Back when the Xbox was no more than a fledgling, Microsoft bolstered its exclusive software releases with a title known as Dead to Rights
. The third-person action game was something of a guilty pleasure. The gameplay was easy to grasp, the kills were brutally violent, and the storyline was ripped directly from a Charles Bronson film. Dead to Rights II
tries to accentuate the best elements from the first game while shedding some of the features gamers took issue with. The result is a stripped-down actioner that lacks complexity, but delivers some very simple point-and-shoot fun.
Once again, players take the role of Jack Slate, a hardened cop who is willing to kill wave after wave of men to achieve his goal. And what is that goal? Originally, he was framed for a crime he didn't commit and sought to avenge his father's murder. Unbelievably, the plot has thinned this time around. A reputable judge has uncovered a citywide crime syndicate and gotten himself kidnapped. The judge was a friend of Jack's father, so the cop is obligated to send few hundred men to their graves in order to make things right.
The plot is introduced through a series of cutscenes that have Slate spewing some of the most laughably ridiculous dialogue ever heard in a videogame. This isn't always a bad thing. Dead to Rights II is aware of its cheesy premise and pushes the camp to new limits. Almost every level begins in the same fashion: Slate crashes a vehicle into an enemy hang-out, beats someone to a pulp, and delivers an awesomely-bad one liner.
Dead to Rights bears some semblance to the Max Payne series, but with some key differences. First off, there is an auto-targeting system that marks one enemy at a time with a circular crosshair. This way, all you need to do is tap the right shoulder button and Slate will stay focused on the selected enemy. The game throws a huge number of enemies into any given confrontation, so the auto-targeting is the most elegant way to handle the combat. In terms of gameplay and visuals, it has arcade-shooter written all over it. No sooner do enemies fill a room than has Slate pumped them full of lead and moved on to the next group of autonomous drones. The cycle doesn't require a lot of thought, but it almost perfectly defines the term "mindless fun". Namco takes advantage of this by presenting a quick play feature and four difficulty settings. Gamers are encouraged to jump into the action at any point without worrying about too many details.
There are a plethora of guns in the game, but they barely change from one to the next. As one would expect, the shotgun has a short, broad range while the machine gun is more focused. These differences are readily apparent, but unnecessary. Most gamers will run through their arsenal based on what automatically comes up after a weapon is depleted of ammo. But this is more of an observation than a complaint since the game is so arcade based; I wouldn't want an item system to distract me from shooting guys in the face. There are also grenades, rocket launchers, and canisters that can be thrown and shot to cause a fiery explosion.
The level design is incredibly basic, consisting of a few hallways, and square environments. One of my least favorite aspects of the game is that in almost every level you are forced to backtrack. The simple arcade shooting quickly becomes boring with a complete lack of variety throughout each level.
Besides a very mature presentation, the first Dead to Rights was known for its disarms. When Slate gets close enough to a threat, players are able to press a single button to initiate an instant kill. On top of the disarms from the first installment, there are 13 new ways to stylishly end an opponent's life. Jack doesn't just snap an enemy's neck, he performs a series of flips and rolls ending with gory demise of whoever is at arm's length. The animations for these moves are endlessly entertaining. They are too complicated to be cool but, like the dialogue, they are ridiculous enough to put a smile on your face.
When close enough, Slate can also use enemies as a human shield. This protects him from damage and confiscates whatever firearm the victim was holding. Both disarms and human shields can be useful at times, but it's difficult to get close enough to use them. Like the first game, it's much easier to blast away at a room full of enemies than it is to perform fancy combat moves.
The main character is in possession of a health, shield, and bullet time meter in the top-left hand corner of the screen. Tapping the dive button sends Slate hurling through the air while remaining locked on to his target. Holding this button enters a slow-motion mode that allows players to take out a room full of thugs before they can squeeze off a single round. It also adds to the amount of damage dealt by Jack, and is extremely helpful for getting out of tight situations.
Slate's furry friend is back from the first game too, and is now integrated into normal gameplay mechanics. At the tap of a button he can be sent after enemies, or be used to retrieve items on the ground level. Shadow shares the bullet-time meter, so he must be used sparingly. The dog feels like a shuriken that can be tossed into a crowd to lessen the threat count. Unfortunately, Shadow is strangely unresponsive in certain areas and often becomes confused by more than the simplest architecture. He will also retrieve weapons when you want him to attack the closest enemy. These problems greatly hinder the usefulness of Shadow, and after awhile he is best left ignored.
.Dead to Rights I featured a series of poorly designed mini-games that broke up the action and interrupted the flow. It also included a simple hand-to-hand combat system that lasted for long stretches and led to an unbalanced game. Namco has gone with a "less is more" philosophy and has done away with the mini-games completely, while every level is jam-packed with shooting dudes in the face, or beating them to a bloody pulp.
There is still a close range combat system, but its role has been greatly reduced. The fighting levels are short and interspersed amongst the glorious shooting but when hand-to-hand does rear its head, it involves a simple punch and kick combo system. There is a jump kick, and a set of melee weapons like cleavers and baseball bats. Shadow can also join in the fun, but continuously tapping the A button gets the job done in most situations. In DTR II combat is less tedious, but still adds very little to the game and one wonders if this element should have removed completely.
If nothing else, Dead to Rights II has certainly made a visual leap forward from the first game. Environments have a moderate to high amount of detail, including some nifty destructible elements. Cars can be blown up, combustible barrels are scattered about, and electrical appliances explode in a shower of sparks. Explosions and particles look especially impressive while in bullet time. The overall art style is a bit cartoon-like and bland, but it also matches the subject matter perfectly.
Each level contains a generic looping audio track that often contains the complexity of a demo track on an old-school Casio keyboard. Gunshots are hollow and weak, most weapons resembling firecrackers. The trend continues with the voice acting, but in this area it is completely excusable. As I stated earlier, the dialogue is so goofy that the poor voice acting makes it more humorous.
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