Dead to Rights: Retribution is a mixed bag of a gaming experience. It’s part brawler, part stealth, and part third person shooter. It’s also part great game, part terrible game. Every player who experiences Dead to Rights: Retribution is going to see this game differently. It’s all a matter of whether you see the glass as half-empty or half-full.
In Dead to Rights, you control Jack and Shadow. Jack is the cop who doesn’t play by the rules (probably because his daddy is the chief of police). And Shadow is Jack’s enormous crossbreed husky-akita-Cerberus-timber wolf dog. The two work as a team to kick and bite as many groins, slash and break as many necks as it takes to bring down the crime rate in the city.
While controlling Jack, players have the option to play the game as either a brawler or a third person shooter, or as a mixture of both. Jack has the usual array of attacks: strong, medium and light punches, grabs, throws and some absolutely vicious executions, some of which will make the execution in Gears of War 2 look like child’s play. The physical battles are highly satisfying and at times I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Final Fight arcade series. That’s a good thing. Guns can be found from dead enemies, or they can be pried from your foes hands. There isn’t much ammunition to go around, but there are plenty of guns. Gamers are encouraged to play as ruthlessly as they want, discard their gun and then kick some ass for another. Each large weapon has a different execution cutscene that will make gamers want to pick up and try every one.
There is a cover system in Dead to Rights, but it’s finicky at best. Some items are difficult to hide behind. While others provide useless cover as Jack’s huge head sticks over the top. Occasionally, players will control Shadow in some stealth missions. Jack will tell Shadow to “get keys” or something similar. Then Shadow goes into the complex and tears the throats out of everyone inside. It’s kind of funny because sometimes the investigation hasn’t even begun and there’s no telling whether the armed gunmen inside are innocent or guilty. Who knows what would happen if Jack ever said “brutally kill or castrate everyone you see!” He’d probably end up with a set of keys.
As Shadow is in stealth mode, he can see all the enemies around him and based on their color, he can tell if he’s been detected or not. Shadow is quick and agile and can take down enemies in one attack if he goes in unnoticed. If seen, Shadow can only take a bullet or two before it’s game over. The stealth gameplay breaks up the pace of the game, but not to a distracting degree. And as far as stealth missions go, these are all a walk in the park.
But now we move on to the major problems with the game. Dead to Rights is an ugly game.
The character models feel incredibly dated. With his disproportionate body, Jack looks like a goof when he runs and he looks even worse when he’s climbing ladders. Unfortunately, Shadow suffers from a similar problem. When standing upright and moving slowly, he looks completely unnatural. It’s like watching a nature film about wolves… in slow motion.
The environments can also be a bit of an eyesore. Aside from the highrise level (which was fantastically reminiscent of Die Hard), it feels like the level designers were going for “grungy” and just ended up with a mess instead.
Control-wise, the buttons are mapped fairly unintuitively. Non-hardcore gamers will probably feel completely lost picking up this game. But that’s what happens when you try to map two completely different play styles to one character. The controls aren’t game-breakingly bad, but they’re bad enough. The voice acting is terrible. Even though you’ll hear some familiar voices like Paul Eiding, you’ll find that very few lines in the game aren’t cringe worthy.
Oh, and the explosions are just… really sad. The designers tried to mask how bad some of the explosions by playing them in slow motion. It doesn’t work. Oh and the helicopter that just blew up… is still 99% there. Certainly, its no longer flight worthy, but c’mon! It’s very inconsistent with the rest of the game. Big guns, big dude, big fights, big dog, weak explosions.
At one point in the game, Shadow needs to turn off some generators so Jack can go through an electric door lock. After slaughtering a base full of super soldiers, Shadow then proceeds to pee on the generators to turn them off. Really? Peeing? Not only is that too silly even for this game, but it’s SNOWING outside and the generators are out in the open. Wouldn’t the snow (which would most certainly melt near the warm generators) produce the same effect? I know the falling snow is just to create atmosphere in the game and I know I’m nit picking. But… peeing?! REALLY!?
In the end, Dead to Rights: Retribution really is a mixed experience. It feels like Final Fight and Dark Sector had a baby… and adopted a demon dog. It has a ton of technical and design flaws, but the gameplay is solid and absolutely fun and rewarding at times. If you don’t take it too seriously, you’ll have a great time with it. On the other hand, the voice acting is terrible. The level design stinks and the controls are hit or miss. While we can’t recommend paying full price for this title, it might be a great game to grab on sale. And it will certainly make a wonderful summer weekend rental.