Title :Dead to Rights
Platforms :Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube
Publisher :Namco
ESRB Rating :Mature
Game Rating :7.2
Review by :Ken Gagne

Murdering slum lords. Dancing with strippers. Emptying gun clips into disarmed thugs. Blowing things up. 

It's a dirty job, but gamers have to do it in Dead to Rights, a Namco game for Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2, and Nintendo GameCube. [Xbox version reviewed here] 

When police officer Jack Slate's father is a crime scene victim, Jack takes it on himself to find — and punish — whoever's responsible. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for action-loving gamers), it seems half the population of Grant City is responsible. Players control Slate on his quest for vengeance in this 3D, level-based action game. 

Emphasis on the "action": Dead to Rights warrants its mature rating. The gritty city Slate inhabits overflows with ruffians waiting to be killed, and Jack is more than willing to oblige. After disarming one to use as a body shield, our "hero" thinks nothing of capping his unarmed hostage in the head when his usefulness is through. Though he may not be corrupt, Jack Slate is still one bad cop. Even his lupine sidekick, Shadow, doesn't hesitate to rip out the throat of a threatening thug. 

Slate has an impressive arsenal of moves by which to execute his enemies. When unarmed, combinations of punches and kicks will subdue enemies, while the tap of a button can also disarm them in Matrix-style slow motion as the player controls the camera angle. Once armed, Slate can automatically target enemies, switching between them with the right analog stick, though this maneuver does not necessarily consider every visible enemy for eligibility. 

One trick worth mastering is the dive, which, based on Slate's adrenaline levels, can kick the game into slow-motion. As Jack flies through the air in this heightened state, he can quickly target and eliminate any nearby foes. It's a difficult move to know when to use, and to use well. Strangely, the dive does not double as a jump, granting players no maneuverability to get Slate over railings, trash cans, or car hoods. 

Other background features, such as doors, prove not so passive when guards suddenly swarm out. When this surprise happens in an area players thought cleared, it can be incredibly frustrating to suddenly feel a round of shot in your back. When not dodging bullets, it's best to move slowly, as you'll never know when a shotgun-toting freak might suddenly turn the corner. 

Fortunately, each level is further divided into either rooms or waves of enemies; after clearing one, a fatal mistake on Jack's part will return him to the beginning of that section, not the entire level. Players can save their progress at anytime, but resuming saved data will pitch Jack to the level's start point. 

The voice acting varies in quality, with Slate sounding like he's making an honest effort to be a hard-edged cop, while a crime boss is more akin to Snagglepuss. The music is similarly non-spectacular. The dingy settings of a strip club are accompanied by equally cheap tunes, but break out of this environment and the music doesn't improve greatly. 

The graphics do a fine job of depicting the action, but the models themselves don't earn any accolades. Many settings are dark and gloomy, which fit with the game's atmosphere but aren't very attractive. The characters are cookie-cutter and don't even bother mouthing the words they speak. 

Dead to Rights' slow-motion techniques, previously seen in computer games such as Max Payne, add an edge to this 3D shooting game, but it still boils down to an only average game that leans too much on its mature atmosphere. A bit less violence and a bit more strategy, and this game could be Syphon Filter. As is, it bears little of that game's appeal, leaving it dead in the water.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 19-Aug-02