How is it possible that we're already into our fourth iteration of the Dead to Rights franchise? This is a series that started in 2002 with a middling Xbox and PlayStation 2 game. From there we got a much-maligned sequel and a mediocre PlayStation Portable game. And now, eight years after the original release, Namco is STILL trying to sell the world on this cop and dog duo. Yet despite having better graphics and a vastly improved combat system, Dead to Rights: Retribution fails to hold up next to the other big dogs in the action genre.
I'm not saying that Dead to Rights can't work; I would be ready and willing to see a full reboot of this disappointing franchise. I've loved the idea of teaming up with a dog ever since I first played Shadow Dancer in the arcade. I'm also a big fan of the Max Payne approach to the action. Yet somehow every time Namco puts these two great gameplay ideas together we are subjected to outdated graphics, disappointingly linear stories and character arcs you can see coming a mile away. Sadly, Namco's newest entry in the series is more of the same.
You play Jack Slate, the mad-as-hell action star of the first three games. This is the kind of guy who likes to get things done his way, even if that means shooting his way through a high-rise to save a few innocent people. This is a guy who isn't afraid to put his life (and his badge) on the line; he's the action hero you pay to see in a crowded movie theater. In this installment Jack hasn't gone to therapy or started taking mood stabilizers. Instead he has a new reason to be pissed off: city gangs have killed his father and he wants revenge!
Unfortunately the narrative doesn't get much deeper than this tired old crime story cliche. As you fight your way through the dark, rainy city getting revenge and finishing your father's mission, you discover that there's a much more sinister force in control. Sadly none of these plot elements will come as a surprise, mostly because the game is cribbing off of every crime movie you've ever seen. Sometimes it feels like the story is only there to give you a reason to take a tour through the most depressing tourist traps in the big city.
As I mentioned before, Dead to Rights has always been a game franchise built around the idea that you're a cop with an attack dog. It's sort of the dark and dreary version of Turner & Hooch starring Tom Hanks (or K-9, if you're more of a James Belushi fan). For most of the game you will play as Jack Slate, however there are times when you take over control of your four-legged friend. When you're playing as Jack you can point Shadow in the direction you want him to attack. Better yet, you can have him pick up dropped guns and ammo and bring it back to you. Most of the game's big action sequences and puzzles (if you can call them that) revolve around properly using your companion dog.
When you're not worrying about Shadow, you're probably using one of the game's many weapons or going one-on-one with the violent gang members. The game's gunplay is what you would expect. You can hide behind cars and boxes, a la Gears of War. Your ultimate goal is to rack up as many headshots as you can, because shooting them anywhere else will require a lot of bullets. The levels are linear enough to keep the battles intense, even if all you're doing is ducking behind objects and waiting for the right time to get a headshot. It's not original in any way, but the gunplay gets the job done.
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