Dead to Rights: Retribution Review (PS3)

For all the progression the likes of choose-your-own adventure Heavy Rain and PC MMO Love represent, Dead to Rights: Retribution seeks to travel to the opposite extreme. It's a nasty, immature and morally bankrupt action experience that, save for some adequately produced mechanics, could easily have ended up in a deeper quagmire. As it is, it's only recommendable for those staved of gaming and extremely bored. And I really do mean extremely bored.

In this re-imagined sequel then, you return as Jack Slater: homicidal police officer and gravelly-voiced plastic macho man; ably abetted by suicidal and fluffily-deranged canine sidekick Shadow. Throughout the course of a short campaign, you'll swap between the two in a bid to eradicate the criminal organisation responsible for murdering your dad (and various other plot machinations that are barely worth covering), with the humanoid taking point on third-person run-and-gun-and-punch action levels, and Shadow becoming possessed by the ghost of Sam Fisher in stealth sequences.

Lighting is occasionally pretty.
Shooting guys is about as much fun as punching them.

Indeed the time spent on all fours ends up as Dead to Rights' high point. Shadow is a capable protagonist, skulking around in darkness and capable of padding in silence before tearing a throat and dragging the body out of sight. Pulling the left trigger slows movement and activates a heartbeat sensor, silhouetting all enemies on the level, whilst a strong bark can lure groups towards you and a softer version targets individuals. Think of the challenge rooms in Arkham Asylum but without the ability to rope swing, and you're halfway there. 

But it's too bad that they only serve to punctuate the experience rather than define it. For the majority of the game, you'll be pounding ribs and popping skulls on two feet, under the guise of a Stranglehold-style combat system with Gears of War cover thrown in. And for the most part it plays perfectly well. Shooting mechanics are loose but satisfying, with a slow-motion 'focus' meter building as you cut your way through swathes of identikit enemies. This bullet time power-up provides a brief respite from the onslaught and a chance to target specific dangers, but it's almost entirely unnecessary outside of particularly tough encounters.

Trusty dog Shadow is playable at certain points.
Stealth kills are gruesome.

Less impressive is the melee system, which takes a stab at Batman fluidity but ends up without any of the weight or heft that characterised a well-received title. Simple punch-kick combos are intermingled with a block-reversal system, but where Arkham provided subtle and easily recognisable visual cues to prompt player action, Dead to Rights is simply hectic and confusing. Reduced to a button masher it contains just enough depth and variety of attack animation to keep things fresh, but as an example of the genre it falls some way short of a Yakuza.

One element that it shares in common with Sega's brawler is the variety of 'execution' moves on offer. Pumelling an enemy down to a weakened state allows Jack to grab them by the lapels and snap necks, arms, legs and whatever else is to close, arterial spray signalling another termination to chalk up to experience. But whereas Kazuma Kiryu's actions are interspersed with humour (death by oversized traffic cone anybody?), Jack Slater is played down the middle for noir brutality infused with a little comic book flair. And it fails.

Hand-to-hand combat could be better.
Headshots increase focus.

On some level, you can see what Dead to Rights should have represented. It should have been a dark crime thriller with a badass lead character and stylish violence to punctuate a knowingly hokey plot, but developer Volatile has shot wide of the mark by a considerable margin. Broken limbs and foul language populate the screen with frequency, but it's backed up by a lack of soul and an aesthetic style that doesn't do anybody any favours. Imagine emptying the contents of an average 15 year-old male brain onto the screen, and you'd come up the same themes, and the same lack of characterisation.

And it isn't as if I'm above a healthy dose of blood, gore and basic action. The aforementioned Yakuza remains one of my favourite series, I adore Gears, and I enjoyed playing through the likes of WET and Stranglehold. But at their very worst, those titles at least provide a backdrop and a sliver of context to compliment their average mechanics, whereas Dead to Rights simply coats the environment in red and its characters in force-fed grime and loathability. What's left is an experience that provides some basic action sustenance, but lacks any real purpose or direction.

  Best Game Moment:
Playing Sam Fisher reincarnated as a canine

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