A friend recently asked me if there were any good games similar to last year’s splendid Batman: Arkham Asylum. I had to tell him “no,” despite the fact that I was playing Dead to Rights: Retribution at the time. Retribution desperately wants to be Arkham, but without the bat costume and gadgetry. Instead, it has a SWAT-suited renegade police officer named Jack for a protagonist, and the anthropomorphic high jinks are provided by his canine companion, Shadow.
Like Arkham, the fighting in Retribution is up-close and personal, emphasizing kicks and punches punctuated with an occasional blaze of firearms. The melee attacks are easy to initiate, with one button for strong attacks and another button for fast attacks. Strung together, these attacks are intended to form unique maneuvers with names like “1, 2, 3” and “Reasonable Force.”
But what should look like a fluid fight feels like the sentences strung together by an automated phone system using separately recorded words and phrases. A punch is thrown, and then Jack’s arm disappears from the follow through as he swings his leg around for a kick. The two actions are not integrated — they’re just gracelessly spliced together.
Making things even more confusing is the view the game gives me of Jack. Like most melee combat games, Retribution uses a third-person perspective to show me both Jack and his immediate surroundings. But the camera follows too close to be of use, and it moves uncontrollably during fights, swerving around and making it impossible to see who is attacking me and where they’re coming from.
The only thing distinguishing Retribution is the fact that it occasionally allows me to play as Jack’s dog. Controlling Shadow is as easy as playing a child’s game — if children’s games showed dogs tearing into peoples’ throats and spewing ribbons of blood into the air. Launching one of these attacks is a simple matter of pressing the “A” button once. After that, everything is automatic. It could have been an artistic triumph to have Shadow embodied in more than a mindless control scheme — the sort of thing that would make Retribution feel unique. Instead, it feels like a lost opportunity.
THE GOOD: Retribution does a decent job of staging Jack’s attacks on the fly. A strong attack aimed at an opponent in front of Jack might result in a gut punch, while moments later the same buttonpush directed at an opponent behind Jack gets a mule-kick. If only the two would flow together a little better, the battles wouldn’t look like ineptly edited fight scenes from a C-grade action flick.
THE BAD: The decaying urban setting of Retribution is almost as generic as the game’s scowling, square-jawed hero. The stark overhead lighting and perpetual rainfall don’t create an air of oppression as much as they suggest a lack of imagination. Goons sheathed in black leather and bondage masks could have migrated from any number of better games, though who knows what they hoped to find in Retribution other than a plot-line of predictable corruption and air so polluted it looks like muddy water.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Dead to Rights: Retribution is dead all right.