Dead to Rights: Reckoning Review
After all, the lead character is a gun-toting vigilante cop, he can sic his K-9 partner on the bad guys, and one of his many skills is the ability to disarm enemies and finish them off with their own guns. That sure sounds like my idea of a fun time.
This John Woo-inspired third-person shoot 'em up even lets you activate a bullet-time effect that slows everything and everyone in the environment down to a crawl, except for the bullets coming out of our hero's guns.
We've been waiting for a game like this since we first saw movies like Hard Boiled, The Killer, and Last Man Standing. And we're going to continue waiting, because the development team messed up. They buried all of game's cool aspects under a maelstrom of design flaws, technical problems, and other niggles so numerous that it's literally impossible to list them all.
The story is wafer thin--and that's acceptable. Some guy named The Whisper has kidnapped a rich girl in order to lure Grant City's toughest cop, Jack Slate, into a trap. Thanks to a few cut scenes here and there (and about 20 lines of total dialogue), we learn all we need to know about why Jack needs to visit places like the wrecking yard, a biker bar, a hotel, a warehouse, a mansion, and so forth... and kill everyone in sight. There's also no spoken dialogue in this portable Dead to Rights, which is only a shame because the console versions had such good voice acting. I'd be willing to bet that most people will forgive the lack of voice acting, and will also forgive the generic "bang bang" sound effects and rock music soundtrack. Some things just aren't that important. What do you remember most when you watch an action movie? The fight scenes or the music and dialogue?
What isn't acceptable is damn near everything else. The camera has a mind of its own and always seems to be looking away from nearby enemies. The targeting cursor seems to choose targets randomly and will often ignore the closest or most dangerous perp--even if he has an assault rifle pointed at Jack. I also noticed that the cursor has a tendency to keep re-targeting explosive objects, no matter how many times you press the R button in the hopes of cycling to the live goon currently shooting at you. For some reason, the developers decided it was OK for Jack to be able to target enemies and send Shadow (his doggy missile) through walls. That's a pretty helpful design flaw in the single-player mode, but it completely ruins the four-player WiFi mode.
Without a doubt, my #1 gripe concerning Dead to Rights: Reckoning concerns the way disarms and Shadow's "go get 'em" attack are handled. When you perform a disarm or sic Shadow on someone, the screen slows down just like it does when the bullet-time effect kicks in. That's dramatic and all, but for some idiotic reason the developer thought it would be fine if enemies could continue shooting at Jack while he's stuck going through his super-cool martial arts animations. I can't tell you how many times while playing the game I lost half my armor and health because an enemy snuck up behind me and took potshots while I was unable to do anything about it.
I'm also pretty shocked at how "short" the game is. It took me less than 3 hours to complete the story mode on Normal. The single-player story mode includes 8 levels. That's it. I unlocked a tougher difficulty setting, a "try not to die" challenge mode, and a bunch of multiplayer levels and skins for my trouble--all of which would be great if the game were fun to play. But it isn't. This sort of torture isn't something that I, or most people, are going to subject ourselves to twice, so the unlockables are pretty much worthless.
Come on, Namco! Come on, Rebellion! This isn't rocket science. Dead to Rights: Reckoning is a third-person action game where players are supposed to be able to mow down dozens of generic bad guys by rapidly pressing the X button. The camera, targeting, and bullet-time flaws make it difficult, often impossible to do that. These flaws also make it impossible to rely on the game's coolest features (bullet time, disarms, the K-9 cruise missile).
It's too bad the development team didn't take the time to smooth out these rough edges, because it's obvious they tried to make this portable Dead to Rights better than its console predecessor. The levels are smaller and more intimate, which means you can spend more time shooting and less time wandering around. Veterans of the series will also notice that the bullet-time and Shadow recharge meters fill much faster in this game, which is a major plus, since that doubles the amount of time you can spend choreographing your own John Woo-style fight scenes.
Further salting the wound is the fact that, aside from the camera problems, this is actually one of the PSP's nicest looking games. The 3D environments aren't as massive as those in Dead to Rights II, but they're easily packed with twice the detail. Jack and the many different generic thugs are nicely textured and move somewhat gracefully. Some of the stances and pained reaction shots drove me to think "woah, that's cool" on numerous occasions, particularly when icky blood stains were left behind on the pavement or walls. There are plenty of flame, heat-distortion, and rain-related visual effects too.
Do yourself a favor and take a pass on Dead to Rights: Reckoning. It's broken, it's brief, and it'll only make you wonder "what if" every time you play it.
7/6/2005 Frank Provo