When Dead to Rights initially arrived in 2002 it received moderate acclaim - the game didn't quite do enough to cross the line between what makes an average title, and what makes a great title. The second game in the franchise didn't really help bolster its claims either. So with that in mind, Namco have taken the franchise back to the drawing board for a reimagining of the original title on next generation consoles. With hindsight now available, does this make for a smart move, or is the franchise simply destined to live in the realms of mediocrity?
The game takes place in a stereotypically dark and gritty city called Grant City. The law enforcement doesn't really have any authority and the local gangs are starting to take over. Well, they'd like to think they are. There are still some good honest cops around, including Jack Slate and his father, a legend on the force. However, when following up on a lead, Jack's world gets turned upside down and he isn't just a cop from that point on, he's a cop looking for some retribution.
It's a story that's been told countless times before and the plot twists won't really be surprising to anyone, even if they didn't play the original game. It does really help to drive the game along though as Jack is actually quite a likeable protagonist, in a bad-ass sense. He's certainly not a stereotypical cop and he has no problems handing out some rough justice to whoever deserves it.
That's probably quite fortunate too, as Grant City is littered with thugs who need to be taught a lesson and there are actually quite a few ways to do this. Jack can either duke it out melee-style, use some guns, or simply ask Shadow, his faithful canine companion, to take them down. Having so much choice can make things a bit tricky sometimes though and it's more a case of, things are there if they're needed, than, things are essential to progress. For example, while in a melee fight, it's not really that possible to command Shadow to attack anything other than the immediate target.
Each of the systems is fairly competent though. Jack has a number of melee combos he can use to take down opponents and there are even some enemies who can only melee, so having at least some practice with this is essential. There are effectively five key moves: quick punch, strong punch, block breaker, guard and counter. The first three can be put in combination with each other, while the others are actually quite important later on when facing stronger fighters. It's also possible to attack in different directions if surrounded by multiple foes.
The gun combat is also fairly standard, although ammo is often quite limited. Presumably this was done to force players to think about engaging in hand-to-hand more often, as the easiest way to get more ammo is to simply disarm opponents. Jack can carry a pistol and a larger weapon and can also carry a grenade of some kind. The guns are pretty well rounded, but nothing about the gun combat really excels. There's a cover system which is quite cumbersome and it's often easier to dispatch enemies simply by running up to them, disarming them and instant killing them with their own weapon. Getting involved in a fire fight isn't the best of ideas simply because ammo depletes so quickly and while Shadow can fetch guns and bring them back, it doesn't really help to resolve the situation much. Something that does help resolve this, is focus mode. It enables Jack to essentially slow down time and become more powerful for a brief period. It can be used as little or as much as players want, but they must refill the bar by performing certain actions.
To help break up the action, Shadow also takes a more prominent role for some stealth/action sections. These usually involve fetching a key from a guard, or disabling something which is stopping Jack's progression. However, they can also involve Shadow having to protect Jack when he's in a weakened state. These gameplay passages are generally very short though and don't really add a whole lot. Shadow can go into sneaking mode, which means he's quiet and can see guards based on their heartbeat, or he can run at high speed. Either way, the guards will be taken down almost instantly and it's just a case of picking them off, one by one until the objective is achieved.
The game looks pretty decent, but it's not pushing any graphical boundaries. The character models all look quite wooden - they just seem to have some kind of generic quality to them. Likewise, the animations of characters aside from Jack look a bit clunky. The score for the game is much less generic though, and even the menu music is extremely foreboding. It really helps to set the scene and the score throughout helps to make everything seem more urgent and important than perhaps it really is.
One of Dead to Rights' biggest shortcomings though, comes with its replay value. The single player campaign takes around 6-7 hours on the standard difficulty and there isn't really much incentive to try it again. Players are ranked on their performance for each chapter, so they might want to try and better their scores and there are also police badges hidden throughout levels, but they only unlock things like concept art.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is definitely better than the original title, there's no question about that. However, when compared to improvements the rest of the industry has made in the same time, it isn't anywhere near as impressive. The different gameplay mechanics are nice, and often players are spoilt for choice, but there's nothing really that stands outs and that's the problem with the game. It's fun and decent for what's there, but it doesn't really go above and beyond what's expected.