|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Volatile Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Namco Bandai||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 27, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by J. Matthew Zoss
Dead to Rights, as a series, was in danger of being lost in time. The original game was decent enough and sold well, but its sequel was widely panned as a bland, unnecessary rehash of the original. It's been years since the last game, and even fans of the original may be wondering why Namco Bandai even bothered to release another entry in the series. Fortunately, the latest title, Dead to Rights: Retribution, is a vast improvement from the debacle that was Dead to Rights II. Unfortunately, it's still not good enough to compete with today's best action franchises.
Dead to Rights: Retribution wisely re-launches the series with a new origin story for protagonist Jack Slate and his dog Shadow. Actually, when we first meet the characters, they aren't yet a united team. Shadow belongs to Jack's father, a wise old cop named Frank Slate. Frank is smart, respected, and takes no lip from anyone, so you can probably imagine what happens to bring Jack and Shadow together. Something bad happens to Frank, something that forces Jack to work with his father's dog to find answers and get vengeance. The story is a pretty typical revenge tale that's relatively well-told, although it veers strangely into sci-fi territory for a game that's touted as a "noir thriller." Regardless, the plot is nothing more than a framework on which to hang excuses for Jack and Shadow to kill a whole bunch of people.
When you first fire up Retribution, you might be fooled into thinking that it falls into the increasingly rare "brawler" category. To start, Jack takes on the various thugs with his fists, punching and kicking and countering with an impressively smooth melee combat engine. Despite a few strange button placements, Jack can easily execute a wide variety of moves, including grabbing enemies and cuffing their hands behind their backs. By pointing the left stick towards an enemy as you hit the attack buttons, you can direct your assault in any direction and take on several foes at once. Chain a series of attacks together, and you unleash a brutal takedown that puts your foe down in vicious slow-motion. You can even grab a gun out of an enemy's hands and turn it on him, immediately blasting him in the face. The melee combat feels initially satisfying, but as soon as you start grabbing guns, it becomes a very different game.
Once Jack has a gun in his hands, Dead to Rights becomes a Gears of War-style cover shooter and makes no attempt to hide its influences. You enter and exit cover with a press of the appropriate face button and hold it to run. You can blind fire and pop up to aim over and around cover objects and vault over them to advance. In other words, it plays like Gears of War, save for the addition of "focus," the time-slowing technique present in all Dead to Rights games.
Focus is useful for lining up headshots and taking out multiple enemies, but even so the combat is never as visceral as games like Gears of War, due to controls that aren't quite as crisp, foes that aren't as intimidating, and weapons that don't carry as much punch. On the other hand, Jack has a weapon that Marcus Fenix doesn't have: his loyal dog Shadow.
Shadow is at Jack's side for most missions, and usually functions as an AI teammate. He attacks enemies, brings you ammo, and helps point out the path through stages. You can issue Shadow simple commands to attack or fall back, which can be quite helpful at times. Shadow will grab an enemy and hold him in place while you line up a headshot and even maul them to death on his own. In some stages, you actually play as the dog (including the very first playable section of the game), and as Shadow you can detect enemy heartbeats and sneak up on them for a stealthy kill.