As I played through Dead to Rights the first time, I found myself caught up in it. It’s got a competent storyline with plenty of twists, solid voice-acting, and some of the best gunplay in gaming. It really felt like playing a movie, albeit an over-the-top John Woo kind of movie. To me, that’s a good thing.
We start out by meeting Jack Slate, an average cop on duty on an average night in Grant City, out to investigate a disturbance that would soon become the longest night of his life. By the time we’re done, Jack has unraveled the mystery surrounding his father’s death and linking all that to a conspiracy involving hookers, thugs, the police, and even Grant City’s government.
The first mission is a tutorial that’s helpful for beginners. On my second time through Dead to Rights, I found it a little bothersome, but if you walk away from the game for a few weeks, you’ll probably want to run through the tutorial again anyway since remembering the complex yet intuitive control scheme ain’t easy. Even the manual breaks it down with a paragraph or two for all the functions of each button on the controller.
After that first mission, you’re on your own. Now that the world is yours to explore, after a couple gunfights you’ll start to feel a bit of d?j? vu if you’ve ever played a little game called Max Payne. We could argue all day and night about which game does Bullet Time better, but the fact is each game uses it a little differently and to great effect. Where Max suffered on consoles with somewhat loose aiming mechanics, Dead to Rights solves it by going with a lock-on system. However, with lock-on, the player cannot target specific body parts as they could in Max Payne, going for the ever-popular head shot or giving the enemy something to think about with a leg or arm wound. It’s really to each his own, but if a mouse and keyboard were factored in, I’d say Max has the edge. The one place the lock-on system comes in really handy is involving canisters. Jack finds CO2 canisters and other objects with fuel or compressed gas in them, and can toss them into crowds of enemies, shooting them out of the air and causing quite a ruckus. It’s cool even the 50th time you do it. Toss, bang, ka-blooom! Then watch the bodies fly.
The story for Dead to Rights might sound a bit more clich? than those in other action games, but it never takes itself too seriously and changes mood frequently with plenty of non-player character interaction. Jack’s even a bit of a smart-ass from time to time, which adds personality to what could have been another cookie-cutter action hero.
The game play gets some variety, too, in the form of mini-games where you have to withstand torture, diffuse bombs, pick locks, and strip-tease to distract guards (you control the stripper here, not Jack). There are also on-rails segments where Jack is in a car or a chopper manning a weapon while the A.I. steers. Melee combat comes into play as well in the form of standard fisticuffs and wicked moves called Disarms. Essentially, this gets Jack a weapon while putting a serious hurt on his opponent. There are a wide number of Disarms, and they are often weapon-specific. Jack can get his hands on a variety rifles, sub-machine guns, and pistols good for sniping, hosing a room, and dual-wielding, respectively. There are some nice particle effects when the bullets and shells and sparks start flying. The overall look of the characters and environments is passable but not spectacular in any one respect. The upside of this is that there is never any slowdown (except when you choose to use Bullet Time) and the game moves along at a constant clip. It only slows down when you do.
Despite the emphasis on firefights, guns aren’t the only weapons at Jack’s disposal. He comes equipped with his trusty canine, Shadow, who is good at sniffing out bombs, fitting into tight spaces, and attacking enemies to retrieve weapons for his master. This comes in handy, and it’s the first time I ever thought about dispatching multiple enemies at once as multi-tasking. Sending the doggie off to rip out a guy’s throat and bring me back his weapon while I keep plugging rounds into my assailants is empowering and you feel like you’re getting that much more killin’ done at once.
Dead to Rights is a solid experience with a worthwhile, mature story and above average voice-overs, engaging cutscenes, taut gunplay and some notable innovations, but ultimately, I finished the game in about seven hours and I’d expect anyone else to be able to do about the same. I did, however, enjoy it enough to start playing through a second time almost immediately. The characters and story are compelling, Jack gets beaten and bruised enough that you feel bad for him, and it’s cathartic the same way that watching Hard Boiled for the 15th time is. It’s a solid title all around, and with a sequel on the way, I can’t help but be excited. Other games may offer even more plot or more drama or more of something else, but Dead to Rights keeps it simple and executes it well.