Review: Dead to Rights: Retribution

I've been dodging the question all week: "Hey, so how is Dead to Rights: Retribution?"

I know what they want to hear, of course. They're expecting me to savage a game that (1) is part of a series that's largely disliked by those who even remember it exists and (2) is made by Volatile Games, which last delivered unto us the truly terrible Reservoir Dogs. (I'd gleefully let Michael Madsen cut off my ear in exchange for never having to play that game again.)

I understood why friends and co-workers would be expecting an evisceration. But I found myself evading the question because if I was being honest, the answer I'd have to give is this: Dead to Rights: Retribution? Not half bad.
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You play as the oppressively generic Jack Slate, a take-no-prisoners, take-no-guff cop from the mean streets and Shadow, his take-no-dog-prisoners, take-no-guff dog cop from the mean streets. Basically, if you've got some guff to dole out or need some prisoners taken, stay away from these two.

Somehow, their hometown of Grant City has become so crime-ridden that it has fundamentally turned into a police state, so Jack sets out to find the people responsible and attempt to clear up some of the corruption after being spurred on by a terrible (if predictable) tragedy.

I think that was the moment I first started to realize it: As I watched Jack reel from this loss in a scene that was both well-acted and long enough to elicit some kind of emotional response (which few games afford)

If not more than a generic third-person action game, Retribution is at least a pretty good one.

it began to dawn on me that, if not more than a generic third-person action game, Retribution is at least a pretty good one.

Most of the credit has to go to the pleasant combat system, which blends the cover-based shooting of a Gears of War with a fairly robust hand-to-hand system that incorporates blocks, dodges, disarms and highly violent "takedown" moves. Ammo's extremely limited, so combat constantly fluctuates between taking a few pot shots from behind a barrel or crate before running out of bullets and bum-rushing an understandably surprised foe to beat the crap out of him. I don't know why the combination works, but it totally does. (Note: While Jack does have the ability to slow down time and shoot dudes in Retribution, slow-mo dive-and-shoot has been dropped for this Dead to Rights iteration. I know, I'm sad too.)

Breaking up the action bits are more stealthy sequences where you play as Shadow, whose canine attributes allow him to easily track and kill enemies in situations that call for a little more precision than Jack's "I ran out of bullets so I jump kicked you" approach. These segments are nothing you haven't done before, but manage to be surprisingly enjoyable. Enemies are stupid enough that they rarely see you, and covertly leaping on a baddie and ripping out his throat never fails to satisfy.

Lest I give the wrong impression, I should mention here that while it occasionally surprises with some competent sequences, Retribution is made up of mostly mediocre elements. For one, the game world, while well-detailed, is aggressively saturated in brownish-grays. Honestly, if I lived in a place as drab as Grant City, I'd probably turn to a life of crime too, if only to break up the monotony. My advice to Jack? Just move, dude.


The muzzle flash adds a nice splash of color ... don't cha think?

There are also several segments that go on for too long, specifically when Jack decides he's going to arrest a suspect who he probably should have just killed, and then proceeds to take him as a hostage and push him through two levels of the game. It's madness. The pacing problems seemed to get worse the closer I got to the end of the approximately 10-hour campaign.

Paradoxically, the biggest problem with Retribution is, in a way, its biggest strength. While I can't eagerly recommend the game -- just because there's so little here you haven't done or seen before -- Volatile did succeed in creating a non-crummy experience. The developer knew its limits and was all but phobic about attempting to stray outside them.

So, yeah, my honest review is that the game is kind of fun and almost entirely inoffensive. And if you're Dead to Rights: Retribution, the game practically everyone expected to fail, don't you have to take that as a win?

This review is based on the Xbox 360 retail version of Dead to Rights: Retribution provided by Namco Bandai.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.