Bad cop. No donut.
In order to meet GR's strict criteria that all writers have some sort of criminal record, I've had my share of run-ins with the law. Though thus far I've avoided the hoosegow, I've become quite familiar with the different kinds of cops out there running our lives. Some use their powers for good by saving little kids from their evil parents or offering endless one-liners. Others just piss everyone off, handing out fines for the smallest infractions. The light was yellow, dammit.
Then there are cops like Jack Slate, who just can't figure out how to make a good video game. Nevertheless, he tries once more in the PSP version of the Dead to Rights series, Dead to Rights: Reckoning. And it's just as we suspected - another no-nonsense shoot 'em up that's heavy on the action and low on everything else.
For those familiar with Dead to Rights II, Reckoning offers no surprises. In fact, the story is only slightly tweaked from the last game and several of the levels have been directly ported. Apparently, a girl has been kidnapped and unless Jack shows up at a bar on the seedy side of town, she'll be killed. I'm not sure what else is going on, except that it requires Jack to kill everyone.
To deal with the flood of bad guys, you'll need to master the two-button basics of targeting and firing, a skill requiring little more than opposable thumbs and a single-digit IQ. You'll also need hefty patience, as targeting and firing is pretty much all you do for the entire game. Jack travels from simple scenario to simple scenario facing waves of gun-toting enemies just dying to be shot.
At least there's a decent variety of hardware helping you accomplish this riveting feat. Several handguns, shotguns and automatics can be plucked from the fallen bodies of your enemies, including some heavier munitions towards the end of the game. Handguns are good for distance, shotties are best for close range and automatics will save your thumbs from a world of pain.
But nothing will save you from the aggravating task of simply targeting enemies. The control stick moves our boy around, but the game is missing any sort of accurate camera control for scanning the environment. The next best thing is the "target lock" button, which, in theory, should target the nearest enemy. This doesn't always work - you might wind up facing the wrong direction or targeting a wall. Plus, the targeting trigger sometimes locks in on the nearest explosive object with dangerous results. Even if you manage to lock on to an enemy, it might not be the one you want. You can switch targets using the D-pad, but that means taking your thumb off the control stick and leaving Jack open to enemy fire. All you can really do is hit the target button again and hope that it sets your sights on the right guy.
Dead to Rights is considered by many to be the poor man's Max Payne, due in part to Jack's bullet-time slow motion dive, which makes yet another return. It looks okay but isn't very effective since the action always stays hot and heavy. At least it manages to provide the game's few cinematic action moments,
If you decide to get up close and personal, you can take down baddies with a Disarm move. In particularly brutal fashion, Jack rips the firearm away from his opponent and finishes him, usually with a shot to the head. You can even do this from the dive – a move that wasn't found in Dead to Rights II. These moves look pretty cool, but since time slows down and the bad guys don't stop shooting, you'll want to skip the slo-mo and get on with the action.
Players can also call in Jack's four-legged pal Shadow to step in and maul an enemy. Like the bullet-time dive, Shadow's use is limited and he can't be directly controlled. He's more like a smart bomb than a dog and isn't well implemented at all.
Besides, the enemies are little more than props. Bad guys don't exhibit any kind of intelligence, often just running to a certain spot and shooting from there. Their skill might not get you, but mass fire certainly will.
The graphics in Reckoning seems fine at a glance, but up close the delivery is only average. Some good effects are marred by the irritating camera and the smooth action is set in pretty bland environments. Little is offered in the way of audio beyond boring music and effects, and there is no speech whatsoever.
With the constant running and shooting, it doesn't take long to reach the finish line. In fact, a dedicated gamer can finish this game in only a handful of hours. After that, all that remains is a harder difficulty level and a Challenge mode, which makes you attempt the game on a single life.
If by some miraculous twist of fate you happen to find some pals with their own copies of Dead to Rights: Reckoning, you can try a multiplayer option for up to four players. Don't get too excited, though, since the only choices are Deathmatch and Last Man Standing. A few extra players, bots and some aiming skills would have done wonders for the multiplayer game.
Actually, a better game would have done wonders, period. Tough aiming, repetitive gameplay and totally uninspired story elements send the game into a downward spiral, one that ends with a very short single-player mode and few extras. This cop should be kicked off the force.