Dead to Rights: Retribution
If you're the market for some mindless entertainment, you could do a whole lot worse than Dead to Rights: Retribution
- Big explosions, powerful guns, over-the-top attitude
- Doesn't exhibit the same level of polish as other recent titles, a cliched plot and uninteresting characters have nothing to offer
It may not be the deepest or most original action experience out there, but it's hard to deny the cheap thrills, over-the-top attitude, and mind-numbingly brutal mayhem present in Volatile's Dead to Rights: Retribution.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
I'll be honest with you -- I didn't want to review Dead to Rights: Retribution. I was forced to bring the game home one weekend due to tight deadlines, and I didn't relish the idea of spending my down time playing through a generic action title with more balls than brains. I try to have an open mind about every game I review, but developer Volatile Games wasn't making it easy on me; the game looks like the product of a "bigger and louder is better" design philosophy that recent action games like Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2, and Splinter Cell: Conviction have proven to be outmoded. Main protagonist Jack Slate has biceps bigger than my thighs, for example, and he talks in a voice that suggests he gargles with gravel every morning.
But for all its bluster and ridiculous shenanigans, Retribution is, impossibly enough, fun. It won't win any awards nor does it deserve them, but it does provide you with a decent dose of mindless entertainment. It's guilty pleasure gaming, all empty calories and preservatives; it's not good for you, and there are better alternatives out there, but sometimes, a little junk food can hit the spot.
Retribution succeeds for the same reason why crappy movies like Independence Day gross so much money: it offers an exciting spectacle that you don't have to think too hard about. If you can shut your brain off, you will have fun with its over the top action; if you can't, you'll most likely end up with a concussion after the game beats you over the head with its ridiculousness. The Max Payne-inspired noir story, for instance, is overwrought, and relies on tired genre tropes like a conspiracy involving criminal gangs, crooked cops, and the moral grey area that pops up whenever someone tries to do the right thing the wrong way. It's one of those stories where a character is introduced and your immediate reaction is "He's totally going to get shot and bleed out in the hero's arms," and he does.
Characterisation is another weak point, with the entire cast falling comfortably into cliched roles. Jack Slate is a hardened cop with a chip on his shoulder (guess whose rules he plays by); his father is the grizzled veteran cop everyone respects (guess what his ultimate fate is); Red Water is the leader of the city's S.W.A.T.-like special forces squad who believes might makes right (guess which side he ultimately winds up being on); and business man Temple is a rich mogul who seems like an upright citizen but isn't (guess who conspires to drive the city into chaos for his own profit). The only character I found remotely interesting or likeable was Shadow, Jack's canine companion, mostly because he doesn't possess the ability to talk and, therefore, can't say anything cliched.
But Shadow is the perfect embodiment of what the game does well: it offers you a variety of interesting ways to cause havoc. You get to control the deadly dog in far too brief sections where you basically become a furry Sam Fisher. A canine sonar lets you see people through walls, and you can sneak around for stealth kills; when that fails, you can run like the wind and tear out people's throats. It's surprisingly satisfying, and I wanted it to be a bigger part of the game. Luckily, Jack's no slouch in the action department, and although he plays like your run-of-the-mill third-person action hero, it's a lot of fun to fight your way through the waves of thugs and soldiers that stand in his way. The competent gun battles are helped along by a decent cover system that mimics but doesn't quite match the one found in Gears of War, and a bullet time mechanic that slows down time is there to even the odds.
It's the melee combat that takes the cake, however, with a ridiculous button-mashing punch-a-thon complete with Mortal Kombat-style "fatalities." It's about as subtle as using a hammer to crack open an egg, but it's oddly gratifying on a gut level; upper-cutting a guy into the air, catching him by the neck and breaking it across your shoulder on the way down isn't standard police procedure, but you can't argue its effectiveness. The game also wisely mixes up the gameplay enough that fatigue never sets in; it lets you play as Shadow then later gives you access to a power-suit complete with rocket launcher and Gatling guns. It sets up objectives like blowing up attack helicopters and dragging a bleeding ally to safety; it's mostly inane busywork, but it takes you off the rote "shoot guys until they die" treadmill before you get too tired of it.
Retribution lacks grace and skill, but its varied action is entertaining enough over the game's ten chapters to convince you to keep playing. Like main protagonist Jack Slate, it's loud, dumb and not nearly as cool as it thinks it is, but I still enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. I felt sort of cheap and dirty afterwards, like I needed to play the video game equivalent of a salad just to get the taste out of my mouth, but I was strangely satisfied. I also like Retribution because it's a reminder that not all games need to aspire to be "art." There's plenty of room in this industry for an action game that only exists as an excuse to blow stuff up. I still wouldn't recommend it over a more polished title like Splinter Cell: Conviction, but if you're the market for some mindless entertainment, you could do a whole lot worse.
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