Death by Degrees review

Sultry Tekken dimwit Nina gets her own game. PSM2 glances up briefly...

Nina Williams is awful. She's a vacuous, corpse-eyed pixel puppet with nothing going for her but a big pair of tits. She's the lowest common denominator in character design - a witless, bleached-blonde nonentity completely devoid of wit, charm or charisma.

Presumably, the reason Namco have foisted this upon us is those Lara-like breasts. But they've forgotten - Lara Croft actually had personality as well.

Look, Mr Developer - if we can't identify with the character under our control we'll have no desire to finish the game. Simple as that.

We saw Silent Hill 2 through to the bitter end because we genuinely cared about James' plight and Second Sight wouldn't have been half as engaging if it wasn't for the likeable, helpless John Vattic.

But Nina Williams won't appeal to anyone. She's a sneering, smug-faced marionette with absolutely no quirks whatsoever. She isn't even a positive female character - how many blonde, muscular, chest-heavy martial artists with a sideline in cage fighting do you know?

The game itself is just as bad, being a carbon-copy action/adventure clinging feverishly to every cliche and convention in the book.

Hackneyed plot that reads like a sub-average Channel Five film? Check. Terrorist situation? Check. Special operatives sent in to deal with said situation? Check. Poorly-designed character upgrade system trying desperately to mask the game's innate simplicity? Check. Long, tedious conversations between levels to artificially extend the game's lifespan? Check. Complicated special moves that look fantastic but require absolutely no user input? Check.

It does try, though - and we like a trier. Some of Nina's critical hit moves are impressive, even if they are just glorified cut-scenes.

When her purple power bar fills up, pressing R2 and nudging the analogue stick forward lets her perform a special move in which an x-ray camera kicks in, revealing her foe's innards and a target. As the timer ticks down, place the cursor over whichever body part you want to destroy and enjoy the mess.

Skulls shatter, brains flatten, hearts implode, bones snap and you'll find yourself cackling internally like some kind of murderous pathologist.

But that's it. That's literally the best thing that Death by Degrees has to offer.

As for the rest, regular combat is controlled via the analogue stick and proves itself to be both tragically awkward and savagely inept, making every battle a stick-waggling chore.

You can attack in any direction but it's too start-and-stop for our liking. If every swipe, kick and punch fused seamlessly together into one aqueous whole it'd work well, but Nina seems to stagger between opponents like a big doddering baby.

Her attacks even go through the enemies at times, adding further weight to the claim that at its very core, Death by Degrees is sloppy, fractured and poorly designed.

It attempts variation. There are a couple of sniping missions strewn around but they suffer as a result of being completely bolted on. Shoot someone in the head and they just slump and vanish.

It looks lovely, but it's dull when compared to something like Metal Gear Solid 2 with its thrilling Big Shell sniping sections.

There are also some baffling laser beam puzzles that, due to the shoddy controls, are needlessly frustrating - the slightest knock and you'll be killed and sent back to your last save point.

Continuing the madness, there are also underwater sections that let you swim in first-person, although it serves no purpose and as such is barely even worth talking about.

It does look lovely though. The whole thing has a bright arcade-style 'glow' and the environments are enormous and plush with detail.

You can't interact with any of it (save for smashing the odd plant pot), but, well, it's very nice looking. If that's your thing. Not that this comes anywhere close to excusing the game's shortcomings.

The aforementioned character upgrade system lets Nina exchange accumulated experience points for new moves. While this is a good attempt at giving the game a tactical edge, it simply means that it takes longer for Nina to be actually any good at fighting.

When she starts out, she's weak as a kitten and it takes ages to toughen her up. And no amount of menu-fiddling can hide the fact that this is a simple, balls-out-of-the-basket scrapper with all the depth, scale and dynamism of a lettuce.

The cut-scenes might be some of the most realistic we've ever seen, the moves might look fantastic and the levels might be epic in scale, but this is a devastating case of style over substance.

For all its grandeur, there simply isn't enough to keep you entertained. The novelty of shattering someone's ribs will soon wear off and you'll be thirsty for more. Buy Onimusha 3 or Devil May Cry 3 instead. This is deathly.

Death by Degrees is out for PS2 on 15 April

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