Judge Dredd exists as an established and iconic comic book character that has also seen adaptation into a movie, and now a videogame. Luckily – and thankfully – for everyone with more than a passing interest in the franchise, the game is not based on the movie. The comic itself takes place in a future where society has run rampart, and Judges are the only law around. They are officially appointed as Judge, Jury and Executioner. Judge Dredd is, naturally, the comic’s main character. And, in keeping with the comic, you will also assume the role of Dredd during the game.
Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death was initially scheduled for a 2003 release, but now, after almost two years’ worth of holdups, it finally hits the stores in 2005. Why the delays – especially as it was released in Europe in 2003? Was there a problem getting the PAL/NTSC conversion settings just right? Who knows? However, after much speculation concerning the possibility of the game never reaching US release, it finally happened. And so, is Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death worth the wait?
Well, first off, the game’s storyline is weak – even for an FPS, and that’s saying something. Psi-Judges are predicting a great plague, which will overcome Mega-City One, and you are caught up in the middle of it. Is it the (plague of) vampires that have suddenly begun roaming the streets, or is it the return of the Dark Judges? In the end it’s a mixture of both, no great surprise there. The story exists to keep the single-player game moving from one area to another, but nothing more. If the comic book’s story arch is as pathetic as it is here then this reviewer is never likely to be much of a fan.
The graphics are, by far, the weakest aspect of the game. In order for you to accurately gather an assessment picture, they land precariously somewhere around the power range of what the PS2 was capable of three years ago. Judge Dredd did not take well to the two-year delay. Enemy characters are poorly modeled, with almost no polygon smoothing in evidence, and hardly any effort put into making characters appear obviously realistic. Most regular male perps have a standing frame much like an American football player, sporting wide shoulders and arms going straight down. There is no effort to place any type of skin texturing on the regular characters, instead their polygons have merely been colored – and left at that.
The game controls are imprecise and extremely (over) sensitive. The ?hitbox’ for the head may be dead on, but to achieve maximum results for a level, you need arrests. Hitting perps in the gun/gun arm area to disarm them is almost entirely down to blind luck and guesswork. Headshots seem to be totally random. Controller accuracy leaves much to be desired, and it takes entirely too long to line up a good shot. Moving around is easy, but jumping is annoyingly inaccurate. Needless to say, this causes more than a few deaths when trying to leap across boxes to run after or from someone.
Sadly, sound is also as standard as it comes. The voice acting is moderately decent, with no one particular character conveyed as brilliant, or teeth-gratingly annoying. The only character voiced into the realms of irritation is Dredd himself, mainly due to a limited number of spoken lines, and the subsequent amount of times you’ll end up hearing them. Gun effects are sharp and crisp, but the aural difference between ammo types is minimal. Even high-powered weaponry fails to emanate earth-shattering sound with each shot – another slight audio disappointment.
Enemy A.I. is decent enough, following your character well. Another noteworthy aspect concerns the relative infrequency that enemies will become stuck behind an environmental object. The only complaint lies in the supreme targeting accuracy of every enemy. All of them, however cowardly they are, seem to have logged serious practice time at the local firing range. Most annoying is when an enemy uses a laser gun to snipe you, and there’s an 80-90% chance that he’ll hit home – these shots gobble up your life meter.
The law meter, while working exactly as it should, is a novelty at best. The law meter itself is meant to help keep your urge to kill innocent humans at an absolute minimum. It’s still fine to kill undead creatures – no game will deny anyone that necessity. You are punished for not challenging a human, or if you should kill them after surrendering. For each mistake you make, it will take several arrests to balance out the differential. If the law meter bottoms out, a special squad of Judges will take you down and, unlike cops in Grand Theft Auto, these guys have perfect aim.
The amount of weaponry at your disposal is fairly small for a modern day FPS. To compensate for this, Judge Dredd’s standard weapon (the Law Giver) has six different ammo types: Standard, Armor Piercing, Ricochet, Incendiary, Hi-Ex, and Heat Seeker. Unfortunately, half of them are useless. The game manual advises you to use Incendiary to stop vampires, but all it does is turn them into onrushing flaming torches. Now, not only will their claws damage you, so will the flames. Great advice! Hi-Ex shots are powerful, but with only 8 rounds per clip, you’re better off using Armor Piercing, which is almost as damaging, and you get four times the rounds in every clip.
One thing Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death gets right is its levels. Sure, they’re as linear and monotonous as they come, but they are also numerous, long, and, above all, difficult. The ensuing level difficulty arises through the accuracy of the perps, along with their swollen numbers. The game’s A.I. is decent, with each class of perps exhibiting their own particular types of behavior well enough to always keep you on your toes. The neatest thing is how the enemy vampires will focus on your teammates instead of you, going after the easiest prey so to speak. This makes protecting the Med-Division Judges an utmost priority, since they are often the ones first attacked, and the only Judges who can heal you after a battle.
Most of the time it’s quite a hassle to arrest perps, especially since you have to issue a ?challenge’ before arresting them. Challenging a perp amounts to telling them to willfully let you arrest them. In a one-on-one situation, this is a very quick procedure, but in large groups the challenge allows them first shot at you. Because of the aforementioned accuracy issues, this is never a good thing. You have to disarm a sufficient number of them in order to get the rest to lay down their arms. The only way to peacefully arrest a large group is to use one of your (3) stun grenades. A paltry amount of stun grenades for a 50+ arrest level, which puts the grenades around the level of worthless.
If you decide not to issue a challenge and merely go in guns blazing, your law meter will take a huge hit. If you issue the challenge and kill, your law meter still might take a hit. So, how is all this tedious – but necessary – arresting fun? When you do arrest perps, you get a list of what offences they’ve committed, and sometimes you’ll arrest people for loitering, or being a public nuisance, giving them anywhere from 3 months to life. Those make it worth the effort.
Good thing something about arresting perps is fun, because if you want the highest ranking for a level, you’ll have to make arrests – lots of them. The higher your ranking at the end of a level, the more items you unlock in multiplayer and arcade mode, as well as cheats.
The cheats are run-of-the-mill and mundane, and the multiplayer character skins are more of an afterthought, whereas the arcade mode has some interesting features that will occupy your time. The arcade mode is filled with timed or goal-based missions that are, for the most part, fun. ?Walter’s Wobot Wampage’, a free-for-all against 40 tiny robots, is a personal favorite. Sounds silly, but if gunning down toy robots with a machine gun isn’t your idea of fun then you probably spend too much time reading books.
Multiplayer is filled with stock games. Another cracker is the ?Bounty Hunter’ mode. One player assumes the role of Dredd, while everyone else is a perp. Dredd builds points for every perp he takes down, and if someone ices Dredd, that player then becomes Dredd. The worst mode is ?Thief’, if only because it rewards the player who makes the last kill, instead of his ability to survive or kill. Thief is as much happenstance as it is ability. Other standard issue modes include Deathmatch, Elimination, and a co-op story mode. Overall, multiplayer is done well enough to help raise the longevity of Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death tremendously.
Dredd vs. Death emerges as no Halo 2 buster, nor is it even comparable to the original Halo. The truth here is this: the game should have been released two years ago as it was meant to. Hardcore comic fans might love the game, but for a casual gamer, it’s an average offering in an already overcrowded genre. Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death is a decent game, with a few obvious flaws that can be overlooked if you’re looking for another FPS to play and are tired of the standard Halo hype.