Last week, I played Dead to Rights: Retribution for the purposes of writing this review - and while thinking about the words I was about to commit to paper, I ran into a problem: I could barely remember the game.
No, I haven't hit my head, come down ill, or suddenly turned into the conveniently-amnesiac main character of an RPG. It's simply that this "re-imagining" of the original 2002 Dead to Rights is one of the least memorable games I have played in quite some time.
Simply put, there is no aspect of Dead to Rights that feels even the least bit original. You are playing as a grizzled, hard-boiled cop with a Needlessly Badass Name (in this case, "Jack Slate") who doesn't always play by the rules, and who won't hesitate to use force if innocents are involved. Jack Slate's father and mentor is killed by criminals, and he goes on a journey of revenge - but finds himself in a bigger conspiracy than he could have ever imagined.
If that sounds painfully clichéd to you, then you aren't alone. That's just the beginning of the trip down Dead to Rights' been-there-done-that rabbit hole, too. Whether it's the third-person action that's heavily based around shooting from cover, the Bullet Time that you can activate to get the upper hand in a fight, or the quick-time events that pop up to finish off a winded enemy, the whole game feels like you've seen it somewhere before.
In its defense, Dead to Rights does make a half-hearted effort to seem a bit different from other, similar games. Since you'll almost always be short on ammunition, fights frequently devolve into a brawl, with Jack trying to strip enemies of their weapons before they can shoot him to death. The other, significantly more major element that is "unique" to the game is the presence of Jack's K-9 partner Shadow. Shadow can be used as an attack dog to help Jack eliminate his foes, he can retrieve items and ammunition, and he also takes over as the player character for a few sequences every now and then.
While the Shadow sequences are by no means innovative, they're a lot more entertaining than the boring run-and-gunning that comprises the rest of the game. Shadow is much more fragile than Jack, so the game takes on a very stealth-ish tone as the dog sneaks around, using his senses (and jaws) to get by instead of shooting from behind chest-high walls. They're not fantastic, but these parts of the game are a nice reprieve from the run-of-the-mill factory-made action that you'll find while playing as Jack.
The game isn't bad, per se. Despite a lack of imagination and some finicky controls when dealing with the cover mechanics, everything in Dead to Rights is functional and generally competent. It's just wholly average and bland. Frankly, it's almost interesting just how thoroughly uninteresting the game is.
At least Army of Two had a sense of humor and possibly-unintentional homoeroticism going for it.
Bottom Line: Competent. Functional. Other than the presence of your canine sidekick, there is absolutely nothing in Dead to Rights: Retribution that hasn't been done before (and probably better) in other games. Absolutely average in every possible way, and memorable only in how perfectly unmemorable it is. If we could award "Apathy Stars," Dead to Rights would get a 5.
Recommendation: Rent it if you must. You'll probably enjoy the 10-hour story mode while you're playing it, and you'll immediately forget it once you lay down the controller.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is available on the PS3 and Xbox 360. This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
John Funk had to choose between watching Gundam SEED Destiny and playing more Dead to Rights. He chose SEED Destiny. This is not a good thing.