the overwhelming generic feel of it all.
While the overall presentation and feel of DtR: Retribution is perfectly fine, and visually the game looks good, there’s nothing that really stands out as being original or innovative. The characters are bland, the enemies are dull, the story is familiar and the environments and challenges are all the same old, same old. If it wasn’t for Shadow, this would be a game with almost no character or any notable features to set it apart from the competition.
Dead To Rights: Retribution does play well enough to keep you interested, despite its heavy generic feel, and the challenge on offer is satisfying. It’s not going to wow you, and won’t win any awards, but it’s a decent, if flawed, third person romp
Dead To Rights: Retribution is out today and available from the Den Of Geek Store.