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New 'Dead to Rights' is so wrong

June 2, 2010

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Dead to RightsWhat happens when you mix 'Gears of War', 'Robocop' and every heroic dog ever put on the big screen into one video game?

You get 'Dead to Rights: Retribution'. Yet despite obvious influences that should make it an instant winner, the game falls flat over and over again.

Retribution is the third 'Dead to Rights' game to appear on home consoles, and it attempts to be successful in part by playing off of the cover mechanics that has become immensely popular in so many third person shooters recently. Sadly, the harder it tries, the worse it fails.

The game follows the story of Jack Slate, a gruff, no-nonsense, cheesy one-liner-spewing cop in the fictional world of Grant City. After years of financial and cultural success, Grant City has fallen into near-chaos. Disorder now rules, with gangs controlling the streets and corrupt politicians not helping things one bit.

After being cast out by his own comrades at the Grant City Police Department and witnessing the death of someone very close to him, Jack takes it upon himself to rid the city of its evils once and for all. If he can manage to exact a little revenge while he's at it, all the better.

Jack is joined a few chapters in by Shadow, a canine companion who will be rolling around on the ground one second, and ripping out jugulars the next.

This all sounds like a compelling story, but what it really amounts to is level after level of shooting or punching the spit out of wave after wave of random anonymous henchmen.

Combat involves a lot of gameplay elements we've seen before, with none of it actually improving things in any way. Jack can pick up any weapon he can snag from an enemy, dead or alive. Though there are a lot of enemies - and therefore a lot of weapons - littering Grant City, none of them can hold very much ammo. What this means is that anytime Jack runs out of bullets, he'll throw the gun away.

Dead to RightsThis may not seem like a big deal, but picking up a new weapon requires you to stand over it and hold down the R1 button. Getting more ammo while actually holding the gun simply requires you to run over a similar weapon lying on the ground. If the developers just allowed Jack to hold on to weapons that had no ammo, this annoying gameplay element wouldn't result in Jack getting shot in the head repeatedly while trying to pick up a weapon out in the open in the middle of a firefight.

The weapons have some nice punch to them, and there are no problems with hit detection, but it seems just as you're getting on a roll, picking off bad guys with a sniper rifle, Jack runs out of ammo, throws the darn gun on the ground, and you have to find something else to shoot with. Any momentum these firefights have is instantly ruined.

There is a full close quarter combat system as well, but it's just as frustrating. Meleeing is done using only three buttons, but though it sounds simple, the player is forced to memorize combos that are made up of what seems like an endless string of button inputs. The combos aren't impossible to pull off, but they all have the same effect on just about every enemy, so it's just as easy to learn one or two and use those repeatedly.

Not only that, but the majority of enemies carry guns, and getting close enough to one allows you to disarm and shoot him at close range. Why anyone would waste their time repeatedly trying to break the defenses of an armor-clad enemy and blocking his attacks, when they could just shoot him once in the head, is beyond comprehension.

Of course, Shadow is another big part of combat. This dog isn't around to sniff out secrets and play fetch during breaks in action - he's quite simply a bloodthirsty killing machine that only understands commands that result in people being killed.

Using the directional pad, you can have Shadow attack enemies, or have him retrieve weapons for Jack. Even 'heel' to Shadow really just means coming back to Jack when he's surrounded by enemies and biting into them.

Dead to RightsThere are a few solo missions where you control only Shadow. Usually they involve searching out and retrieving keys or disabling alarms to allow Jack to enter otherwise inaccessible areas. Like so much of the game, these sections hold promise, but they're over before they've begun.

Shadow can sneak around, quietly taking out enemies one by one and hiding the bodies. He can 'sense' heartbeats, in essence allowing him to see where bad guys are, what direction they're facing, and what their alert level is. He can also bark softly or loudly to lure enemies to where he's hiding. If you ever wondered what it would be like if Metal Gear Solid had a dog as its main character, Retribution answers that question.

These missions require too much memorization of where enemies are, though, and usually result in Shadow being spotted and shot at from every direction.

The gameplay itself when controlling Shadow is easy enough, but it's a whole other story when you're using Jack. The controls for running, taking cover, and disarming are all mapped to the same button, making for some frustrating results.

No matter how skilled you are, more often than not, you'll do the opposite of what you want to do. Hit 'X' in front of a hurt enemy to take his gun and finish him off, and instead you'll take off running right past him. Hit 'X' again to run away from a shotgun-wielding baddie, and instead you'll latch onto a random piece of cover, which won't help at all when he's standing right beside you.

Though Shadow will usually do what he says, the second he gets hit by a enemy, he'll completely forget what his last command is. So if you ask him to heel because you have four guys pummelling you in a corner for instance, he will come over, but you'll be forced to repeatedly tap down on the d-pad so he continues attacking. And we won't even get into how often Shadow gets stuck behind a door, making him quite literally unplayable until the next checkpoint, where he magically pops up again.

Dead to RightsThere is some good in Retribution. Though the script is laughable, the actual voice acting isn't half-bad. Over-the-top moments are often found in games like these, and Retribution is no exception. Whether you're taking out a massive attack helicopter inside a skyscraper or hopping into a mech suit and dealing huge damage inside the headquarters of Grant City's corrupt anti-crime unit, the game has its moments.

The extras are also quite numerous. Demo reels, concept galleries, in-game radio reports and more are unlocked every time you finish a level, and the folks at Volatile Games write in-depth explanations for every character and environment. That's something you don't see very often in games but it's interesting to read.

Yet, for every good moment in the game's 10 chapters, though, there is a handful of bad ones, and not much changes from one level to the next. Play through the first four chapters, and you'll know exactly what you're up for right up until the final battle.

It's a shame that Retribution's great ideas don't result in a compelling gameplay experience. Unless you love watching grown men get their groins mangled by a dog, Retribution should be approached with extreme caution.


Dead to Rights: Retribution
Format: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Volatile Games
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+
Official Site:

Rating: 4 / 10

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