Review by Evil Dave

"Long On Ambition, Short On Everything Else"

Ever since The Matrix burst onto the pop-culture scene back in 1997, videogame shooters have been progressing more and more towards the realm of ‘stylish.' This shift has brought a great deal of innovation into the genre, and ultimately can be credited as revitalizing it for the current generation of consoles. Of course, innovation does not guarantee success, and this movement has spawned just as many bad games as good ones.

Dead to Rights, starring one-man army Jack Slate, is yet a 3rd-person shooter that claims to offer ‘Super-Charged Hong Kong-style action,' ‘Hours of brutal gun-blazing action,' and an ‘Immersive story.' Clearly drawing inspiration from the popular shooter Max Payne, the title brings another noirish take on its genre to the table, along with a handful of original gameplay mechanics. As you may have guessed already, the end result is a game that offers a mixed bag of fun and frustration, and at its conclusion will either leave you wanting more, or wanting out.

Visuals:

The game's interface is simple and functional. Menu navigation times are shortened by intelligent and simple design. The same goes for the in-game pause menu; it displays all available options, including those that can be changed on the fly. There's nothing here that stands out in any way, and that's always good.

The game's storyline is played out mostly via cutscenes. Between levels, you'll see pre-rendered CGI videos, which look good; in-game scenes are done using the game's regular graphics engine, and they look about as good as you could expect. Nothing here is eye-catching, in either a positive or negative way.

The in-game graphics are, alas, a bit dated. The characters are all modeled in an unabashedly stylized way, and look blocky as a result. If you don't like them, then you're quite out of luck – you'll be seeing many a clone as you progress through the game, as most enemy character models are recycled repeatedly. Environments are similarly uninspired, with bland textures everywhere you look, and minimal environmental interaction. The color palette seems to focus toward the darker end of the spectrum, which fits in well with the tone of the game; unfortunately, though, it may also leave you crying for a light switch at times.

Visuals in Dead to Rights certainly aren't terrible, and they get their job done adequately; however, for a game that doesn't really stand out in any other way, this is more of a detriment than a positive.

Score: 6/10

Sound:

Sound effects are very bland in Dead to Rights. Everything sounds weak, from the guns to the explosions, and they repeat enough that they may grow to irritate you. Fortunately, the effects are synched up right, and they do a decent job of portraying what they're meant to. This is another area middling is the most apt description for the content.

The voice acting is well done. The lines are unabashedly cheesy, and they don't leave the characters a whole lot of room for creativity, but the performances somehow manage to feel just right. In specific, Jack's lines are usually done very well; this is a very good thing, since he is constantly cracking wise during gameplay. Other characters are, for the most part, on par with the voice acting for Jack; your assortment of associates and enemies in the game will sound right about how you would expect.

The music in the game, in keeping with the theme of mediocrity, is middle-of-the-road. It's typical action-game fare, with rock and techno tracks that blare in the background. The pace kicks up for some firefights, and it calms at other times. It's nothing that any fans of this genre would be turned off by, but it doesn't really do much to contribute to the setting.

The overall audio in this game isn't a strong point, but it doesn't hurt the presentation. Of the entire acoustic package, the voice acting stands out for its quality, and the fact that it helps to keep you interested.

Score: 8/10

Gameplay:

The gameplay in Dead to Rights is an amalgamation of portions of shooters past, with dashes of other genres thrown in as well. While you'll get a fair variety of tasks to perform, for the most part, you'll be running around, blasting away at a nearly endless supply of enemies.

The controls work well with the XBox controller. You'll target an enemy with the right trigger, and mash away at the A button to fire at them. You can cycle through targets with the right analog stick, and cycle through your arsenal of weapons with the D-pad. The B button has Jack grab the nearest enemy (garnering you a human shield), and the Y button has Jack dive. When you don't have a weapon in hand, A and X are your punch and kick, respectively, while B grabs weaponless enemies or disarms those with one, and the right trigger blocks. These controls work smoothly, and you'll be utilizing all of Jack's moves in no time after you start the game up.

The gunplay unfolds much the way you would expect it to. You'll be using a fairly large variety of weaponry to take these guys out, with assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols (both single and dual-wielded), shotguns, and rocket launchers all making an appearance. Jack must not like to collect ammo for his guns, as whenever he runs out of ammo for the weapon in his hands, he'll just throw it to the ground, and pick up the nearest replacement. Of course, he can also grab a nearest enemy and relieve him of his gun with one of many cool-looking moves. Should the disarms prove too much effort for you to attempt, you can alternatively just grab the enemy and use him as a human shield. Jack also has a Max Payne-style adrenaline meter, which allows him to slow down time and dish out extra punishment when it's full. You can pick up one of many (conveniently placed and otherwise seemingly useless) explosive canisters, toss it towards any of your opponents, and shoot it as it nears them. DTR also offers what is surely a new wrinkle in the shooter world: your dog, Shadow. Jack is a K-9 officer, and Shadow trails him (invisibly) through most of the levels. When Shadow's stamina bar is full, you can send him after any enemy; he will ventilate the unfortunate henchman's jugular, and then bring Jack the dead man's weapon.

There will also be times when you're fighting hand-to-hand. These encounters are extremely simple, with a basic punch/kick/grab as the main attacks, and some rudimentary combos thrown in as well.

Regrettably, the end result of all these combat options is a mixed bag. The shooting controls very solidly, and while it may be typical stuff for the genre, it is certainly fun for a while – the disarms are especially satisfying in their brutality. Of course, the clear-the-room and continue gameplay has been done before, and it will definitely get old for all but the most diehard shooter fan eventually. The fighting portions that occasionally break up the shooting aren't as well realized as they could be; you'll just mash buttons throughout, and wish you didn't have to suffer through them to get back to the gunplay. The third-person shooting is also broken up every once in a while by a minigame, or an on-rails first-person shooting diversion. The first-person portions are well done, and are actually fairly enjoyable, thanks to the tension they create; on the other hand, the minigames feel out of place at best, and downright bad at worst. The second level gratuitously has you controlling a stripper friend in a Dance Dance Revolution-style series of button presses; the level feels downright ridiculous in its context, making it a blessing that it's so easy to get through. There will also sometimes be a bomb for Jack to neutralize, a lock for him to pick, or a button-mash happy torture sequence for him to survive, and at the very least each of these feels more in place than the dancing. They do make things feel disjointed as part of the whole campaign, though.

Boss fights are also an up-and-down affair. Most of the bosses you'll face early in the game are just super-strong enemies that you'll have to blast away at until all their life is gone. As you progress through the story, though, the boss fights become more creative, and more involved. Needless to say, the fights towards the end of the game are the best there is in DTR, and are both entertaining and challenging.

Make no mistake about it – this game is tough. You'll be assaulted by tons of enemies from many directions at all times, and getting hit by any attacks will hurt Jack quite a bit. There are a good amount of health packs and armor scattered through the levels, but you'll find yourself needing them more often than you get them. Simply put, you're going to die a lot in DTR. This isn't entirely a bad thing, though; the difficulty level feels pretty fair, and aside from a handful of times when you may die because of a poor camera angle, your deaths always have a reasonable explanation.

Overall, DTR is a jack of many trades, but a master of none of them. The shooting sequences are fun for a bit, but get tedious, the hand-to-hand fighting is simply bad, the minigames are periodically entertaining, but could have been much better, and the boss fights take a while to catch on, but end up being a bright spot. Good controls make the game very tolerable, but the somewhat weak difficulty of the game on the default level makes for a very ordinary experience.

Score: 6/10

Story:

The word ‘cliched' seems about right when describing DTR's story. Stop me if you've heard this one: you're a renegade cop, going against the world, with only your bullets (and, in this case, your dog) on your side, trying to avenge your father's murder and clear your name. There will definitely be some betrayals, a handful of corruption, a few surprises, and quite a number of deaths by recognizable characters. Not to spoil the story, but let's just say that you shouldn't get too attached to anyone.

Despite seemingly being a rehash of every shooter ever, the story does its job adequately. It's never going to be an even a slight motivational factor for you to continue your quest, but it's highly unlikely that you're going to even care. Since the gunplay is the game's main attraction, the storyline does a nice job complimenting and coordinating it. It keeps the game in context, and makes the gameplay situations explainable enough that you're not likely to be bothered by it.

Originality aside, DTR's story does a good job in its secondary role, and provides enough twists to at least keep you vaguely interested. As an added bonus, it clearly wraps up in the end – not nicely, mind you, but it unquestionably does wrap up – so there really aren't any reasons to get upset with it.

Score: 8/10

Features/Modes:

DTR offers several difficulty modes to beat the game on. Once you've beaten it through once, though, there's not much reason to go back. You unlock individual levels to play through on their own, as well as the game's CGI cinemas, after you beat each level once in story mode. You also unlock all of the mini-games for separate play by completing the game once. Other than these few items, though, there isn't anything else in the game on the features front.

This game is sorely lacking in extras, and once you beat it through, you'll have little left to do with it.

Score: 2/10

Total Score:

Dead to Rights tries to be a lot of things. To its credit, it makes good on its promises of intense guns-blazing action; without a doubt, there is lots of carnage and mayhem to be dealt out, and it is done in a pretty stylish way. The game's positive attributes end there, though, as uninspired level design, questionably-placed mini-games, and mindless fighting sequences keep the game from reaching its full potential.

If you're interested in spending several hours blasting away at generic bad guys in a stylish fashion, and you're up for a steep challenge, then this game would make for a great rental. Otherwise, there's not much reason for you to spend time with Jack Slate.

Score: 6/10 (not an average)

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Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/10/06


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