Review by SneakTheSnake

"An ice-cold cop looking for answers. A world he didn't create. Out for revenge. And other cliches..."

There are pieces of media that a define a generation. They're generation-defining, to a certain extent, because of their generational exclusivity. They only occur in that generation or, more aptly, and based on certain social and cultural bases, they only could occur in that generation. I mean, could “All in the Family” really be done in this day and age? It's exclusive to the generation in which it was produced and is therefore a product, a sample, a reference point to the era. And I'm not just speaking about that particular sitcom; I'm just using this example to put Dead to Rights into context.

It's loud and brash. It's unforgiving in the plot, scenario and characterization (or blatant lack thereof). The graphics hardly hold up at all. It's a product that feels more represented as one from the generation before the one in which it was actually produced. Tripe like this shouldn't have still been produced in the Gamecube era; it's almost an anachronism. Gamers should expect more than what is offered in Dead to Rights, but it could be, in its most harrowing and action-y moments, considered a guilty pleasure at best.

Meet Jack Slate, a hard-boiled cop with the corny dialogue to match. He arrives at a crime scene only to find that it was his father who's been shot in a twisted case of betrayal. Slate's also been caught up in his own personal and criminal troubles himself. It's up to Slate to find out who killed his father and call payback on the ones who did him wrong. And with a cop who - pardon the cliche - shoots first and asks questions later, you're in for a treat.

It's a revenge story that hits all the right notes... off-key. Dead to Rights has some of the worst writing I've experienced in a long time; the dialogue is unnatural, the lines are corny (I mean, who actually says things like “Revenge was for breakfast, and Johnny was the main course”?) and the plot holes are gaping. The writers employ blatant racial stereotypes and throw in some really strange characterization to boot. Dead to Rights is an unpleasant narrative experience, and I think it's partly intentional. But that doesn't make it any better.

The game is an arcade-style action-shooter. Slate runs around warehouses, massage parlors, seedy clubs and the city streets, weapon in tow, ready to blast off any goon that stands in his way. There's the occasional mini-game to break up the monotony a bit, mostly lockpicking and diffusing bombs. When you're unarmed for whatever reason, a rudimentary fighting system gets you through some fistfights, but the bulk of the game is a fairly standard run-and-gun.

I'll say, to its credit, that I like the auto-targeting system in theory. Your best option when you're in a firefight in Dead to Rights is to pull the R-trigger to lock on to a target and blast away. The cursor around the enemy changes color based on how much damage is done. You can also shuffle between targets with the C-stick. It allows for fast and frenetic shooting; the game doesn't have you worrying about reloading your weapons or much like that, but there are some problems with this mechanic; it's a bit of a big deal, as it's the mechanic you'll rely on most throughout the game.

If an enemy ducks or moves out of your line of sight, even within a few feet, you lose the auto-targeting. Wouldn't it be better to be able to keep the auto-targeting and simply wait for the enemy to pop back out so you can shoot him? Also, the auto-targeting picks some lousy enemies for you to pick off in a crowded room; you'll want to go for the person closest to you, but it will choose an enemy thirty feet away who can't even see you and is therefore not a risk at this point of the firefight.

A few other nuances in the action help and hinder the experience. Players can press and hold down a button for a slow-mo dive, ala The Matrix or Max Payne, but this is a faulty feature; it leaves you entirely too vulnerable, and I was never able to target well while in this mode. There's a manual targeting mode, but this prevents you from moving when you're in this first-person viewpoint. This leaves you completely vulnerable in firefights. You can sic your dog Shadow on the perps, and this can help, and you can even take an enemy as a human shield to reduce damage done. The good outweighs the bad. Even the fighting system isn't too bad. It's simply a matter of discovering quickly what works in Dead to Rights and what doesn't; it's a debate of whether that makes the game inherently worse by having features that don't work well or as they should, but there's enough here to constitute a competent action game.

The mini-games are a little mundane, but they serve their purpose: breaking up the action. One has you controlling a co-worker / exotic dancer, who must distract some patrons of a club while you sneak past the guards. Another has you diffusing bombs (actually a pretty fun mini-game in itself); another tasks you with repeatedly pressing A and B masochistically in order to prevent drowning (Mario Party, I've missed you!).

Dead to Rights has a mostly functioning action foundation in a boring and unimaginative game design. Building designs repeat, enemy goons repeat, level objectives repeat. There isn't a lot of variety in Dead to Rights. Save for the occasional boss battle or hairy firefight, there isn't much to encourage gamers to keep going through the game. Kill the guards in a room, get the keycard or crowbar or whatever macguffin you're after (always dropped by the last goon you kill, of course) and move to the next room, where you'll more than likely have to do the same thing all over again.

And with so little payoff, too. Dead to Rights is an unattractive game, simply put. The character models are of poor quality, the buildings are constructed of some really drab textures, and the characters' mouths don't even move during cutscenes. Most of DtM is blocky and repetitive. Not even the FMV looks good enough to save the game from the fact that Dead to Rights is an aesthetically off-kilter mess. To put this into perspective, Dead to Rights came out the same year as Super Mario Sunshine; Namco can do better than this. There is one thing for which I'll give them credit, though; in Chapter Eight, there's a level that takes place on a harbor at night. You'll see the moon shine brightly over the water, and the moon's reflection of the water waves and dances realistically in the relaxing waves. It's a relaxing and aesthetically pleasing image, found in an all too ironic place.

The music, VO and sound fare somewhat better. The VO is at least recorded well and with emotion; it's not the actors' fault that the writing is subpar. Some oddballs pop up from time to time, though; the biggest offenders are the Christopher Walken impression and the Triad leader. I enjoy the music in Dead to Rights; I wish the same small clips weren't repeated on a loop when I'm in a room taking out some goons, but what's recorded is nice. I liked the sound as well; it felt satisfying to shoot off a gun and listen to the bullet casing bounce ever so lightly to the floor.

You'll be getting into a very mediocre experience with Dead to Rights. The game doesn't look very good and the narrative is just not very compelling. Perhaps it's just me, but I think gamers are morally sound and that some may have some moral objects to going around and shooting everyone in sight, men and women, from goons to construction workers to masseuses to everyone inbetween. The shooting mechanic and fighting system are fun when they work well, but they're wrapped in a game that's aesthetically displeasing, surprisingly repetitive and inconsistent in difficulty. It's a game whose fleeting interesting moments are packed in a package that's really, really hard to get into. I can't recommend Dead to Rights, only for those who are interested in how few and how far Gamecube games pushed the “M” rating.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 02/06/12

Game Release: Dead to Rights (US, 11/25/02)


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