You know, Nina, if you needed the money, you could have just called us. We would have happily lent you some cash if it meant that you wouldn't have to work in shoddy, uninteresting games like Tekken's Nina Williams in: Death by Degrees. But no, the deed is done, and Namco's Tekken offshoot is a reality. Death by Degrees is a half-baked attempt to combine a combo-based fighting system with some light stealth and puzzle-solving. Unfortunately, no one aspect of the game is done especially well, and the end result will be unappealing to all but the most diehard fans of Tekken's blonde bombshell.
Nina's adventure opens on a cruise ship that is run by an underground organization. There's a fighting tournament happening on the ship, and Nina's poised to win it. But she's really there to do some covert work for a joint mission between the CIA and Britain's MI6. Two Brits are infiltrating the ship in an attempt to find...something. The game's never really too clear about what you're doing and why, but all you need to know is that things go wrong for your stealth MI6 associates, and you'll have to blow your cover and beat the heck out of a ton of different guards.
The Tekken series has turned out some of the best 3D fighting games around, so it's no surprise that Namco has attempted to bring over some of that fighting game flair here. But the fighting system is based off of hitting the right analog stick toward your enemy so you can attack in that direction. This system, used before in games like Rise to Honor, is capable of letting you take on multiple enemies at once, but it isn't up to the challenge of precision, fighting-game-like combat. The game gives you a handful of different maneuvers right off the bat (you'll be able to purchase more moves as you carry on), but simply mashing the analog stick in the direction of your nearest foe is really the only combat technique you'll need to know. Nina can equip firearms and melee weapons, but neither set of weapons is more effective than simply kicking bad guys in the face until they're dead.
Nina's other big attack is the critical strike. This special, high-damage attack brings up an X-ray view of the enemy you're attempting to cripple. Exposed soft spots glow red, and you need to move a cursor to the spot and push forward on the right stick. This then brings the game out of X-ray mode, where you'll see Nina do some sort of unimpressive-looking spin kick or other move. Then it goes back into X-ray vision, and you get to see the bones shatter. Some of these, like when you break an arm or a leg, look fine. But when you shatter someone's skull, the game shows a hokey, pulsating brain. Same deal with the ribs, which reveal a thumping heart behind them. What's worse is that after you get through the first few objectives and reach some tougher enemies, these attacks won't kill your enemy. So, instead, you're made to believe that a guy with no skull protecting his brain can still get up, fight well, and even take a shot or two to the head. The game isn't exactly striving for realism, but this still just seems silly.
When you aren't fighting, you'll spend a lot of time looking at your map and trying to figure out where to go next. Your objectives are spelled out pretty plainly, so you'll never question what you need to do next, even if the story doesn't give you an especially compelling reason to complete your task. But the map screen is sort of a mess, so getting from point A to point B isn't always the easiest thing in the world. The game has a Metal Gear-like security system, but instead of using numbered cards, you'll collect fingerprints with a print scanner, and each print has a security level associated with it. You'll then be able to use those scanned prints to unlock doors. The process of unlocking a door with the print scanner is as simple as hitting the X button, but you'll still have to watch Nina put the scanner up to the door, hit a button when a text message appears to let you know that the door is unlocked, and then watch her walk through. Little things like this add up over time and give the game a sluggish, stunted pace that sucks all the tension and suspense right out of it.