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Dead to Rights: Retribution Review

23 April 2010

A full eight years since the release of the original Dead To Rights, and the franchise is unleashed for the first time on current gen consoles. Though the original promised much, in reality it was certainly nothing to write home about. If you did happen to play that 2002 release, however, you may be pleasantly surprised by this latest version.

The plot is akin to something you’d read in a pulp fiction crime novel, or see in a million and one action games, with revenge being the name of the game as evil underworld crime bosses wreak havoc on an unsuspecting city. And as is so often the way with videogames, you can simply take it or leave it. Skipping every single cut scene won’t make a blind bit of difference to the gameplay or your opinion of the game. In fact, much like a pulp fiction novel, you could pay attention to every minor detail within the story and still forget what the hell it was all about two weeks after finishing it. But that’s beside the point. The great thing about throwaway, trashy novels is that while you’re deep within their pages they’re a guilty pleasure, like eating a six-pack of crisps in bed for breakfast, only without all the nasty, get-out-of-bed-right-now crumbs. And so it is with Dead To Rights: Retribution.

Once it’s over, all you’ll really remember is that you played a cop by the name of Jack Slate, out to avenge the death of his father and ably assisted by your dog-wolf, Shadow. And we’re not talking Turner And Hooch dog/cop buddy story, this is more like 80’s B-movie Maniac Cop meets 80’s rabid dog movie Cujo buddy story, because Jack Slate’s style of police work is more akin to Brazilian death squad tactics and his dog enjoys nothing more than ripping out the throats of his enemies. Meaning DTR: Retribution is a violent, blood soaked, fist-fest of a game that seems more interested in capturing the bone breaking, cartilage crushing pain of Jack’s enemies in slow motion than anything else.

You kick things off playing as Shadow, working hard to protect your wounded master from the low level thugs surrounding him. Immediately, the level of eye watering violence hits home as Shadow tears off the gonads of each gun-toting thug and then mauls his bleeding body like a normal dog worries a slipper. Though this sounds like a sweet thing it’s nowhere near as compelling as Jack’s selection of grievous finishing moves. But no worries, Shadow dispatches with your enemies swiftly and then you’re into the game proper, storming an office block single-handedly to fight your way through a wall of meatheads and free the hostages within. You have two choices – get up close and batter them to death with feet and fists or use cover and pick them off with whatever gun you can get your hands on. At this early stage you’re almost guaranteed to survive anything they can throw at you and it’s a hell of a lot more fun to punch them out than it is to shoot at them. It’s this hand-to-hand combat that makes DTR: Retribution so much fun to play.

Softening up your opponent with some sharp combos allows Jack to finish them off in true style. You’re going to have to work hard not to enjoy watching the bad guys crumple in a slo-mo heap each time Jack plants a particularly malicious boot firmly in the groin of the goon in question – six hours in and the gratification derived from crushing another man’s testicles is as satisfying as it was in the first half hour. And when you just don’t fancy denting the crown jewels or there just isn’t time to swap blows, you can snatch the gun right out of the goon’s hand and blow his head off in one neat and simple to execute move. Every bad guy’s death is played out in slo-mo, whether you’re picking them off with a sniper rifle or elbowing them in the throat, which looks great up close and lets you know if the guy 100 metres away, tucked behind a wall is actually dead or not.

For the first four or five chapters it’s possible to play through most of the game without pulling out your piece, and since ammo is limited and Jack throws away any gun with an empty chamber, it’s far wiser to get up into their faces and let them know who’s boss. By the time you reach chapter 6, however, (Urban Renewal) you’ll need to have your gunplay nailed down tight. By then, even with the aid of Shadow, who you can send off to attack specific enemies or have stick close to you as protector, running in and swinging punches is going to get you shot dead, and fast. The covering system, whereby Jack ducks behind walls and looks up or around them whenever you take aim, works well in these situations, though you can only take cover like this whenever prompted, leaving you frustrated at times when there’s clearly something to hide behind but the game just won’t let you. And, since the cover command is mapped to the X button, which is also home to the run command, there are times when all you want to do is run, run and keep running but what really happens is that you run, duck, run again, duck again, swear at the screen, run some more and duck five metres up the road.

These are minor gripes, but there are many more, including its linearity. ‘A’ goes to ‘B’ and ‘Z,’ so you can forget about the other 23 letters. Shadow’s sections -- typically sneak in, kill everyone without detection and fetch Jack some keys or whatnot, doesn’t bring anything extra to the game and you wouldn’t miss these scenarios if they didn’t exist in the first place. Next complaint is the camera angles. When embroiled in a mass brawl leave you're often left wondering where the hell you’re taking hits from. All in all, DTR: Retribution just does nothing to break the mould. Only ardent trophy hunters will find a reason to play though again. But none of this really matters because the slo-mo promise of being able to stamp on a bad guy’s throat, shove a shotgun into his mouth and let him have it if you can just get close enough gives you a kind tunnel vision that makes you oblivious to the bad stuff.

Dead to Rights Retribution has the same kind of brutal pleasure that Capcom’s PS2 beat ’em up God Hand had. You know it’s not great, you know there’s some far better games out there with more style and panache than this, but you also know that nut kicking and throat elbowing doesn’t get boring, and while there’s nuts to be toe-punted you’ll probably keep on playing.

-The Final Word-

A pick up, put down, trashy game that has elements of Max Payne and Double Dragon running through its violent veins.
  • Nut kicking
  • Slo-mo nut kicking
  • The ample selection of brutal combos and deeply satisfying take-downs
  • Taking cover when we are specifically trying to run
  • The frustrating camera angles
6.5
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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