Dead to Rights is one of those games that have had a very long development cycle. I recall back at E3 2000 hearing about this title that was once thought to be in development for the N64. This one of Namcos biggest titles to come out of North America and not Japan. Top Namco executives and designers wanted to bring to life an action noir videogame. The team envisioned taking elements that distinguish action adventure movies and somehow physically implementing them into an intense video game interaction. The Namco team gained access to a number of studios to get inside information and conceptual frameworks in order to make this game a reality. After almost 3 and half years from concept to finished product, Dead to Rights made its debut on the XBOX last August. The game received luke-warm reviews based on awkward control and its difficulty to progress in the game. Namco never really confirmed that the game would appear on other consoles until early last fall when it was announced the game would in fact appear on all next generation consoles. When the news came through, I was less than enthusiastic. I had played through the XBOX version and was too annoyed with the aforementioned issues. Therefore, when the PS2 version arrived in my lap over the holidays I had no expectations. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Namco took the XBOX faults seriously enough to patch up as much as possible before releasing it on other consoles. The result is fun movie-going experience that opens up endless possibilities for this ever-emerging genre.
I suppose the long development cycle has taken a toll on the visual presentation. The game looks more like a first generation PS2 title than a second does or third. The animations are inconsistent at best, which usually means jerky and surprisingly unrealistic. The camera problems that were in the XBOX version have been tweaked but they are still annoying. To really fix this issue, considerable reprogramming would have been necessary. The main issue with the camera is its inability at times to stay with the action or give the player the proper perspective needed to engage enemies. There are some scenes that are truly brilliant but they are rare. It goes to show you that the Japanese programmers still master the PS2 developing environment. We had expected Tekken or Soul Calibur quality graphics, but it is not so, even on XBOX. Regardless, the visuals are competent enough to enjoy what the game does indeed have to offer. The soundtrack and sound effects score are top notch. Namco went the distance y hiring two of Hollywoods most prestigious audio production companies to recreate an audio adventure similar to the sound effects of movie theatres. The voice acting is competent and believable, although it is now the trend in video games to hire on Hollywood talent. It is hard to beat the likes of Ray Liota or Lance Henrickson when it comes to this new age of acting.
The story is some respects is similar to Max Payne, although the Payne delivery of the story was much better conceived than in Dead to Rights. Players take control of Jack Slate in a factious town known as Grant City, U.S.A. Slate is a good cop in a bad town, forced to be a fugitive after being framed for murder while investigating the mysterious death of his father. The game play is quite varied thanks to a number of elements embedded into the game. The main component of the game is run and shoot, which is characteristic for the genre. What makes things quite interesting but at the same time annoying, is the multitude of minigames and alternate play modes that are available. These different game play mechanics include lethally disarming enemies, the use of Jacks Husky named Shadow, hand to hand combat, sniffing out bombs, defusing bombs, arm wrestling, putting out fires and more. The variety is there but the balance is not. Some of the minigames are quirky at best. Some are simple while others will have you spending an hour to try to beat it. There are segments in the game that keep things fresh and exciting while other segments are recycled and seem very repetitive. The game would have been better enjoyed if all of these elements were better balanced. Regardless, it is nice to see Namco make some adjustments for the PS2 release that were not available on the XBOX. These include: optional skill levels, cheats, some optional mini-games, more variety in disarms, and instant access controls enabling easier control of Shadow and weapon management.
The tone of the review may be negative but there is a substantial amount of joy to be had playing Dead to Rights. It will take the average player 20 to 30 hours to complete. This is not Hitman 2 or Vice City, but it does offer something to tie you over until The Getaway and Max Payne 2 are released.