Dead to Rights: Retribution is the attempted rebirth of the franchise that began on the Xbox in 2002, before being ported to the PlayStation 2, GameCube and later on Windows PC system. It gave players the chance to control one man and his dog in a quest to rid the metropolis of Grant City of its criminal scum. Despite two sequels and a title for the PlayStation Portable, the world has been lacking that combination of canine and cop since 2005. Though do not fear, as Dead to Rights: Retribution has arrived to tell the story of how the whole series started.
The game starts with a gentle introduction to the key game mechanics that don’t take long to get used to, nor do they change at all during the course of the 8 hours you’ll spend together. The game splits its action between gunplay, hand-to-hand combat and the sparsely used, but satisfying, stealth sections. The title uses the common duck and cover method of many third person shooters (TPS) but adds its own twist. Bullet-time can activated once a meter has been filled up by pulling off headshots and doing crazy takedowns on the criminal masses. This leads to some satisfying slow motion kills that not only sound painful, but are downright gory, with exploding heads being commonplace.
The weapons that you’ll use to tackle the hordes of enemies are varied but they still tend to fill the stereotypes of pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, rocket launcher and sniper rifle that seem to be the staples of any shooting game. To remedy this the developers have added in decent amount of fisticuffs that gives protagonist Jack Slate the ability to fend off attackers with a combination of fast and heavy hits, as well as the highly useful block button which doubles, with accurate timing, as a counter button. Successful combos allow Jack to perform at the press of a button a brutal takedown (usually involving broken limbs or the popular gunshot to the face) that instantly finishes off his opponent. As he’ll often face armed adversaries it’s handy to see a disarm talent. This sees the weapon turned on its original owner for a slow motion instantaneous kill if aimed correctly.
While all of this sounds like a great combination, the camera and less than responsive controls make it far more frustrating than it should be. One of the best-implemented and fluid combat systems in recent memory – Batman: Arkham Asylum – had the balance of power and silky smooth moves, but sadly Dead to Rights: Retribution comes off feeling sluggish and weak. The camera also adds to this problem by placing itself far too close to the main character to the point where enemies often take you by surprise and break combos.
Fortunately the levels where you can play as Jack’s trusty canine friend – Shadow – are far more satisfying. Players can use his stalking skills to take down foes and hide the bodies before the next patrol wanders by. The visual treat of being able to see heartbeats through walls makes this a lot easier, but there’s still a nice bit of tension to give a well-earned break from the kill everything in sight levels that surround it. That and Shadow’s silent kills end with a vicious suffocation of enemies as he wraps his jaws around their throat. Sadly Shadow is soon demoted to a mere puppet as he goes around gathering weapons and killing at Jacks request.
The “so bad it’s good” story and levels progress steadily, throwing more of the same forward for gamers to tackle and ultimately leaving a taste of nothingness at the end of the short campaign. With no multiplayer and very few incentives aside from trying higher difficulties the title is short lived and, unless future downloadable content is sizable, could end up as simply being a weekend rental rather than a full purchase.
The visuals in this game are solid (although easily forgettable), for the most part but clipping issues do crop up and allow heads and other body parts to appear through cover. Another huge issue is Shadow’s floating movements when not directly controlling him. While having a hovering dog would be entertaining, it’s unlikely that was the look the developers were trying to achieve. Despite the game being heavily based on gunplay, the weapons lack weight behind them and even the powerful shotgun feels very underpowered and not at all satisfying.
Feeling very much like the summer blockbusters it’s inspired by, Dead to Rights: Retribution gives players that short burst of adrenaline, but ends up as a throwaway experience with no major stand out moments past its first few levels. The stealth sections playing as Jack’s ferocious counterpart manage to shine through and although they aren’t enough to carry the title, they offer up something different from the generic ‘go there, kill everyone’ formula the rest of the action consists of. It’s clear that in this case, man’s best friend is this game’s best asset.