Dead to Rights: Retribution is a run of the mill, third-person shooter. All of the mechanics work, but they’re not great: your canine companion doesn’t look like he belongs in the game (and his feet are often not touching the ground), levels tend to go on and on, etc. Still, these aren’t fatal flaws for Retribution. It’s not a bad game or a broken one; it’s just a game that’s rough in about every area.
That makes it rather forgettable. I beat this game 30 hours ago and I really don’t feel like I have any strong feelings about it. There were parts that I found frustrating (and I’ll detail them here), there were fun missions where I got to be a stealthy dog, and there was the “so bad it was good” dialogue. But in the end, it’s all a game I’ll struggle to remember in a month or two.
Kill, my pretty.Dead to Rights: Retribution is a rebirth of the franchise that made a name for itself on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Once again, you’re Grant City police officer Jack Slate and you’ve got a Husky named Shadow by your side. Things have gone to hell in the bustling (albeit dark and rainy) metropolis, and you’ve got to use your policin’ skills and canine companion to get to the bottom of what’s spurring on this crime wave.
Now, when I say “policin’ skills,” I mean that Jack just runs around killing people. There are no Miranda rights being read, rarely does he offer the chance to surrender, and his questioning skills could use some work. No, Jack just runs in and blasts people in the head — and doing that fills a little focus meter that he can then use to slow down time and swiftly take out rooms filled with baddies. This is a welcome feature because you’re always going to be running into rooms filled with guys and you’re always going to be low on ammo. Jack can really only carry two clips of bullets/RPGs/etc.
Not only does our hero kill 99 percent of the enemies he runs into, but Jack brutally murders most of them — some of them literally beg for their lives on their knees before being shot. Jack does this in a variety of ways. If you want, you can blow people away in traditional third-person shooter style with a cover system to boot, or take on criminals via hand-to-hand combat.
Hand-to-hand is actually a big part of Dead to Rights: Retribution, as you’ll be unarmed often and you’ll need to take out a dude to get a firearm. That said, it’s a shame the system in place is so average. You have a heavy attack, light attack and block, as well as combos for grabbing and throwing opponents. Trouble is, you don’t really lock on to enemies all that well, Jack kind of plants his feet and just throws punches at whatever he’s lined up with. This is trouble because the enemy’s main reaction to up-close fighting is to flee. There were plenty of times I’d run at a guy and he’d be bolting by the time Jack threw his first punch.
Shadow loves the taste of human flesh.Adding to the trouble is the fact that the camera can’t keep up with the action. You’ll be fighting some guy and another dude will run in to engage you from behind. You can point your joystick at the new foe and try to take him on at the same time, but Jack Slate isn’t Batman and this system doesn’t keep up like Arkham Asylum. Plenty of times I’d be chasing someone down, fighting that guy, and have no idea someone was hiding in the blind spot the camera made behind me until that baddie was punching me in the head.
Beyond fisticuffs, we get into disarms and takedowns. A disarm is just what is sounds like — after running up on a guy, you can hit a button prompt to snatch his gun and turn it on the baddie. If you time it right, you can take the gun, pull off a headshot and drop the foe in one fluid motion that is redeeming. A takedown is similar to a disarm. Here, you pound on a bad guy, hit the button prompt, and are treated to a crazy kill animation. Jack shoots out a guy’s legs before putting one in his skull, hits the dude into the air with the butt of his rifle before making him human Swiss cheese, and so on. If you’re unarmed, there are a number of takedowns that end with faces getting smashed into the pavement and knees getting obliterated.
These sound awesome, but they lack an impact. When you first start seeing them, they only serve to point out the mediocre graphics in Dead to Rights. Heads clip through crates, and shotguns at point blank range don’t do much visual damage. Toward the end of the game, you’ll have seen most of the cool moves and just want to advance already — the later levels have a tendency to just keep going.
If all of these bone-snapping techniques have failed you (and they will), you can send out Shadow to do the dirty work while you wait for your regenerative health to kick in. If the doggy’s with you, you can order him around with the D-pad. Shadow can retrieve guns and ammo as well as run out and take down foes with bites to the jugular. Low level bad guys will fall to Shadow without a problem, but more effective evildoers will struggle with the dog and have a chance at kicking him away. Still, you have the opportunity to pop the struggling villain in the head while Shadow keeps him busy, so even if the dog goes down, it’s worth it. If the canine gets incapacitated, it’s up to you to revive him or finish off every enemy in the room.
Don’t mess with Slate.Shadow’s role isn’t strictly limited to being ordered around by Jack, though. Dead to Rights: Retribution has you actually play as the Husky this time around. Most of these levels involve Shadow creeping through an area, stealthily killing guards, and snatching a keycard Jack needs, but there are a few times when he can just run free and maul whomever he likes. No matter how you’re killing folks as Shadow, it’s fun and you have the ability to drag bodies from view of passing patrols and see through walls to scope out where the bad guys are. Even when you’re playing as Jack, you can borrow this Shadow sense and see who’s around the next corner.
Hands down, Shadow’s levels are the best part of Dead to Rights: Retribution. They’re not that challenging or anything, but they are a great change of pace from the typical action game vibe. Sneaking around and waiting for bad guys to let their guards down is cool, and it’s satisfying to watch Shadow leap up and silently suffocate an enemy with his jaws.
However, anytime Shadow is on the screen, some of Dead to Rights: Retribution’s most glaring errors pop up. I love him, but Shadow looks… cheap. He doesn’t look like a natural dog, and that makes him look like he doesn’t fit in the world. It’s a bit bewildering how a main character was left looking so out of place — anytime his face is shown in a cutscene, it looks so fake. There were plenty of times I’d see Shadow walking around, and it was obvious his paws weren’t touching the ground; they were doing that “glide over the surface” thing you see every once in awhile. Similarly, the first time I had Shadow drag a body, he clamped down and started moving the corpse, but there were quite a few inches between the dog’s mouth and the dude’s shoulder. It was like the dog was using telekinesis.
Bang — everyone’s dead.Still, those issues didn’t ruin Shadow’s portions of the game for me; again, it was refreshing to have a break from the overused formula of killing everyone in a room, moving to the next area and doing it all over again. Dead to Rights breaks from this blueprint once or twice — letting you lead hostages around, climb in a mech, go undercover — and those were my favorite parts of the experience. Sadly, they were just miniscule moments in the 8-hourish game, so the overall title gets swallowed up in forgettable shooting and taking cover.
There were a few moments I yelled at the TV while playing Dead to Rights: Retribution, but those moments that actually elicited an emotion passed relatively quickly. In the end, I remember Jack’s “so bad it’s good” dialogue and the Shadow missions more than anything else. From there, Dead to Rights: Retribution is just another third-person shooter. Go here, kill them, do it again. It’s rough around the edges –- shadows look like crap on people’s faces and the enemies aren’t smart –- but it could be worse.
Of course, that also means that it could be a lot better.