Everyone has guilty pleasures; things they are almost ashamed to like and probably don’t want widely publicised. Gamers are no exception – there are plenty of games which we know are really, really bad, but still love. Just look at SiN: Episodes, for example. It’s awful. We love it.
And now Dead to Rights: Retribution is another game which we can add to that category too; it’s a game which is utterly flawed on many levels, but which also manages to be oddly moreish. Like a Grade A narcotic, it’s bad for you, but knowing that might not be enough to keep you away from it…
What’s strange about Dead to Rights’ unapologetic awfulness though is that a lot of the time it manages to not get on your nerves, while at the same time being explicitly terrible. Take the story, for example. You play Grant City cop Jack Slater, a man with a bicep for a brain, the biggest dog in the world and who slots nicely into the role of renegade cop with the kind of ease that suggest he’s actually got it tattooed on the back of his hand. All the other cops are wimps and only you and your dad can get the job done as you try to bring down a vast conspiracy woven by millionaires and the military.
Like all games, Dead to Rights needs some old-fashioned Batman FX bubbles
There are a few attempted twists along the way, but few actual surprises. The cardboard cutout characters pop up and down on cue and it’s fairly obvious from the outset which members of the case are going to die horrible deaths – though Retribution handles some of these death scenes quite well and admittedly salvages some credibility in the process. Overall though, the story is samey dross that reads like a budget version of Max Payne or Condemned, yet at the same time it progresses at a speed and in a manner which means you rarely actually get incensed by it.
As was the case with Just Cause 2, the storyline may be terrible but as a justification for the violence it works perfectly and doesn’t really get in the way of the enjoyment. Sometimes it even managed to raise an unexpected giggle or gasp from the cold, cynical stones that fill the spaces where our hearts used to be.
Where Retribution’s plot does start to grate a little though is in the relentlessly grim tone it’s adopted, which over time moves from being effective to just downright oppressive. The game is almost entirely coloured in greys and blacks and reds, while the characters all sound so raspy that they’ve likely got actual gravel rattling around in their voiceboxes.
This on it’s own might have been fine, but Retribution has massively overshot the intended target of a ‘mature tone’ thanks to too-frequent swearing and ridiculous character designs. It’s hard to take a game seriously when it regularly has you groin-punching Chinese gangsters dressed as clowns or telling them to eff off as you throw them off skyscrapers. Not that we mind the clowns or the violence or even the constant references to “a mature, modern noir game” that occur in the concept galleries; it’s just that it’s sometimes a bit too much and Retribution definitely tries to hard in these areas.
Now, if only the same could be said for the gameplay…