Nothing delivers a vicarious thrill quite like a slick, big-budget action movie. Hollywood blockbusters like Face/Off and The Rock, or some of Hong Kong's finest like The Killer and A Better Tomorrow, put you right in the middle of intense modern-day shoot-outs between the goodest good guys and the baddest bad guys. Films like these are undeniably exciting, but they sometimes leave you wondering how on earth the good guys managed to beat those impossible odds. The answer is obvious--the movie isn't real. Of course, Namco's new Xbox shooter Dead to Rights isn't real, either. But if you've ever wondered what it might feel like to be the lone action hero up against a ridiculous number of enemies, this game is probably the closest you'll get anytime soon. In development for years, Dead to Rights nevertheless has some unfortunate problems--it looks dated, the camera is frequently obtrusive, and the controls take a lot of getting used to. The game is also often frustratingly difficult. But no one said being the hero was going to be easy. Overlooking its problems and getting past that learning curve certainly won't be, but if you manage to, you'll find that Dead to Rights is an intense and challenging game.
Dead to Rights has no shortage of action.
Dead to Rights is about a K-9 cop named Jack Slate, who does what he can to keep the peace in a criminal cesspool called Grant City. Early on, Slate and his trusty dog Shadow must investigate a mysterious construction site. There, Slate discovers that someone very close to him has been murdered. Against direct orders, he sets off to find some answers and get revenge. The game's story, told through Jack's deadpan narration and the occasional CG cutscene, seems pretty straightforward at first. But during the course of the game, it actually takes some decent twists and eventually becomes quite involving. The best that can be said for it is that, unlike most stories in games, this one does a commendable job of tying up all its loose ends before the credits roll. Actually, for a shooter, Dead to Rights is surprisingly long, consisting of well over a dozen big, action-packed chapters.
Superficially, Dead to Rights unquestionably resembles last year's popular shooter Max Payne--mostly because that game, like Dead to Rights, is clearly inspired by a certain breed of action movies, the most notable of which is probably The Matrix. Like Max Payne, Dead to Rights is the story of a fugitive cop who's apparently fighting alone in his war against a sinister, corrupt organization. Even the game's respective main characters have a lot in common. Their names sound alike, their dialogue is hammy and melodramatic, they shrug off bullet wounds, they shoot rapidly with two pistols at once, and when they leap through the air, all the action around them slows down. That's a lot of similarities, but that's also where the similarities end.
Dead to Rights plays differently from Max Payne--and from most other action games, for that matter. Most of the game consists of third-person action sequences in which Slate will have to gun down countless foes before reaching his next objective. But just as the plot in Dead to Rights offers up a few surprises, so does the gameplay. Simple yet inventive minigames frequently figure into the action, as Slate will have to do all kinds of things, from disarming bombs to lifting weights to picking locks. These minigames rely on precise timing or button mashing, and they make for fun diversions, though like the rest of the game, they can be difficult. And they're never optional--it's do or die. Also, Slate will have to fight unarmed in a number of sequences, and he can switch to unarmed combat in the middle of a gunfight, too.
There's a lot to say about the action in Dead to Rights because Slate is a versatile fighter. He can carry a number of different firearms at once, and the game features a wide selection of real-world pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and more. He'll typically salvage these from fallen foes, but he wastes no time reloading, opting instead to coolly toss aside depleted weapons. Aiming in Dead to Rights is automatic--just press and hold the right shoulder button and Slate will draw a bead on the closest foe. Once that enemy goes down, press the right shoulder button again to find your next target. You can also opt to manually aim from a first-person perspective, and you'll sometimes need to do so when using sniper rifles. Unfortunately, manual aiming is cumbersome in Dead to Rights, and most times when you're trying to target an enemy sniper's noggin, he'll already be firing on you.
Jack Slate can pull off some deadly reversal moves.
Your enemies are plentiful, reasonably smart, heavily armed and armored, accurate, and deadly. If you wish to improve your chances of survival, you'll need to make use of all of Slate's defensive maneuvers while fighting. A martial arts expert, Slate can disarm his foes at close range, snatching their weapons while delivering a deathblow with dramatic flair. Alternatively, he can put a vice grip on most any foe, using the opponent as a human shield while retaining the ability to shoot back (at least with one weapon). If his hostage isn't killed by friendly fire, Slate can coldly put the fool out of his misery with a bullet to the head or a shot in the back. This isn't exactly lighthearted stuff. You'll probably like that.
Slate's got even more moves. He can duck behind cover and also flatten his back against a wall, priming himself to spring out and start shooting from around a corner. And, sure enough, he can leap through the air in any direction while keeping his guns trained on his foes. Pressing and holding the Y button causes the action to go into slow motion in mid jump, allowing you to take out several targets before you hit the ground. This maneuver is hardly realistic, but it's exciting and a real lifesaver. Your ability to use it is governed by an adrenaline meter that works like bullet time in Max Payne. The meter fills back up as you defeat enemies, and it also refills gradually with time, but it's well balanced so you can't get away with using this powerful move excessively.