Review by Evil Dave
"This game's ambition turns out to be its worst flaw."
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 ‘cool.’ With this progression, we’ve seen some great games come onto the scene (Max Payne, from which this game no doubt takes at least some inspiration, immediately comes to mind); however, despite the positives, we’ve also seen several clunkers as a result. Dead to Rights, starring one-man army Jack Slate, is yet another addition to the annals of the 3rd-person shooter genre. It claims to offer ‘Super-Charged Hong Kong-style action,’ ‘Hours of brutal gun-blazing action,’ and an ‘Immersive story.’ The end result is a game that offers a mixed bag of fun and frustration, which will ultimately either leave you wanting more, or wanting out. Here’s why:
The game’s interface is simple and functional. You’ll have all your options ready for you at the main menu, though you probably won’t be there for very long. The same goes for the in-game pause menu; it shows you everything you need, including in-game control options that can be changed on the fly. There’s nothing here that stands out in any way, and that’s always good.
The game features many storyline-expanding cutscenes. These come in two flavors: CGI interludes that play between levels, and in-engine cutscenes that happen to introduce new objectives, characters, and a few plot points. The CGI is generally well done, and showcases some nice effects. The in-engine cutscenes aren’t a problem either, getting the job done without distraction.
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 out of luck, as you’ll be seeing many a clone as you progress through the game. 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, although that fits in well with the tone of the game. Despite this, you’ll still be crying for a light switch at times.
The visuals in this game aren’t terrible, and they get the job done adequately; however, for a game that doesn’t really stand out in any other way, this is more a detriment than an advantage.
Sound effects are very bland in Dead to Rights. You’ll hear the normal array of booms, pows, snaps, and cracks, but nothing will catch your ear. Everything is synched up right, and sounds like it’s in the right place. This is another area where average is the key word, although here it doesn’t hurt the game.
The voice acting is well done. Granted, the lines are cheesy, and the characters really don’t have a lot of room for emotion, but everything feels right about the vocal performances. Jack is constantly cracking wise, and some of his lines are delivered very well. He’s also very good in the cutscenes. Other characters are, for the most part, on par with Jack’s acting; your assortment of associates and enemies in the game will sound as you would expect.
The music is the game, in keeping with the theme of mediocrity, is middle-of-the-road. It’s typical action-game fare, with rock and techno playing in the background. The pace kicks up for some firefights, and it calms at other times. It seems in place, but it doesn’t really do much to contribute to the setting.
The audio in this game isn’t a strong point, but it doesn’t hurt the presentation. The voice acting helps to keep you interested, and that may be the biggest positive here.
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 gunplay unfolds much the way you would expect it to. You’ll use a fairly large variety of weaponry to take these guys out; assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols (both single and dual), shotguns, and rocket launchers all make an appearance. Jack doesn’t like to collect ammo for his guns, so whenever he runs out of ammo, he’ll just drop the weapon, and pick up the nearest replacement. Or, he can simply grab the nearest enemy and disarm him with one of a number of cool-looking moves; if you don’t feel like watching the cool disarm cutscene, you can just grab the enemy and use him as a human shield. Jack also has a Max Payne-style adrenaline meter, and he can slow down time to dish out extra punishment when it’s full. If a large group of enemies have gathered together, you can pick up one of many conveniently placed explosive canisters, throw it in the air near the people you wish to die, and shoot it as it nears them. One new wrinkle that this game offers is 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 unleash him on a targeted enemy. Shadow will then go for the jugular on the unfortunate henchman, and then bring Jack the dead man’s weapon.
There will also be times when you’re fighting hand-to-hand. The controls for these encounters are extremely simple, with punch/kick/grab as the main attacks, and some rudimentary combos thrown in as well.
The controls work well with the GameCube controller. You’ll target an enemy with the R button, and mash away at the A button to fire at them. You can cycle targets with the C-stick, and cycle weapons with the D-pad. The X button garners you a human shield, and the Y button has Jack dive. The B button will sick Shadow on your target. When you don’t have a weapon in hand, A and B are your punch and kick, respectively, X grabs weaponless enemies or disarms those with one, and R blocks. Everything works smoothly, and you’ll be utilizing the moves within no time after you start the game up.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The clear-the-room and continue gameplay has been done before, and it gets old eventually. It also hurts that the fighting portions aren’t as well realized as they could be; you’ll just mash buttons throughout. The monotonous shooting is occasionally broken up by some minigames, or Silent Scope-style shooting diversions. The first-person shooting portions are well done, and are actually fairly enjoyable. The minigames, on the other hand, feel out of place at best, and downright bad at worst. The second level has you controlling a stripper friend in a Dance Dance Revolution-style series of button presses, and just feels out of place. You’ll also sometimes disarm a bomb by moving a pin along a narrow path, pick a lock by timing button presses right, and survive a torture sequence by mashing buttons. These do an admirable job on their own, but as part of the whole, they make things feel disjointed.
Boss fights are also up-and-down. Early in the game, you’ll just be forced to blast away at a super-strong enemy until all his life is gone. Later on, though, the boss fights become more creative, and more entertaining.
Overall, what you get here is a game that does many things, but few of them well. The shooting sequences are fun for a bit, but get tedious; the fighting is simply bad; the minigames aren’t much better. Good control takes the edge off the tedium, but it doesn’t make it more entertaining.
The word ‘clichéd’ doesn’t even begin to describe this story. Basically, you’ve heard it all before: the renegade cop, going against the world, with only his bullets (and, in this case, his dog) as his friends. There will be some betrayals, some corruption, some surprises, and a lot of deaths by recognizable characters. Let’s just say that you shouldn’t get too attached to anyone.
That said, the story does an adequate job in Dead to Rights. It’s not going to be an overwhelming motivational factor in your quest, but it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to care. The gunplay is the main attraction, and the story does a nice job complimenting it. It keeps the game in context, and at least makes some of the situations explainable.
The story, while certainly not the most original in the world, does a good job in its secondary role, and provides enough twists to at least keep you interested. Plus, it wraps up in the end (I don’t want to say it wraps up nicely, but it does wrap up), so you won’t have to worry about loose ends.
There are 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, and you unlock all the game’s cinemas, so there’s no real replay value here.
The game is lacking in extras, and once you beat it through, you’ll little left to do in it.
Dead to Rights tries to be a lot of things. To its credit, it makes good on its promises of intense gun-blazing action, with lots of carnage and mayhem to be dealt out. However, uninspired level design, coupled with some questionable minigames and mindless fighting sequences keep this game from achieving its full potential.
If you’re interested in spending several hours blasting away bad guys in a stylish fashion, then this game makes for a great rental. Otherwise, there’s not much reason to spend time in Jack Slate’s world.
Score: 6/10 (not an average)
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 12/05/03
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