For once, instead of reviewing a highly-anticipated title, we have decided to put Dead to Rights: Retribution under the microscope. After two adventures on last gen's consoles and a third installment on PSP, Jack Slate is back with his faithful Shadow and he is not happy. The game is released today in Europe while North America will have to wait until April 27. If you are curious to find out if the game is worth a try, the review and the videos are all inside.
It all starts at night, as Jack gets off a boat in a pretty bad shape. The place is of course filled with angry thugs who clearly want to get back at him. Thankfully, Slate can count on Shadow, a sort of extreme version of Snowy, just out of an adventure of Tintin where the famous happy-go-lucky journalist would in fact be a loose canon with rather expeditious methods and a tendency for bone breaking. Just imagine Tintin played by Steven Seagal and you will get the picture. But I'm getting carried away here. This prologue lets you play as Shadow and your mission is to defend and protect your master. It is not long before we realize that one part of the game will be a flashback telling us about the events that put Jack and Shadow in such a complicated situation.
It is difficult to be surprised by the storyline, as it is very predictable. The characters are all very stereotyped and the first time you see them, it is easy to figure out what will happen to them. That being said, the voice acting is well-done and gives the game a rather effective atmosphere in the end. You will for example recognize Paul "General Campbell" Eiding and the main character sounds a lot like Max Payne (even though the actor is different). Another reminiscence of Max Payne is the way the story is told, with Jack Slate as the narrator to his own adventure. It never comes close to its model though, whether atmopshere-wise or gameplay-wise.
Jack Slate : Last Action Hero
Dead to Rights Retribution is your standard third person shooter, with a mix of different ingredients borrowed from many other games. Not everything is perfect, far from it, but the gameplay mechanics have already proved effective and so they work pretty well. When in control of Slate, the game mixes Gears of War, for the gunfights, with Batman: Arkham Asylum, for the hand-to-hand combat. The now inevitable cover system is obviously featured in the game, with the common awkwardness that usually goes with it. The main character is a bit too stiff at times, especially when it is necessary to run into specific cover, which can lead to your death. Overall, the game does not manage to match the titles that inspired the developers but it is still fun to play. Once you get a hang of the controls and the aiming (the latter could have used a bit more polish), headshots aren't the result of sheer luck anymore, and added to the great variety of weapons, it makes the game quite enjoyable. Talking about weapons, you will hear it for yourself in the videos, but the sound they make conveys much energy and power to the gunfights.
The hand-to-hand combat system is a good idea but it is unfortunately a bit weak, because of a limited number of combos available. There are about 17 of them in theory, but it is so hard to tell the difference between each of them that you usually end up doing the same. Again, it reminds a lot of Batman: Arkham Asylum, with just two buttons to attack and one to block, but it is not as varied and thrilling as Rocksteady's system and the different moves are even the opposite of exciting. Aside from the possibility to disarm an enemy or to use him as human shield, there is really nothing new here. Takedowns are a lot more fun to watch, mostly because they are extremely violent, but don't expect to see that many gory effects though. Indeed, even when setting the gore level on high in the option menu, all you will see and hear is a bit of blood and some broken bones. By the way, don't hesitate to rise the brightness level as the screen usually tends to get darker when a takedown is achieved.
A special focus meter also allows the player to slow down the action to have more time to aim - again, how familiar... - and it basically fills up when Slate uses skill during combat. In some levels, you will also be asked to watch a NPC and take him/her to safer grounds. It does not really change the way the game is played, but it adds variety to the situations, which is always nice. Last but not least, Jack can use Shadow and call him for help when things get tricky for him. You can ask him to attack a thug, or even to fetch some ammunition or weapons when you are running short. Be careful not to send him to his death though, as you would be forced to jump in the open to revive him or deal with the bad guys without him until the area is clear.
Talking about man's best friend, as the prologue suggests, the player will get to play as Shadow on several occasions. Most of the time, the goal is to infiltrate a heavily-guarded area to get the necessary keys so Jack can have access to the place. These sequences are pretty cool to play, because it requires a lot of attention and patience to get to the designated target. When pressing the left trigger, you switch to stealth mode, thanks to which Shadow can see his foes through walls - again, much like in Batman: Arkham Asylum - and anticipate their every move. It is of course in your best interest not to be spotted as Shadow's chances of survival are very thin when he's in the line of sight. One option left when you have been made, run and hide! Considering that guards always stay on high alert once they have seen shadow, it is more than advised to sneak behind them and kill them in silence - or sort of given the noise some make when they get their throat cut.
When in stealth mode, Shadow can also lure his enemies thanks to a short range bark. This allows to take down a guard more quietly in the spot of your choice. Moreover, once killed, it is possible to drag and hide bodies so you do not raise the others' suspicion. Two possibilities that have surprisingly disappeared from the latest Splinter Cell game and that should please those of you who miss the good old infiltration games of yore. The great thing about such sequences is that they deliver a very different pace from the rest of the adventure - which is more action based and, as a result, a lot more nervous. You are required to watch your step and think things through before acting as a game over means you have to start the sequence again from the beginning. Let's be clear though, it is rarely difficult to make your way through and it does not take that much time and patience either, but it works very well and it is a nice change from time to time.
Dog and a pony show?
There is little chance you will be blown away by the game's graphical performance but it does not mean it does not have its moments. It sometimes reminds a bit of Timeshift, minus the horrible artistic direction, thankfully. Compared to today's AAA titles, it looks a bit dated in certain areas and what would have been ok two or three years ago is a bit disappointing in 2010. However, thanks to some nice lighting effects and rather detailed textures, some of the environments look really nice. They lack a bit of originality however, as you will get your share of warehouses, office buildings, bleak and gloomy streets to name but a few.
The framerate is not always as smooth as we'd like it to be but it runs ok most of the time and it never affects gameplay. Jack could have used some more fluid animations but I guess making them more realistic would have looked odd given how exaggerated his features are. The AI is a mix of bad and average: the enemies get into cover, move from one hiding place to the other, but they can also be pretty stupid at times. Be careful though, as their aiming skills are definitely high and Jack is not invincible, even in normal mode. The destructible covers can leave you in a difficult position and get your closer to your death.
Dead to Rights Retribution is clearly not a bad game. The problem is that it is not a must-have either. When you know what is coming up in May, you realize that Jack Slate will probably have a hard time with the law of the market. Yet, the game is fun to play, despite a few gameplay issues - stiff controls and aiming - but it is probably more worth a rental than anything else, unless you wait to find it at a cheaper price. However, if the videos convinced you this definitely is a game for you and you are in good terms with your banker, you may find in Dead to Right Retribution a nice alternative to the other games of the genre.
To finish, I'll leave you with our First 10 Minutes video showing what comes right after the prologue video. Enjoy!