If Dead to Rights is trying too hard with some parts of the story then it’s simply not trying hard enough when it comes to the gameplay. Frankly, the feature list reads like the type of thing that a 1990s publishing exec might have written under the title of ‘Best Game Ever’. From bullet time to needless brutality and gore, Retribution has got it all.
What Dead to Rights does well though is in forcing players to use the entire toolset, mixing and matching Jack Slate’s many skills as they go and switching between fist- and fire-fights on the fly.
As a videogame protagonist, Slate naturally has an affinity for guns and wields them with a pin-point accuracy, but he’s also a master pugilist at the same time. Given that unarmed enemies will frequently rush in too close for your guns to be of much use (or even disarm you once you get a few levels in), you’ll need to be a skilled button masher too. Thankfully, the melee combat system is robust, if not expansive and the level design is well-suited to both type of combat – plenty of ledges to chuck bad-guys over. The cover system is flaky and not up too much, but slow-motion means that’s rarely much of a hindrance.
Wow, check out all that colour!
Playing as the pistols-and-punches Jack Slate isn’t all that Retribution has to offer though, as you’re nearly always accompanied by Jack’s massive warhound, Shadow. Jack is definitely who you spend the most time controlling and when you do you can only issue the most simple of commands to your goliath pup, but Retribution lets you trade places every now and then too.
Playing as Shadow can get quite old if you’re no good at it admittedly – pretty much every enemy is dealt with through the same horrible, crotch-ripping attacks – and the enforced stealth section can be a pain, but the challenge level isn’t too high. The joy of being able to bound around really quickly compensates for a lot too, even if the excessive gore does ruin it a bit. The bloodiness is, like the swearing, terribly overdone at points – even if it’s not quite at AVP levels.
We’re not being prudish about this either; there’s some incredibly violent stuff in this game. Gun barrels are rammed through the back of enemy skulls, executions involve needlessly long and graphic neck-breaks with alarming regularity and, as for that dog attack…well, we’ve never crossed our legs quite so hard in our lives.
Well, that's hardly fair...
So, to recap, Dead to Rights is a grim, excessively violent and completely misjudges the ‘mature’ tone it’s supposedly aiming for (resulting in an explicit game that’s going to appeal mainly to teens), with gameplay that’s mainly based around slow-mo gunfights and graphic execution moves. The question is why do we like it then?
The answer is simply because Dead to Rights: Retribution is incredibly easy to play and offers plenty of fun moments that compensate for the plotholes and griminess. Simple things, like being able to grab guns out of enemy hands and getting automatically lined up for headshot delivery are a lot of fun. Likewise, while Retribution can occasionally get a bit repetitive as you slug and shoot your way through thousands of hoodlums, it’s more often varied enough to keep you interested thanks to the constant mixing between fighting styles.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is, in many ways, not a very good game and the lack of a co-op or multiplayer mode don’t exactly help either. At the same time though, it’s still fun to play in a mindless kind of way and we can’t deny that we enjoyed it once we’d switched off our brains. Frankly, it’s not something we’d ever recommend you rush out and buy, but if you’re looking for something to fill a weekend-sized gap in your schedule then it might be worth a rental if you too can tolerate the rough-edges.