It's been ten years and the nightmares still come without failure. Every night I beseech whatever compassionate god might be listening for relief. I plead for peace. And every night my unanswered prayers soak into the dead drywall of my room to layer upon ten thousand other whispers that have collected over the decade.
Sleep always comes hard for me because I know that I'll soon roll from my covers wailing in terror and fumbling through the dark for a flashlight and a few thousand milligrams of melatonin. On cue I'll be scared from sleep by fierce dreams, vile dreams, Dredded dreams.
For ten years my nights have been haunted by Sylvester Stallone and his infamous Judge Dredd movie -- a sack of failure even by Hollywood's twisted standards of decency. For ten years I've had to endure lines from the film as sleep took hold and allowed them to fly free from the prison of my waking mind so that they could burn deep into my slumbering frontal lobe, branding me with their eternal curse.
"Ah, the legendary Angel family...Cursed Earth pirates, murderers, scavengers, and of course, scumbags!"
"So tell me Rico, what is the meaning of life?"
Sweet, fabulous torture. Hell hath no fury like a gaggle of inept moviemakers, eh? Truly, thanks for ruining what could have been a terrific adaptation of a favorite comic, Hollywood. But know this, despite your comedic application of the atomic Stallone weapon, we still love our 2000AD Judge Dredd. We still love the series' biting humor, morbid sci-fi themes and fistfuls of bloody action.
Conceivably, the original Dredd could make for the ultimate scripted or free-roaming urban shooter with a hint of wasteland exploration. But then it could have also conceivably made for a killer movie that didn't induce nightmares. Oh well.
So there's this futuristic metropolis, see. Mega-City One is wrought with unemployment, disease, drug abuse and supernatural criminals and also happens to be encircled by an unending wasteland infested with mutants. In its defense stand the Judges, a group of dutiful and sometimes sadistic law enforcement agents comprised of men and women who serve as protectors of the law, enforcers of its word, and executors of its sentences. Players take on the role of Dredd, greatest of these Judges.
D vs. D does feature the powerful Judges, the stylized art of the comic source, and even them fangled supernatural villains 'n wasteland mutants, but it doesn't develop any one of its attributes into noteworthy features, nor does it tie any of its botched pieces together with gameplay that's at all engaging. What then results is a seriously unimpressive, tiresome mixture of passable tedium and technical competence that lasts for about six hours.
Dredd, portrayed by the typically grizzled Wolverine-esque character, is out to thwart Death and the other Dark Judges. These extra dimensional shades hail from a chaotic realm where man is not welcome. Previously captured by Dredd, the ethereal Death has managed to escape his maximum security confinement and seeks to end all life, for he has deemed living to be a crime since humanity is inexorably prone to sin. Dredd, the fun loving human that he is, wants to not have everyone killed. And so the shooting begins.
While the story is loosely strung together by brief cutscenes stuffed with the occasional snippet of plot and character development, the "kill evil guy before he does a very bad thing" theme is just another way of elbowing gamers through a series of standardized first-person shooter mainstays that include the sewer-like place, office-like place, industrial-like place and prison-like place. This generic assemblage of levels with no real narrative backing leads to and past an array of inexplicably horrid boss fights that feel more like superfluous add-ons to justify a mission's conclusion than real gameplay boosters. Without engrossing bosses or an exciting story -- which itself is odd considering the rich fiction from which the game was derived -- Dredd vs. Death relies on its canned shooting mechanics to sustain interest. Canned means Dredd will plod along through static levels circle strafing stupid things. This rudimentary style of action -- worsened by sparsely populated environments and poorly paced enemy encounters -- gets so boring so fast, even the first level has to drop the zombie bomb that most games manage to reserve until at least a quarter through their campaigns.
Zombies and vampires and mutants... Assumedly they're all far more interesting than the average gun toting lunatic and that's why Dredd vs. Death is brimming with 'em. They charge forward leaping and shrieking and clawing and biting like all ridiculous monstrosities do, and so therefore they are scary and fun, no? We're apparently more inclined to fear the lanky flesh-beasts with no brains and are also prone to attributing their feeble intelligence to a side effect of being a hideous monster. In one swoop, the zombies then make up for whatever AI was not included in the game and also theoretically make the title more interesting. Of course, it doesn't work like this in reality. The action never gets interesting. Part of this can be attributed to the lackluster set of repeating genero-vampires, but there are also the linear, dull game environments and weak weapons to thank.
Weapons in Dredd don't rattle or feel particularly lethal. You'd think an incendiary grenade hitting a man-thing in the face and exploding to consume the bastard in a ball of raging orange flame that scorches steel and melts eyeballs would cause some pretty serious results, but unless you're counting the invisible ticks of life that gradually fall off a burning foe, you won't know if a weapon is having any impact at all. Likewise, even the high-powered ballistic weapons feel trite. Each kill tends to also result in a ludicrous ragdoll tumbling routine that makes no practical sense and only helps to further the sensation of unbelievable engagements. When a pistol to the leg causes a vampire to shoot into the air as if it were attached to some medieval trebuchet, you know there are problems.
It should be known that the real selling point of Dredd vs. Death, and perhaps the most disappointing part of it, is the way the Judges themselves are handled. For a brief time players are encouraged to systematically arrest enemies to maintain or increase their Law Meter. Unlawful actions result in a depleted meter and an end game scenario. Shouting at perpetrators and then chaining them for a variety of preset reasons is a bit entertaining, but hardly developed well enough to be enjoyable.
A Judge is responsible for performing three actions: arrest, try, execute. In Dredd vs. Death, Judges saunter up to people hoping they're the bad ones (chances are they are) and make with the arrests and automatic sentencing. Why weren't the three functions of a Judge expanded upon? Why can't we see an NPC, interact with the character, choose whether or not to accuse them of a crime, and then pick the sentencing ourselves? This would have placed a greater gameplay focus on the otherwise useless Law Meter and would have also presented players with a deeper moral choice that forced them to play the role of a Judge. It seems like such a simple inclusion, too. Without this extra bit of personality, the singleplayer game devolves into an ultra uninteresting walk and shoot. And then the singleplayer game just sort of ends.
On consoles, Dredd features a lackluster assortment of splitscreen multiplayer modes as well as a functionally adequate cooperative mode. The PC picks up with some basic multiplayer, but also squanders its license on the same kinds of uninspired team and solo modes that have existed since man first crawled forth from a puddle of primordial soup. The ever challenging arcade mode, however, does help to prolong the bits of life in Dredd by spinning TimeSplitters' nearly perfected extras into a dozen or so different challenges. This hardly legitimizes a game that otherwise boasts few redeeming qualities, however.
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