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Joystiq impressions: Dead to Rights: Retribution


As we reported last month, Namco Bandai is "rebooting" (that's cool-talk for "taking another crack at") Dead to Rights, its tale of a cop, his dog and lots of third-person shooting. Dead to Rights: Retribution, as it's known, was shown in non-playable form last night at Namco's preview event -- well, it was being played, just not by us.

We got a look at two levels from Jack Slate and his pooch Shadow's new adventure, one that's full of shotguns in the mouth, ripped-out throats and a glimmer of hope in its melee combat.

Gallery: Dead to Rights: Retribution (04-29-09) | 20 Photos

Developer Volatile Games -- itself a division of Blitz Games and the crew behind last-gen's Reservoir Dogs -- kicked things off by informing us it's "embracing the M rating" with its take on the newly revived franchise. This, of course, means the game is very bloody; we can't wonder if, after some of what we saw, it's being macabre simply for the sake of it.

Volatile kicked things off by informing us it's "embracing the M rating" with its take on the newly revived franchise.

The game begins with Slate running (awkwardly; his animation in the post-alpha build is disjointed at best) toward Temple Tower, a massive skyscraper at the heart of Grant City, a sprawling metropolis that's certainly seen better days. The story unfolds; a hostage crisis has broken out on one of the tower's upper floors. Slate, a vice cop who's evidently had enough decides to enter and embark on a terrorist/criminal killing spree.

From the moment he exited the elevator, there was trouble. Okay, so it was just one guy and a short tutorial. Volatile says it's focused on delivering "deeper hand-to-hand combat than any other 3D action game." To that end, Slate uses his hands and feet as much as guns -- at least based on what we saw.

The gist of the combat system is as follows: players can be punching an enemy in one direction and can still attack others approaching from the sides and behind. Slate can also throw enemies at one another (or, as we saw, over a railing), force them into a crouch to use as fast-moving human shields and enter a MMA-style clinch with them, from which he can deliver more damaging head & body blows. Keeping with the idea of being able to attack in all directions no matter the scenario, he can kick/backfist while in the clinch. He has a guard stance which, like his enemies', can be broken with the right punch or kick combo.

There's a pretty basic cover system with contextual icons for vaulting, etc. a la Gears of Wars. We actually didn't see much of it since our demoer spent most of the time up close and personal. We watched as he pushed enemies backwards before shooting them in mid-air, disarmed them then used their own weapons to kill them and executed a variety of takedowns, both armed and unarmed. In one, he holds his enemy down by stepping on their chest, shoves the business end of a shotgun in their mouth and pulls the trigger. The result is as gory as you can imagine.

All the while, Slate is building up a slow-mo meter -- actually, each time players perform a "skillful" move, they'll see a blip of momentary slow motion as a visual cue. Unlike the other games in the series, Slate can't perform John Woo esque diving-while-shooting moves, so the slow-mo helps with accuracy more than anything.

The next level of the game we saw was designed to show what playing as his mutt, Shadow, is like. Yes: you play as his 200 pound attack dog. There's no switching of control between Jack and Shadow; the dog has his own specific stages. In the one we saw, Jack had taken a serious beating and it was Shadow's job to scout ahead and take down any potential threats. He did so by slow-stalking (silent kills) and using his heightened senses to see enemies through cover. He can also bark to draw attention to himself -- and away from Jack.

Once he'd snuck up on someone, we were treated to several of Shadow's takedown animations, including him ripping out the enemy's throat and another where he put their entire head in his mouth and suffocated them. He can drag the bodies off, but we weren't shown the intended point of this mechanic.

Dead to Rights: Reckoning runs on a proprietary engine and -- apart from Jack's ridiculously clumsy running animation -- looks pretty good. The city's architecture and use of weather / lighting effects to set the mood stand out in particular. Volatile tell us it's been working on the game for more than two years now, with 18 months spent on the narrative alone.

The game will ostensibly take about 10-15 hours to complete, according to its dev. Right now, we aren't sure the gameplay mechanics will hold up that long without some truly imaginative scenarios to use them in. We really weren't impressed by the demo we were given, but are willing to believe the game can get better -- unfortunately, there are only a few precious months to polish it up before a planned fall release.

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