Imagine a videogame.
Now imagine it being turned into a typical CGI-laden plot-free action movie.
And then envisage, if you will, what it would be like if this movie got turned back into a videogame. The result, I suspect, would be rather similar to how Death by Degrees turned out - a fairly mediocre action title that feels like it had something special, but lost it. Possibly in the Bermuda triangle?
Nevertheless, Nina Williams, of Tekken fame, now gets her very own game to star in! The results, however, are mixed at best. The game plays out like a cross between Resident Evil and Fighting Force. You'll guide Nina through several hours of puzzle elements punctuated by numerous bad guys trying to kill you. There's fun in there somewhere, but it can at times be hard to find.
Death by Degrees plays out like a poor cousin to your typical action blockbuster. The protagonist is an undercover agent infiltrating a mysterious cruise ship. She maintains cover by entering into a series of spectator fights, while trying to find out about the Secret Organisation on board the ship. However, her cover is soon blown, and she is captured whilst taking a swim. Cue scene of scantily clad woman beating up a lot of goons.
Sound familiar? It ought to. This is the kind of plot that graces only the worst kind of Steven Seagal movies. And did I mention that the ship is sailing in the Bermuda triangle?
However, if plot were the main thing people looked for in a game, we?d all be playing Myst. As mentioned above, a lot of the game is played out in a very similar manner to the Resident Evil games. This means there is a lot of running around various rooms, looking for anything that shines conspicuously. The puzzle element of Death by Degrees generally comes in the form of finding a square peg to fit into a square hole - so if you encounter a locked door, chances are you'll find a handy key nearby. This part of the game felt very formulaic, as if the developers purposely included only the most mundane puzzle ideas found in other adventure games.
The camera also seems to be lifted straight out of Resident Evil. For the most part, it will be static, placed in a corner of the room. This can be quite annoying when you're running around and the camera changes - all of a sudden you'll be holding down the analog stick in the wrong direction. The biggest weakness of this camera system, though, is when bad guys are around - unless you use the third-person camera button every few steps, chances are they?ll start firing on you before you even knew you weren?t alone.
The combat system, on the other hand, is far more original, and is deservedly the most touted feature of Death by Degrees. You move Nina around with the left analog stick, and can tap in any direction to quickly dodge out of the way. If you tap the right analog stick, Nina will attack in the direction you pressed. So if you?re busy beating up a bad guy in front of you and notice another one creeping up behind, a quick tap backwards will see Nina spin around and give him a kick to the head. Very satisfying.
The system also allows for numerous combo moves - this is, after all, a Tekken spin-off. For every bad guy you kill, Nina will receive skill points, which can then be used to purchase new moves. However, I found that while there are quite a few moves to unlock, many of them were made unnecessarily hard to execute - try pressing L1 and simultaneously tapping and pressing down the right analog. There were also situations where I found it hard to hit a bad guy. Perhaps I'm simply uncoordinated, but when a particular boss kept trying to run away and shoot me, I often found myself running up and kicking the air next to his face.
Luckily, I had the option of pulling out a gun and loading this guy with lead. Nina can pick up various weapons throughout the game - she can even use two truncheons simultaneously. The ranged weapons certainly do help, but at greater distances still suffer from the inaccuracy mentioned above. Overall, the combat system works great in theory, but at times feels like it could have been implemented better.
The music in Death by Degrees is another mixed bag. It never reaches great compositional heights, but it's certainly not terrible. The same can be said for the sound effects in the game - they do the job. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the voice overs. Is it a monetary issue that forces developers to go out and hire such bad voice actors? Whatever the reason, it helps make the already unbelievable plot just that little bit cheesier.
The game as a whole could be likened to the music - never brilliant, but it does the job. Death by Degrees is by no means a terrible game, but it can be very mediocre in places. Its most original feature - the combat system - can be fun, but it can also be downright frustrating. Imagine a sea of mediocrity, into which a ship of brilliance and originality comes sailing. But suddenly the ship disappears, leaving only a memory of something better. That's right, it's all the Bermuda triangle's fault.