Dead to Rights: Retribution is a vicious game. Vicious in the sense that if Grant City police officer Jack Slate slams you face first into the ground and then shoots you in the back of the head, you should consider yourself lucky. The alternative being kneecapping you first and killing you while you’re begging for mercy in a pool of your own blood, meat, and bits of shattered bone. It’s also vicious in that if Jack’s dog Shadow rips out your throat and then drags you gurgling and twitching into a dark corner to die, you’d better be thankful that he went for your throat and not your groin. Let’s just say that Shadow isn’t a fussy eater.
All in all there is little about Volatile Games's Dead to Rights: Retribution that’s fussy. It’s a straightforward game that knows what it is: a blood-soaked attack-dog of a game. And accepts it with relish.
For most of the time you take the part of Jack Slate. Jack’s a burly, bruiser of a cop who is barely held in check by his father. Unfortunately, his father, also an officer in Grant City’s police force, is brutally taken out of the picture and Jack is released unchecked on the city’s criminals.
When controlling Jack in his rampage through Grant City’s warehouses, train yards, docks and high-rises, you continually switch between using fists and guns. Fortunately, both types of combat are equally effective. The triangle and circle buttons throw punches while the square button will cover-up and defend. Pressing triangle and circle together will throw a slower, more powerful punch while, in the same way pressing the x and square buttons will initiate Jack's grappling move. From these basics the game’s melee combat system opens up with an impressive list of combos, throws and finishing animations.
The finishing moves are really the dark heart of the game. After rocking your opponent with a few jabs, hooks and loose elbows, a prompt to press the x button pops up. Then, depending on Jack’s weapon and positioning, the bad guy’s life of crime will come to a slow motion end in a violent and fatal way. The kill animations run the gamut from a swift kick to the teeth to gang style executions, all of which are accompanied by showers of blood that splatter Jack, Shadow and the camera lens.
However, Jack isn’t restricted to just his fists when it come to dealing violence. If he gets close enough to a gun wielding enemy the x prompt will again appear, this time allowing him to rip the weapon out of the poor criminal‘s hand. Although there is the typical variety of weapons, from hand guns to rocket launchers, you can only carry two guns at a time and each with only two clips, so you tend to run out of ammo pretty quickly. To help with this the L1 button initiates the game’s version of bullet time, switching the gameplay to slow motion briefly, giving you time to target a specific enemy, take out multiple opponents, or simply run for cover.
Throughout the game you also get to run free as Shadow. As you would expect, taking the part of Shadow changes the gameplay significantly. You can still try to fight your way through the criminals by running up to them and hitting the x button when prompted. In this way you can tear out their throat, chew off their gun hand or savage their… er, groinal region. Or you can play it stealthily by sneaking and using Shadow’s senses to pinpoint enemies. Either way the Shadow sections are a nice change in pace.
Now, if it’s sounding like the game is as killer as Jack and his faithful companion Shadow, sadly it’s not. In terms of combat and atmosphere the game looks and plays like the PS2 Warriors licence. From the combos and random enemy AI, down to the dark, drab alleyways and bad guys with white clown make-up, it feels almost like a homage to that same (pretty enjoyable) beat ‘em up from 2005. Also, not only do the shooting elements of the game play kind of like Max Payne, but Jack sort of looks like Max as well. Again, not a bad thing. That is, not a bad thing if it’s still the early 2000s.
But it’s not 2001, or even 2005, and Dead to Rights: Retribution’s good points, essentially Shadow and its excessive violence, can’t make up for what it’s lacking. The game’s dark and claustrophobic graphics mean all the levels look and feel the same. The enemies are many; so many that you get to see Jack’s finishing moves a lot. You see them so often, in fact, that they loose their shine pretty quickly. Sometimes the camera gets caught in awkward positions, often enemies swarm out of nowhere and frustratingly doors that are locked the first time you check them, are suddenly unlocked. Also, there’s no multiplayer or online play and the story and voice acting is pretty uninspired. What the story does do, though, is serve as a reasonably good excuse to get to the violence, and in the end that’s the point.
Yes, Dead To Rights: Retribution is violent. It’s also dark, vicious and amoral, with ten levels packed with face painted thugs waiting to get killed in all manner of slow motion, blood splattering ways. If that sounds good to you, and it certainly does to me, then the game is a perfectly good weekend rental. You’ll get through the story, you’ll get plenty of kills, and you’ll get to spend some time with a pretty good dog.