Comic books are becoming movies, and both comic books and movies are becoming videogames. Judge Dredd made a poor showing in theaters, but this game has thankfully distanced itself from that particular cinematic train wreck. The videogame aims to offer both Dredd fans and casual FPS addicts something new to chew on and, on the whole, it turned out pretty well.
First of all, the question should be: Are there better shooters out there? Sure. Still, the feature set of Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death is surprisingly large. From the co-op main campaign to the requisite multiplayer modes (with bots!) to the twitchy, quick fix, arcade challenges, there’s something here for everyone.
The main campaign breaks down into 11 chapters involving the escape of four Dark Judges – Fear, Fire, Mortis, and Death – and their inevitable capture. However, simply killing the bodies these ethereal Judges inhabit won’t suffice. Rather, the bodies have to be incapacitated somehow, which allows time for Psi-Judges to exorcise and capture these spectral meanies. This mixes up boss battles somewhat, involving finding ways to capitalize on each Judge’s innate weakness (water for Fire, disinfectant for Mortis, erm, shotgun shells for Fear, etc.).
Along the way, you’ll be required to put down the occasional riot and make arrests, and you’ll even go toe-to-toe with zombies and vampires. A Law Meter keeps you from being too much Bad Cop and not enough Good Cop, since shooting innocent people and being generally reckless will decrease the Law Meter, which eventually leads to other Judges being sent to take you out. It seems that correctly arresting a criminal has about the same impact on the Law Meter as shooting an innocent bystander, so it’s not too invasive in the overall game. The undead never offer to surrender, so killing them is always in season. Happy hunting!
Since Dredd vs. Death is a shooter, the most important things to consider here are its controls, the array of weaponry, and their impact on the things they shoot. The controls are adequately precise, and analog sensitivity and rumble features can be adjusted in the options menu. Dredd’s standard pistol (the infamous Law Giver) comes with more functions than most games offer throughout their entire arsenals. In true Dredd fashion, the Law Giver is equipped with a zoom, standard rounds (fire in bursts, a la RoboCop), heat-seeking rounds, high-explosive rounds, ricochet bullets, napalm rounds, and armor piercing rounds. Despite the obvious diversity, there’s not much reason to use many of them, though. For example, there is no specific situation that demands the use of armor-piercing or ricochet rounds – which could have added something fresh to the developing gameplay. The napalm rounds will ignite a target, but they don’t seem to inflict damage very quickly. On the other hand, the fire effect is pretty to look at, and it will burn until there’s nothing left but smoking bones. Nice.
The high-explosive rounds, as well as the other explosive-based weapons in the game, have extremely inconsistent splash damage effects. A round from a grenade launcher can blow apart a whole crowd of vampires, but if you shoot one straight in the face while he’s charging you, it won’t even phase him. The somewhat inconsistent ragdoll physics are amusing too.
In the end, and though undeniably shallow, it’s simply good fun to shoot things in Dredd vs. Death. The other Judges occasionally lend a hand, but most of the action is left for Dredd himself. There are only a handful of enemy types to deal with, but in some places there can be hordes of them on the screen at any one time. When attacked they all bleed especially well, and on anything and everything around them. Even the melee attack opens a geyser of blood, and often kills the target upon impact. Admittedly, not especially good for making solid arrests, but still fun to execute. Head shots are always the best way to go, but shooting enemies – particularly zombies – in other parts of their bodies gives them pause, allowing you to open up some more wounds on them. Taking down perps usually involves just inflicting a graze, at which point they tend to surrender. However, some are dedicated toward demise through their persistent natures, and are therefore just begging for a one-way ticket to the morgue.
Upon each arrest, a momentary message flashes on the screen detailing the charges leveled against the assailant. ‘Assaulting a Judge’ is never a good one to be saddled with, usually ending with a life sentence. However, for the astute reader, there are also some funny charges thrown in, like ‘Possession of a hamster without a license’ and ‘Harassing robots’. There are other little comedic bits added to the mix, too. For example, during a prison riot, over the PA you hear the warden asking errant prisoners to lay down their weapons and remain calm, stating that a member of the Justice Department will be along shortly to re-arrest them. Re-arrest? Ha! There are also other less subtle jabs at consumerism, the government, and such like.
There is none of the ever-popular dual-wielding in Dredd vs. Death, and you can only carry two weapons at a time, but having one of them as the multi-function pistol makes the restriction a moot point anyway. It’s also possible to switch weapons whenever you find one on the ground, which happens any time you take down an armed perp. The undead don’t use man-made weapons, so keep an eye on your ammo during long stretches when faced with only them as assailants.
In general the game graphics aren’t spectacular, but there are some credible subtle touches, like muzzle flashes, or burning bodies creating eerie light in darkened corridors. The overall level design is good, never becoming monotonous or leaving you frustrated or ignorant as to where to go next. It may be a touch linear but, then again, it’s not always clear as to why this should be such a complaint for this type of genre. Grand Theft Auto would make a lousy first-person shooter.
The multiplayer modes are mostly what you’d expect to find, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and all the usual variants thereof. But what’s that on yonder horizon? Bots? Oh yes! It’s about time we started getting bots in our FPSs again. There is also co-op play throughout the game’s main campaign – split-screen on consoles and via LAN on PC – and as the campaign is completed, new multiplayer modes, avatars, and cheats are unlocked, including stalwarts like unlimited ammo, headless mode, ghost mode, mirrored levels, and infinite health-packs. If used, anything you earn doesn’t save, but the cheats are still fun to play around with. You can have hours of fun in Arcade Mode’s Zombie Apocalypse, where it’s just you, a shotgun, and endless zombies all in need of a lead-cloud facial. Fans of George A. Romero’s Dead movies or Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later will certainly get a sizeable kick out of it. The other Arcade Mode challenges range from arresting as many perps as possible over a set amount of time, escort missions (which surprisingly don’t suck), surviving against an endless tide of vampires for five minutes, and straight-up blast-a-thons. They’re quick fixes, often lasting not more than a few minutes, they’re the perfect thing when you get home from a lousy day at the office. The best part? They can be restarted at any time with no load times whatsoever. In fact, most of the game is set up that way. If you die during a mission in the main campaign, you can jump back to the last checkpoint with no obtrusive loading. Glorious! Speaking of dying, the PC version of Dredd vs. Death allows for save-anywhere, while the console iterations stick to checkpoints and end-level auto-saves. Both approaches work well enough, and you can go back and replay any mission from the campaign any time.
In short, Dredd vs. Death may not be the best first-person shooter on today’s market, but it’s still a fun diversion for fans of either the iconic comic book character or the shooter genre in general. Other genre entries could learn a thing or two from this game for multi-functional weapons and minimized load times. Conversely, though, there are no interactive vehicles on show, and the in-game arsenal isn’t especially deep, nor is the combat, but it’s all still fun and often zany. Dredd vs. Death is a veritable breath of fresh air when compared to the typical everyday melodramatic shooter. I had fun with it, but hey, you be the Judge.