Don Bluth might disagree, but not all dogs go to heaven. Especially Jack Slate’s mutt Shadow, a vicious, possibly rabid, fusion of malamute and mountain lion with an accumulated bodycount that would embarrass Robocop. If we were Jack, we wouldn’t let that thing within 50 feet of ourselves, let alone let it sleep at the foot of the bed. In fact, we’d have it put down. Post haste.
Demonic dogs aside, it turns out that Dead to Rights: Retribution is a pretty good game, the kind of game, in fact, that we’d didn’t actually think ever got made in this day and age. Eschewing any pretensions of critical grandeur, it knows what it’s about and sticks commendably to its guns (and feet, and teeth…), delivering satisfying violence in a comic noir shell. It feels like it might have come out on Dreamcast, and some-times looks like it might have, too. But it’s all about ultra visceral, ultra-violent fun, and in this respect it delivers.
The plot, as you might guess, is suitably dark but largely irrelevant. The action is anything but, as cop-with-attitude-and-Popeye-forearms Slate takes it to criminal gang The Union and their army of brawlers, martial artists, armed punks, snipers… and fat men. They die in droves, but it’s the inventive ways in which you can kill them that frequently stole our oxygen. Jack’s armed with a progressively extravagant, increasingly sadistic roster of punches and kicks that deliver the ‘oomph’ factor. Lob in headshot-heavy shooting, a concrete cover system and imaginative – if relentlessly depressing – level design and you’ve got a scrapper/shooter that goes on a box-ticking riot. Leave your brain at the door and you’ll revel in the rampage.
If Jack’s bits ever threaten to drag, in comes faithful Shadow. A multitalented mutt, he not only accompanies Jack on his vigilante excursions (where you can order him to attack, defend territory and reconnoitre for weapons… but not cock his leg, sadly) but even stars in mini levels of his own. These bits fondly recall (well, rip-off) Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Detective Mode, as Cujo ‘smells’ through walls, identifies the individual heartbeats of his prey and stalks them around levels, before ripping their throats out and dragging the remains into some dark, undiscovered corner. It’s a welcome distraction, slickly done and adds another layer of polish to an experience that occasionally threatens to come undone thanks to crappy AI and a frustratingly arbitrary health system.
You could argue lots of the aspects of Retribution – like the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them evidence hunting sections – are underdeveloped, tantalisingly hinting at what might have been, but you’d probably be missing the point. It’s a B-grade game that dishes out the laughs with riotous abandon, swapping out pathos and plotlines for pain, pain… and some more pain. Admittedly, the first few levels actually hint at an even grittier amalgamation of Batman’s Gotham, Max Payne’s Big Apple and Condemned’s Metro City, but when the rain finally stops pouring you’ll realise just how dated – and ugly – this game engine really is. Then again, you may be having too much fun to notice.
Don’t go near Dead to Rights: Retribution at full retail price, but wait a month or two for the price to drop and it’ll be worth delving into as your favourite ‘bad’ game since Wanted: Weapons of Fate.
Apr 27, 2010