Reviewed: June 21, 2005
Released: April 12, 2005
Itís pretty much a given that movie sequels seldom rise above their origins, but videogames have the rare luxury of usually being bigger and better than the game that spawned them. Perhaps Iím getting jaded, perhaps my criteria for good games is getting better, or perhaps Dead to Rights II just plain stinks.
Iíve reviewed about 300 games since I reviewed the original Dead to Rights in 2002, a game that got a 9.8 and our Editorís Choice Award. I still stand by that score. The Xbox was new and the game was original and a total blast to play, but a lot has changed in the past two years, and it takes a whole lot more to impress me today than it did back then.
Dead to Rights II plays out like a bad cop movie, or TV drama. Hunter comes to mind since that cop is a shoot-first, cuff the corpse later kinda guy. Once again you play Jack Slate, and heís just as tough as the name implies. He is joined by his trusty canine, Shadow, who plays a much bigger part of this adventure.
There was a pretty good formula behind the original game so Iím not sure why the designers wanted to tamper with perfection. They seem to have distilled a lot of the fun diversionary aspects of the game and reduce it to nothing more than a mindless repetitive shooter.
Even the story seems to have been dumbed down a bit. This time Jack is investigating a kidnapped judge and close friend of his dead father. During his search he uncovers a massive web of crime and corruption that can only be solved with excessive gunfire and the ravenous fangs of Shadow.
Dead to Rights II drops any pretense of stealth or strategy. You simply barge into any given room and start tapping the target button then fire away until the room is empty. Kick down the next door and repeat. Repeat for about 6-8 hours until you have won the game. Itís mindless but oddly addictive in some sort of sick and twisted way.
Perhaps this is why the story has been all but trimmed away. The game is more arcade style now than a traditional action game. You can choose from any of four skill levels and jump into the game at any point, choosing from a small arsenal of weapons and wasting foul-mouthed punks in large quantities. The game is now so fast-paced that you seldom have the motivation to even cycle your weapons. You just empty a clip and pick up the next weapon lying at your feet.
The first game prided itself on its unique disarming moves where you snuck up on an unsuspecting criminal and put the smack down on them in one of numerous, slow-motion moves. In Dead to Rights II you only need to get close to an opponent before you can execute any of 28 brutally violent disarms. Thatís 13 more than the first game, and many are quite complicated and equally as entertaining.
Jack can also grab enemies and use them as a human shield to absorb incoming fire, then take their weapon and fling their bullet-ridden corpse aside when done. My only complaint with any of these more personal moves is that you have to force yourself to do them since you are likely to empty a room with simple gunfire before you ever get close enough to anybody.
Bullet-time is back so Jack can use his adrenaline meter to perform stylish Matrix-like dives and tumbles while targeting multiple opponents. This certainly helps even the odds in what would otherwise be an impossible situation. Oddly enough, adrenaline is also required to command Shadow to attack or fetch weapons or med kits.
Unlike the original where Shadow was only used in certain sections, he is a much bigger player in this game, almost like an alternate weapon. Unfortunately, his use is plagued with a few glitches that make him unreliable. Sometimes he fetches instead of kills, and sometimes he just wonít do anything. Heís a huge drain on the adrenaline meter, so you might find it better just to rely on bullet-time and save Shadow for those emergency situations where you need a clip or med kit.
Two major components have been dropped from the original. The first game had a clever assortment of mini-games. Sure, they might not have fit with the overall action theme, but anyone who tells you they didnít enjoy dancing as a stripper is lying. All of those button-tapping mini-games are gone plus the martial arts combat has been all but stripped away, and whatís left is so simple is might as well not even be here.
To keep the action fast the levels are low in complexity and details. Youíll go from one boxy room to another, each connected with a hall or twisting series of passages, perhaps a stairwell, all filled with more criminals. The levels are now much smaller so to maximize their gameplay you are now forced to backtrack through almost every level in the game.
The levels are simple in construction, normally just square rooms connected with a door or perhaps a short hall. The rooms are populated with moderate detail including a lot of breakable objects. This helps to enhance the overall carnage of the firefights.
There are a lot of special effects including some fantastic explosions, fire, smoke, and particle effects, and these are all emphasized in the slow-motion bullet-time. There is also some good lighting effects which particularly stand out in the darker levels.
Character design is average, both for Jack and the enemies, but their animations are fluid and lifelike, especially the smooth motion of Shadow. The exaggerated disarm moves are totally off the hook and a blast to watch. Youíll want to try them all.
When Dead to Rights came out for the Xbox it was an exclusive title and only after several months did the other systems get their ports. This time the game is shipping on the PS2 and the Xbox at the same time and it shows. The Xbox version is definitely the common denominator of quality between the PS2 and Xbox, plus there is no progressive or HDTV support.
The dialogue in Dead to Rights II is laughably bad, not only whatís on the scripted page, but the over-the-top performances by the voice actors. Jack will deliver some of the cheesiest one-liners in action-game history, but you canít help but feel the designers and the actors know itís ďcampĒ and are just making a point.
The music is pretty bad, but this time Iím not laughing. The music changes up for each level but the generic synthesized tracks are way too short and loop incessantly, wearing you down much like the repetitive action.
Other than the powerful explosions the rest of the sound package pretty much consists of a lot of gunfire, and by now we all know what guns sound like, all types of guns. The gunfire in Dead to Rights II is surprisingly weak, like a bunch of cap guns going off. The lack of a true Dolby Digital mix also keeps the experience a bit flat and two-dimensional.
You can finish Dead to Rights II in 6-8 hours, which is pretty short for an action game but not too bad for an arcade shooter, which is what this sequel has been reduced to. And much like any arcade game you can approach it and replay it on multiple difficulty levels to increase the challenge and extend the life of the game. Whether you want to or not depends on your tolerance for mediocre action games.
Iíve been looking forward to Dead to Rights II since I played it at E3 in 2004, but after finishing up the final release I felt a bit cheated. So much of what I loved about the first game has been stripped away leaving me with only a mindless arcade-shooter and there are plenty of those out there. Everything that made Jack and Shadow special is gone.
If youíre hard up for an action-shooter then you might want to check this out when it hits the $20 bargain bin, but otherwise Iíd have to recommend you skip this latest installment in the Jack Slate saga.