Reviewed: July 10, 2005
Released: June 28, 2005
It was only a few weeks ago that I reviewed Dead to Rights II on the Xbox. There were several things about that game that bugged me, the most serious being the repetitive and mindless combat with no real purpose or story. Now comes Dead to Rights: Reckoning, pretty much the same mindless bloodbath, only now itís on the PSP, and for some reason, it doesnít bother me as much.
I think the very nature of the pick-up-and-play handheld system is more conducive to mindless games. After all, who wants to get wrapped up in a story when you might only be playing for 15-30 minutes at a time? If you look at most portable games youíll find that most of them are repetitive and somewhat mindless.
Reckoning forgoes much of a story. Basically, you play Jack Slate, the cop with a bad attitude and plenty of firepower, and his trusty canine companion, Shadow, always willing to rip the throat from a bad guy or fetch some ammo. Cutscenes are out and what little story there is is told through some text-only, game-engine videos.
Reckoning is an unadulterated guilty pleasure, a bloody killing spree that never pretends to be anything more than just that. Gameplay is fast and frantic and you seldom have time to think. Everything is pretty instinctive and the controls are perfectly matched to this style of gameplay.
Jack moves around with the analog pad. You have no real camera look so you are often forced to rely on the excellent target lock system. A tap of the right trigger locks onto the nearest target and up on the D-pad cycles the targets. Left and right switches weapons and the X button fires them. The square button will summon Shadow if you have enough adrenaline built up and the circle button performs any one of dozens of exquisitely violent disarms that double as fatalities.
As you shoot the bad guys you build up adrenaline that can be used to slow down time. Tapping the triangle will have Jack jump or tumble, but if you push and hold the triangle you will slow down time giving you a fighting chance against otherwise impossible odds. In this mode you can lock onto multiple targets and empty entire clips before normal time resumes. If you are wielding two weapons you can kill the enemy two at a time.
The camera has a hard time tracking the action since you are switching targets so often, but the auto-lock manages to avoid any gameplay issues. A typical encounter might have you entering a back alley. Three guys come out of a shack and spread out and take cover behind dumpsters, crates, and an abandoned car.
Tapping the right trigger locks on the nearest guy behind the dumpster and you unload a clip to take him down. The other two are firing so you turn in their direction and push the triangle. Time slows and you auto-lock on the guy behind the crates (even though he is off screen) and perform a diving tackle. Pushing the circle button as you make contact you elbow the guy in the face, snap his neck and relieve him of his shotgun. While still lying prone on your back you lock onto the junked car and unload both barrels. The car explodes and the guy hiding behind it bursts into flames and sails across the alley.
Thatís just one example. Iím constantly coming off my breaks and lunch hour after playing this game and describing to my coworkers my latest brutal disarm or action sequence. There are so many components to the gameplay that each disarm and every single kill is like an individual note in an original music composition. Even when you die and have to replay a level or restart from a checkpoint the same scripted encounters will unfold differently every time.
The only thing you have to get a grip on is fighting enemies that you canít always see, especially when you are surrounded and the camera cannot keep up. As confusing as it might seem, if you just go with it you wonít die, or if you do it wonít be because of the camera. You are always locked onto the nearest target and when heís dead the lock switches to the next, so all you really need to do is keep firing and making sure you have the best weapon for the current situation.
When you get close switch to the shotgun for massive damage or if you are surrounded switch to dual Uziís for maximum spread. And donít be surprised when you are in a mid-slow-motion-dive and Jack will turn a complete 180-degrees to lock onto an unseen enemy from behind. The targeting is very good and I seldom had to manually switch targets.
Admittedly, this takes a bit of the interaction out of the game, but it also frees you up to simply enjoy the violence, and that is what Dead to Rights is all about anyway. For the first few hours I had a wicked grin on my face as I was disarming thugs and putting a cap in their skull at pointblank range or unloading a shotgun into their back. Then I discovered the flying tackle moves and disarms and just went insane with glee.
One move that will always stand out in my mind is when I was near death and facing one particularly difficult enemy. I did a flying leap over a stack of crates and just happened to land on a med kit on the other side, which filled my health bar. The thug retreated behind a car so I did another flying leap over the car landing on the guy. I quickly pressed the disarm button and Jack pummeled the guy in the face then stuck a shotgun in his mouth and used it to lift the guy upright before pulling the trigger. By this time the camera had swung around to face Jack so the back of the guyís head just erupted onto the camera turning the screen a bloody red. Thatís quality entertainment there.
The only bad thing about disarm moves is that even though these lengthy animations are great fun to watch, you are totally vulnerable to incoming fire from any other guys in the area. This means you need to be a bit careful when deciding to disarm versus a flat-out kill. Of course there are times when you are totally out of ammo and you have to get a fresh gun. That's when Shadow can come in handy.
The levels are pretty basic and include indoor and outdoor levels with a few variations in height, usually catwalks and balconies. You basically enter an area and kill a few dozen men the find the door leading to the next area. Repeat until you reach the boss, who is just another bad buy with a bigger health bar, kill him and his flunkies and you are done with the level.
There is usually a good supply of health and body armor in each level but they hide it off the beaten path, so you actually have to explore a bit and look down dead end alleys or behind crates to find these items. The game checkpoints frequently, usually at every door between encounters, so you seldom have to replay much if you have an untimely death.
Shadow is a cool feature but you can just as easily play and win the game without ever calling your dog. The fact that he requires adrenaline and I always seem to use that stuff up with my Matrix-dives meant that when I wanted to use him I usually just got the ďyelpĒ that meant I couldnít.
Reckoning also supports Deathmatch and Last Man Standing multiplayer modes for up to four players. This is where you get to use all those cool skins and levels you have unlocked while playing the story mode. Itís also a lot of fun as long as everyone can learn to adapt to the auto-targeting and fighting enemies you canít always see.
The graphics in Dead to Rights: Reckoning rivals those of the Xbox version from last month. The textures are surprisingly detailed and ultra-crisp and there is fantastic lighting in several of the levels. Admittedly, the color palette favors a lot of muddy browns and dark blues and grays, but this does make the fiery explosions and blood splatters stand out that much more.
Character design is fairly simplistic but the animation is excellent, especially for Shadow and Jack. You just wonít get tired of watching all of those brutal disarm moves over and over again and even watching Jack kick down his 40th door will put a smile on your face. The animation, much like the gameplay, just has an aggressive over-the-top attitude.
If you really want to see the attention to detail in this game just watch all of the intricate animations and special effects during the bullet-time sequences. Watching the guns recoil, flames coming out of the barrel and tracers flying through the air, all as Jack twists and turns and tumbles through the air gives you a short glimpse of what you can't always see at normal speed.
The music is that generic action-rock that starts to wear you down after a few hours. I have to admit that it does fit with the action but I would have enjoyed a greater variety of music. The fact that the gameplay never allows for any slow or stealthy moments means the music is going full tilt all the time.
Sound effects are excellent with a wide range of weapon effects and powerful explosions. It sounds decent on the PSP speakers but it will blow you away with a good set of headphones or external speakers. The cutscenes could have used some speech to spice them up but they are short and not really all that important to the gameplay anyway.
You can get through the story mode of Reckoning in 6-8 hours, and if you enjoyed it the first time there is no reason not to play again. After all, this is more about the action than the story, and there are infinite ways to creatively kill everyone in this game. The levels are sectioned up into nice playable chunks that can be finished in 15-30 minute blocks.
The multiplayer modes will offer up several additional hours of distraction assuming you know anyone with their own copy of the game. Itís the same mindless action with all of the quirky control and camera nuances youíve already come to grips with in the solo game.
Dead to Rights: Reckoning is one of those games you are either going to like or not. The game has camera issues but nothing that the targeting system doesnít make up for. Iíve passed this game around to people who have never even held a PSP before and they have picked up on the gameplay in less than ten minutes and have enjoyed it just as much as I have.
And therein lies the beauty of this title. It is pure and simple action-gameplay, with no time or desire to tell a big story. They get you into the action and they donít take you out of it for more than a few brief lines of dialogue between levels. And even though the levels and the endless stream of thugs does get repetitive, thatís just not as much of an issue on a portable game system.