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Dead to Rights

Reviewed July 2005 by Corbie Dillard

Publisher: Namco
Developer: Rebellion
Release Date: July, 2005
ESRB Rating: “M” 17+ for Mature, ages 17 and up
Genre: Action
Price: $39.99

Dead to Rights fans have been eagerly awaiting the PSP release of "Reckoning" for some time now. The console versions have made a good splash amongst both critics and players. There is a great attraction in hunting down baddies alone, guns blazing, on a handheld gaming device. With the current PSP library lacking action shooter titles, Dead to Rights arrives on the platform at just the right time. But did Rebellion port the magic that made the franchise a popular series to the PSP? After putting the game through its paces, the verdict is good effort but no magic.

In Dead to Rights, you take on the role of Jack Slate, police detective and all-around tough guy. You receive a ransom note from a local gang informing you of their kidnapping of a young girl. Their first demand is to have you come down and meet them at a local seedy motel called the Pink Starfish. Jack knows it's an ambush, but has no choice but to cooperate with the gang in order to have any hopes of getting the young girl back alive and safe. From here on out it's all about blasting everything and everyone in sight. Sort of a "shoot first, ask questions later" prospect.

Gameplay

Controlling Jack is relegated to basically a few simple attacks. Jack's main attack is his firearms. Ranging from a standard revolver, to more advanced heavy artillery like the fully automatic Tactical SMG machine gun, Jack is seldom lacking in firepower. That is unless he runs out of bullets, which tends to happen more often than you'd like. If he runs out of ammo he is left to use his fists and you'll find it quite a chore giving people black eyes while they are pumping hundreds of rounds of ammunition at you. Next up Jack has what's called a "disarm" move. These moves will come in quite handy when you get into close proximity to a bad guy, not to mention the fact that it looks and even sounds really cool as you break someone's neck and then shoot them in the face, complete with bone-crunching sound effect. Jack also has his faithful canine "Shadow" that he can rely on at certain times in the game. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the enemies, you can send Shadow out to brutally mame and kill a few. This isn't terribly effective since your dog's not always at your disposal, but it's still quite a sight to see the dog rip into one of the bad guys. I can't forget to mention the trademark "Matrix" or "Max Payne" move in the game. When you put Jack in the slow motion dive mode, the time around him slows down. He will tuck and roll in super slow motion and fire a few rounds at his enemies while they are frozen in time. You will enjoy the time advantage and the ability to see bullets flying overhead in slow motion. You can roll back up onto your feet, or lay in the prone position to give you a little more protection in order to get a few more shots off.

There is no doubt that Dead to Rights packed some cool moves for the hero character. But how do the controls on the PSP fare in an action shooter game? Since the PSP has only one analog stick, some concessions had to be. Instead of controlling the targeting reticule manually, you now use the "R" button to lock on to a target. The lock-on feature works well enough, that is until you get enemies in both front and back of you. There's nothing like trying to lock onto an enemy in front of you only to have the targeting reticule lock on to the enemy behind you. And the manual targeting option that worked for the console versions isn't included in the handheld version. The good news is that you can switch between locked on targets, the bad news is you have to remove your thumb from the analog nub and reach up and toggle the "down" direction on the d-pad.

You can't talk about a 3-D game without at least mentioning the camera, and the camera controls are less than desirable. It's not so bad when just walking around, but when you begin to be attacked by enemies in multiple directions and you're trying to move around to see the action, it can get crazy. To add insult to injury, whenever Jack gets close to a wall, the camera automatically goes into first-person mode which can really disorient as you don't expect a viewing mode change. The only saving grace to this camera issue is the lock-on system. When you lock on to a target the camera automatically switches around for you to view targets straight ahead. Any other time you're going to be almost running in circles trying to get enemies into your line of sight. If it sounds frustrating, that's because it generally is.

Graphics

We've all become a little spoiled when it comes to 3-D games with the type of realism and advanced polygon usage we see in titles on the home consoles. Although the PSP is clearly capable of producing graphics at least near the level of console quality, we're still a little early in the development cycle of the PSP titles to really take advantage of its power. That's not to say that Dead to Rights: Reckoning doesn't look good. It has good graphics by handheld gaming standards, but lacks the full texture and the super realism we've come to expect in console-level game graphics. It's worth mentioning that the game has a very dark look to it which, at times, can make seeing in tight spaces a little confusing. The good news is that everything seems to run at a constant framerate, giving the game a very smooth look in motion. The characters in the game look a step or two above PS1 quality, but nowhere near the look of a PS2 game. Those looking for advanced lighting effects need look elsewhere as there's not much lighting to talk about here. Dead to Rights has the basics of the graphics in place, it just lacks the polish we'd like to see in a hit action title.

Sound

Imagine watching a Chow Yun-Fat or Steven Segal movie and you'll have a pretty good idea of what the soundtrack in this game is like. There's some orchestrated music along with some fairly impressive up-tempo rock tracks. The music fits the mood and intense action in the game perfectly. If we had a complaint it was that there just wasn't a lot of variety in the different music tracks and the music gets a bit repetitive after long playing sessions. All in all, the soundtracks were very well done.

If it's one area of this game that truly shines, it's the sound effects. You're gonna get an earful of gunshots, explosions, as well as the all-to-familiar sound of bones splitting in two. You'll also notice that the sounds of bullets ricocheting off of objects produce different pitches of sound depending on what material they're hitting. This was a nice attention to detail in a game that seems to lack details in graphics. If you can appreciate a good third person shooter, you're going really fall in love with the sound effects in Dead to Rights.

Conclusion

Dead to Rights has a lot of potential and presents an action genre adored by fans. It's great to see that Namco brings this title to the PSP and did a decent job on porting the graphics and controls to the handheld platform. Players will enjoy the many aspects of the gameplay including the slow-mo dive and the canine companion. The sound tracks are fitting and the sound FX is excellent!

The flaws in camera angles and controls can become frustrating. The graphics lacks the quality we saw in the console versions. It's a rental title for most players and a buy for the passionate following of Dead to Rights franchise fans.

 

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Playing Hints and Tips

- If you want to have any chance of staying alive when the action gets heavy, don't use your disarm attack if you have more than one enemy firing at you, as the whole time you're performing the attack you'll be getting pelted with bullets.

- While in a gunfight with enemies, it's best to stay away from walls, as if you get too close to a wall the camera will automatically switch to first-person perspective and this can be very disorienting in the thick of a battle.

- Don't be afraid to use the prone position as this can make your character more difficult to hit and give you a chance to get some shots off without getting swarmed by enemy gunfire.

- I found it a little easier to just keep pressing the "R" button and moving the analog stick around to switch between locked-on targets rather than taking my thumb off the analog stick to press "down" on the d-pad. That way I was able to keep Jack moving around and dodging gunfire.

- While walls will usually send the camera into first-person perspective, you can use other barriers in order to block gunfire. Barrels and other smaller items in the game provide better cover as you can keep the camera in normal mode and still get some degree of protection.

- Don't be afraid to use your dog "Shadow" when things get hectic. He can at least give you a kill and allow you some time to think about what to do next.

- Use your bullets wisely, especially during boss fights, as once you run out it's back to hand-to-hand combat, and believe me, that's not what you want to be using going up against these enemies who are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

Although the textures in the game are a bit lacking, the game has a smooth look and motion to it. It would have been nicer to see more details used in the backgrounds and characters.

Sound

I liked the rock-style soundtrack, and the techno-style sound effects liven things up quite nicely and fits in well with the intense action found throughout the game. The sound effects are outstanding and add some serious realism to the game. If you want a treat, hook your PSP up to a good set of Cerwin Vega speakers and crank it up. The explosions alone are worth the effort (Just ask my neighbors).

Fun Meter

Dead to Rights fans will enjoy the game while on the go. It has an intriguing story and it's fun to blast baddies while diving in slow motion. Canine companion is a unique fun factor in the game. The controls and the camera angles might frustrate players with less patience.

Addictivity

This isn't a game that has many perks for replaying it. Once you are done going through the story and actions once, you are pretty much done. There is a chance that the lack of good controls can generate obstacles for completing the game.

Total Score= 3.5 Dragons, 70%



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