Dead to Rights: Retribution should be a title that has everything a man could want in a game: guns, hand-to-hand fighting, and a vicious dog. As Officer Jack Slate, you embody the prototypical rogue cop; your methods might be unorthodox, but dammit, you get results. By results, of course, I mean dead bodies. Lots and lots of dead bodies, either at your own ridiculously muscled hands, at the steaming barrel of a gun, or with the terrifying teeth of your, well, I would use the term “assault dog.”
DTR:R is essentially a “re-imagining” of the original game, released in 2002. Jack Slate is a vice cop in Grant City, a NYC stand-in that is beset by gang violence and various other types of crime which have, apparently, caused most residents to vacate the city, as the only time you’ll see civilians in the game are in the first level’s crowded office building. The plot from there is somewhat standard wannabe-noir; there’s a corrupt municipal government, you’re the one good cop who’s gonna clean up the city and avenge the murder of your father, that kind of thing, but it has a fun little Private Military Company twist that helped add to the enemy variety somewhat.
At first, I was concerned that DTR was going to be a remake of “The Warriors:” the first enemies you encounter are gang-members in clown make-up, call them “Juggalo-esque,” some violent socialist dockworkers called “The Union,” and then the Triad gangs, each of whom had a conspicuous design aesthetic and theme. I’m aware of this because while DTR is fairly sparse in terms of features, what it does have is a fairly interesting developers’ commentary that includes the various character-design influences that went into, every character, from Jack Slate all the way to the PMC’s attack helicopter. I think it’s great for Volatile Games to include these little details, and I wish more developers did it; for those of us interested in game design, it’s great to get some background on why this color palette was used, or why that design choice was made. Each set of enemies looks distinct, and the PMC you end up fighting, known as the “Grant City Anti-Crime” unit, or GAC, has a great near-future look that’s striking.
Visually, the rest of the game is just ok. They’re clearly going for a gritty, hard city vibe, and while they largely succeed it’s hard to do that and not end up with a muted, worn-out, everything-looks-the-same problem. That’s not to say the levels aren’t distinct. For instance, I know when I’m in Chinatown or at the fancy subway station, they all look distinct but each level plays basically the same way: I go down this corridor, into this open area, up these stairs, repeat, repeat. In short, the level designs, textures, shapes, etc, are all good enough, they just don’t to do a lot with it, and that’s disappointing when you’ve got some semi-inspired level ideas like docks or a failed stadium project.
The biggest problem with DTR is repetition. The fighting mechanic is workable, but you’ve pretty much learned it, all of it, half an hour into the game. You never learn anything else, you never level up, you just keep pummeling enemies the same way, over and over, for the entire game. The fighting mechanic isn’t poorly executed, in fact the only real problem is the fact that counters are almost impossible to pull off unless you’re in very specific situations, it’s just not terribly complex. Shooting runs into a similar problem: there’s no auto-aim, so the manual aiming can be pleasantly challenging and satisfying early on when you get a tough headshot, but there’re only two types of each category of weapon, two pistols, two sub-machineguns, etc, and using the “focus” mode, essentially a form of bullet-time, slows the action down to a point that it’s very, very easy to pop multiple headshots. Again, it works and in the beginning it’s even fun, it just could’ve used some more variety, or maybe a limit on the amount of bullet-time early in the game. I can live with those issues, by and large: what bother me are the cinematic kills that you can trigger once you’ve bludgeoned an enemy thoroughly enough. They are, for one thing, ridiculously violent (I don’t feel comfortable shooting an enemy who’s begging on his knees), and what’s worse, overly long. Each little cinematic takes at least 5-10 seconds, which doesn’t seem that bad on paper, but given the fact that you see the same routines over and over against hundreds of enemies throughout the entire game, it gets really challenging to stay interested. Having the ability to skip these would’ve been greatly appreciated.
There are, in all fairness, some stealth bits where you take control of Shadow, the assault dog, and hunt down and maul enemies. These sections of the game are well-executed, but way too easy. Shadow can see through walls somehow, and enemies glow bright blue amidst dark backgrounds; apparently Shadow is part malamute, part Predator. I could forgive the simplicity, but the fact is that Shadow's stealth kills are just as long as the cinematic kills, which quickly overstay their welcome.
I’ll level with you: 12-year-old me would’ve loved this game. There’s a dog that rips off people’s testicles! And I fight a helicopter! It’s over-the-top, hammy cop-noir at it’s worst/finest, and if you’re into that and have the patience for repetitive cinematics, then you might enjoy DTR. Personally, I think that this should be a budget title; there’s nothing egregiously wrong here, but there’s not a whole lot going on either. There’s no reason I can think of to play it more than once, other than collecting badges that reveal even more behind-the-scenes tidbits, there’s no multiplayer, and the single-player campaign can test your patience. I enjoyed playing DTR, until about hour five of 12, when the simple gameplay just started to wear me down.
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