Dead to Rights
Wouldn't it be useful if there really was such a thing as bullet time? There are surely innumerable situations where such an ability would come in handy. Exams would certainly be less stressful if two hours became eight. Sports would be mastered with consummate ease. Games like Ikaruga could be completed by mere mortals (indeed, if memory serves there is a slow-motion option in the game). And all that is well and good, but lets face it, the real reason the world's physicists should strive to create real bullet time is so that people like us can kick some real ass. Think about the possibilities. The local bouncers not letting you in on account of your supposedly inadequate footwear? Simple, give him and his mates a bit of the old matrix one-two, and you're doing the slow-mo shimmy in the door in no time. The local 'yoof' giving you jip? Easy, my friends. A couple of flips and some chop-sockey later, and they're off to bother some old age pensioners instead. It's easy to see, therefore, why the world of gaming has taken a keen interest in all things bullet time. The latest to follow this trend are Namco with Dead to Rights.
Dead to Rights is a bit of a cocktail of a game. It has a generous helping of Max Payne style gunplay, some Matrix-esque melee combat, a slew of mini games and even a dash of sniping. None of the parts ever manage to quite equal the best of the games they obviously seek to emulate, but altogether the mix is quite pleasing nonetheless.
The main game play component is the gun combat, and fortunately this is also the most well designed and enjoyable section of the game. The game involves running around the usual gamut of locales as disgraced cop Jack Slate (uber-cliché), dishing out some good old-fashioned what for to a veritable army of gun-toting goons. Combat is simple to control and although not incredibly deep, does certainly entertain all the way to the end. Jack targets his enemies using the right trigger, causing a target reticule to appear over the nearest enemy. A red reticule means the enemy is in perfect range, yellow means he's a little too far away for a clean hit, and green means he's out of sight or range. Blue indicates a dead target. The player cycles through the many potential targets by releasing and pressing the right trigger.
Once a favoured target has been acquired, Slate has a number of ways to dispatch his enemies. There is a large variety of suitably ostentatious weaponry, and using a slow motion leap Slate can emulate any number of Woo-style heroes and take out multiple targets in one pass. Slate can also take enemies hostage for use as a shield, and this becomes a vital tactic later in the game as the number and deadliness of opponents increases dramatically. Hostages are cynically executed when no longer required.
Other John Woo moments are replicated in the game, too. Slate can pick up gas canisters, liberally placed around many of the levels and throw them at the enemy. The game will slow down when these canisters are targeted in mid-air, giving a nice slow motion explosion. Slate must also rank as one of the most wasteful game characters of all time. Not once in this game does he reload his gun - used weapons are arrogantly tossed aside in favour of another weapon. This fits nicely, however, with the game's arcade style, with Slate constantly disposing of weapons and picking up new ones. Some of the game's best moments, however, occur when Slate is unarmed or holsters his gun. Approaching an armed enemy, Slate can employ one of his numerous disarm techniques, all of which can be set to occur in slow motion and under the camera control of the player. All of these disarms feature over-the-top one hit kills, and involve Slate snapping necks, shotgun blasts under the chin, mid air machine gunning and all manner of silliness - but they look cool and serve as an important way to dispatch the enemy.
Slate is accompanied, somewhat bizarrely you might think, by a large husky dog that can be employed to maul an enemy every once in a while and even obediently bring back their weapon for Slate to use. Aww, nice doggy. Frankly, this feature is a little out of keeping with the rest of the game. The dog cannot be seen unless used, and then only appears in cut scene as it wrestles an enemy to the ground. I don't know who suggested this as a game 'feature', but it simply seems extraneous.
Large sections of Dead to Rights feature unarmed combat, normally against boss baddies of some description. Slate's repertoire for unarmed combat is sadly more limited than his impressive gun skills, but these sections of the game do deliver some enjoyment. Possessing the usual selection of punches kicks and throws, these sections of the game are normally quite short, and usually involve some running to and fro, collection items and solving mini games to proceed.
Dead to Rights, while enjoyable in the main, does suffer from considerable problems and some poor design decisions. Once again, developers have fallen into the trap of feeling they need to mix play styles to appeal to a broad audience. The source of such logic escapes me - I have always been of the opinion that games should do one thing well and not try to mix genres. In the end, the game suffers from having a game mechanic primarily designed for gun combat (which works well) with tacked on melee combat (which doesn't). The developers should have spent more time on refining the already good gun combat by adding more disarms, non-leap bullet time abilities and other additions. Dead to Rights also exhibits sub-par Xbox graphics - the models are poorly detailed, environments are lacking in polish and imagination, and the graphics can only be judged functional at best. The sound is better, with some appropriate blood-pumping music and decent voice acting (for a game), but really Namco should have spent more time on utilising the power of the Xbox. There are other niggles - the mini games are only slightly enjoyable and not varied enough to add anything other than a distraction, all being variations of the same button bashing theme. Slate runs too slowly for my (admittedly fussy) liking. And the story is cliché incarnate, and practically transplanted verbatim from Max Payne albeit without any of the graphic novel style.
All this said, however, Dead to Rights will still provide many hours of fun for those willing to overlook its faults. The gun combat plays like an arcade oriented Max Payne, and the size and difficulty of the game will ensure that only seasoned console players will manage to complete the game on the hardest settings. There is definitely enough here to warrant the success the game has already seen in Japan (having sold in excess of a million copies there), and should ensure a sequel in the not too distant future. Hopefully Namco will resist the temptation to pump out a cloned follow-up, and any future additions have their problems set right. If so, Namco could well produce a series that people could get truly excited about.