Reviewed: May 8, 2010
Released: April 27, 2010
It’s interesting to track a franchise from its origin to its latest release. Sometimes the process can be quite involved as with a series like Final Fantasy that is now in its teens when it comes to sequels, and others, like the Dead to Rights series is fairly straightforward. The very first installment of the cop and his dog crime drama appeared on numerous systems back in 2002 and I still have fond memories of the week it took me to complete that game. Then came the obligatory sequel in 2005 that removed the story, stealth, and most of the fun from the series. After that debacle I was sure Namco had shelved the franchise for good, but here we are five years later with the third installment. |
Jack Slate and his timber wolf-size Husky, Shadow are back on the mean streets of Grant City, this time fighting off all sorts of gang bangers and corrupt police officials in Dead to Rights: Retribution. This new story takes place in a much darker and corrupt world that could easily share a zip code with the Dark Knight’s Gotham City. The whole town has gone to hell and it’s always dark and it’s always raining, which has obviously put Jack in a pretty poor mood, well that and the death of his father.
Combine Jack’s nature for upholding the law with his no-rules application of law enforcement and you have one of the more violent action games of the summer…not just violent but brutally violent and sometimes sickening. Bloody headshots aside, Jack’s primary methods of apprehending a few thousand enemies is with deadly melee attacks that almost always end in a sickening multi-strike takedown move. And when Shadow comes out to play, don’t look away when he starts ripping crotches and throats from their original locations or digging into a chest cavity like he’s searching for a bone.
For those who prefer cold steel, Jack has a modest assortment of firearms at his disposal, of which he can carry two at a time. These range from pistols and machine guns to shotguns and rocket launchers. Of course you are always outnumbered and usually fighting from cover, at least until you can thin the enemy numbers. Strategic use of Shadow will often provide a nice distraction or the ability to fetch a new gun or ammo clip, but if your canine companion falls in battle you will have to make your way over to him to revive him.
This leads to one of my major complaints with the game. Shadow does not follow orders. Sure, he will attack or fetch on command and he will even heel when summoned but just try to order him to stand in one location and he will refuse, often ending up in the middle of ten guys, quite unreachable. I need a sidekick – not someone I need to baby-sit.
The actual gameplay is quite fun but also quite repetitive. The only saving grace are the numerous combos and takedown moves and their resulting slow-motion replays, but even after a few hours you will have seen most of them. Jack has heavy and quick attacks that can be combined with blocks and kicks and grabs and carefully time counter attacks. Even better are the disarm moves where you press the A button to rip the gun from the enemy then open up in his face at pointblank range. Nice!
The best new feature of Retribution is the levels in which you get to actually play as Shadow. These become the “Splinter Cell” stealth levels of the game where you walk silently, perform silent kills, and then drag your victim into the shadows before another enemy discovers his body. You can also activate his special senses to hear (and see) sonic imagery of nearby enemies, supposedly based off their heartbeats. You get ghostly blue, yellow and red human forms based on the level of alertness. You can even bark or growl to lure unsuspecting henchmen to their doom. Shadow’s levels are some of the best moments in the game and really had me wishing the entire game was co-op so player two could actually play the dog in real-time alongside Jack.
Retribution is like a bad buddy cop movie with clichéd and silly dialogue, cheesy one-liners, and even a plot that Lethal Weapon would shy away from. There are plenty of illogical moments. Why must my dog go on a 20-minute search for a keycard to a security gate when I could easily crawl through the same hole in the fence he just did? But then you have some exhilarating moments of pure genius.
Graphically, the game is very much rooted in its Xbox origins, not looking very next-gen at all. Character models are simple – just look at that TV reporter in the first mission, and there are loads of glitches and animations bugs. Shadows (the lighting effect, not the dog) look odd and there are collision detection problems with Shadow. Overall the graphics are dark and muddy and the camera has severe issues in tracking the action, especially when going up against multiple attackers. On a side note I do love the idle animations for Shadow who sniffs around, rolls on his back and even hikes a leg for quick pee.
The audio quality is quite good even if the script has more cheese than Wisconsin. Jack’s one-liners are intentionally bad, almost as if the script is self-aware of its hackneyed origins. The cries and screams of the bad guys, both during combat and the gurgles of a blood-filled throat being shredded are intense. There is some thrilling and energetic music that accompanies most of the gameplay and helps with the suspense.
In the end, the game is a wash and quite forgettable. You’ll enjoy some moments as you play but won’t remember them the next day. I love playing as Shadow and wish there were more of those levels. They helped to break up the monotony of the endless beat-down levels with Jack. The game only takes 8-10 hours to finish, a bit longer if you are questing for all the hidden badges in each level, but it’s definitely worth a rental or even a budget price purchase to tag along with man’s best friend.