In an era of reboots, reimagining, and remakes, it wasn't at all a surprise when it was announced that Namco Bandai Games was dipping into their back catalog and pulling up Dead to Rights. While the original wasn't met with critical acclaim, it found a fair amount of success regardless, garnering a loyal enough following to justify a sequel and two versions for handheld platformers. Now, they've released Dead to Rights: Retribution, hoping to bring the tale of stereotypically tough police officer Jack Slate and his K-9 companion into a brighter spotlight than ever.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is a third-person action game, with a focus on slow-motion shootouts and melee encounters. In the gaming industry, its closest cousin would be Max Payne, a title that the original was compared to endlessly. These comparisons are even more valid with this most recent title, which features a darker, more brooding lead than the original, and a healthy dose of contemplative narration. The only thing keeping the game's tone from being lifted entirely from Max Payne's is the addition of Shadow, Slate's dog, which adds variety to the otherwise repetitious gameplay.
When playing as Jack, it feels a lot like every other third-person shooter released last generation. When up close, enemies usually choose to holster their weapons in favor of a brawl, which has the two combatants locking onto each other and exchanging blows. Beyond heavy and light attacks, Jack can disarm foes, use finishing moves, and even grab enemies in a clinch. Once here, he's able to either deliver more attacks, throw the enemy, or use him as a human shield, something that becomes increasingly important during hectic sections of the game. As the game goes on, more enemies will approach Jack at once, and the combat is built to support such encounters. Unfortunately, it's not built very well, and fighting multiple enemies at once is far from the game's strong point.
Melee combat will only go so far, however. Gunplay is the core of Dead to Rights, and learning the game's weapons is paramount to success. The actual shooting mechanics work well, but fall short in a number of ways. The cover system, for instance, is incredibly inconsistent, and there are many instances in which trying to stick to an object simply won't work. This can lead to cheap deaths, which will usually reset the player to a poorly placed checkpoint. This issue is compounded by the game's limited ammunition. Jack is constantly needing to pick up new weapons, which stunts the flow of the shooter. While melee is an important aspect of the Dead to Rights series, it would have been beneficial to allow players more than a few shots on each weapon before needing to ditch it and charge into enemy fire to get a new gun.
The first folly comes from a missed opportunity in creating truly awesome cinematic encounters. Enemies killed with headshots not only add time to Jack's focus meter, but slow the game down for a moment to show the bloody hit. During this time, the player is able to slowly turn to try and line up another shot, which would reset the timer on the slow-motion. Theoretically, this means that players could clear an entire room with some accurate shots, adding an element to Dead to Rights that hasn't really been executed all that well in other games. Recent titles like Splinter Cell and Red Dead Redemption have similar elements, but none really give players complete control during these instances. Sadly, this doesn't play out like it should, and the time is simply too short to allow for this mechanic to work properly. It still builds up the player's actual slow-motion, but being able to chain together headshots would have added a lot of value to the game.
Other problems arise during segments where players control Shadow. Usually, simple orders command the dog, who will run around and aid Jack in combat. From time to time, however, players need to control the dog directly in segments that rely on stealth. While they're usually not necessarily difficult, they're never really all that entertaining, and can prove to be frustrating. The first time Shadow knocks down an enemy and thrashes at his groin it's genuinely funny. The second time it might envoke a slight chuckle. Later, after it has happened a few dozen times, it starts to feel juvenile, which is a problem that really defines Retribution. It's devoid of any charm, any originality, anything to make it worth playing over the dozens of other games in the genre it lifts gameplay mechanics from.
Dead to Rights: Retribution isn't a terrible game. Most of the gameplay elements work, even if they don't work all that well. While there are some glitches from time to time, there's nothing about it that stands out as being broken or unplayable. That said, there's not a single moment worth experiencing. It's a dull, monotonous title that needn't be played by anyone, especially with all of the quality already available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. There are some interesting mechanics that might end up finding their way into other, better shooters as time goes on, but as it stands, there's really no reason to pick up Retribution.