The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 clearly states that any dog being a type appearing to the Secretary of State to be bred for fighting, or to have the characteristics of a type bred for that purpose, must be tightly controlled. Indeed, if a dog is dangerously out of control in a public place then the owner is guilty of an offence; or, if the dog while so out of control injures any person, it is an aggravated offence - and likely that said dog will be destroyed.
In short, having sat through a presentation in which dog-inflicted genital mutilation has cropped up in conversation no less than on four separate occasions, it's fair to say that Shadow the wonder dog's time on earth is likely to be short indeed. Dead to Rights: Retribution's last level will be a solemn affair in a Grant City magistrates court, and the closing scene will be a disconsolate Jack Slate seeing him driven away in the back of a white van. Because, as we all know now, Shadow chews balls off. He also plunges his head into chests to bite out hearts, picks up corpses with his teeth to shake them around like a fleshy maraca and has an idle animation that sees him urinate upon the deceased. You'd almost think he was a 'bad dog', if he weren't doing it all to fight crime.
Retribution, in development at Leamington's Volatile Studios rather than its former haunts, isn't rocket science. There's little you haven't seen before in its third-person mix of doggy stealth and third-person action hero violence - but its developers realise they're not at the helm of a revolution in testicle-endangering gameplay. They just want to make a finely honed shooty-brawler that cherry-picks the most fondly remembered features of the series, and make things explode in an entertaining, slick and undeniably familiar fashion. To this end, they may well have succeeded - playing around with Slate's controls is immediately familiar, and immediately satisfying.
Ignoring man's best friend for a while, Jack runs and guns like a trooper. He hides behind cover, blindfires, lobs grenades and has access to a large arsenal of death-bringers - but at the same time whenever you feel it appropriate can neatly move into chopsocky mannerisms. The game's hand-to-hand combat is very much a 360-degree affair, slightly reminiscent of a less stringed-together variation on the goon-bashing in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Enemies tend to gang up around you, and you can punch, disarm and grab in whatever direction pleases you most - comboing and building up to some ludicrously violent finishing moves.
There are around eight execution animations that can be inflicted on the poor criminals of Grant City, plus an extra one for each weapon that you might have equipped at the time. They range from kerb-stomping and back-breaking all the way up to piercing skulls with sniper rifles and a rather personal encounter with a rocket launcher. Seriously, if Dead to Rights: Retribution were big or famous enough to get on BBC Breakfast News then we'd bear witness to Keith Vaz quivering like a s****ing dog. Speaking of whom.
Shadow, a beast of indeterminate breeding, is pretty helpful in combat. He works on a context-sensitive system - you can send him further up into the level, attack a particular enemy, pick up a handy-looking gun and return it to you covered in dog slobber. All useful tactics when in a pinch. He isn't super-powered though, and you're encouraged to work as a team. Shadow will grip onto a gangster you've deemed particularly offensive for example, and said triad will effectively be pinned in a certain position - allowing for a neat headshot.
Another pattern you'll find yourself falling into, meanwhile, is weakening your foes with gunfire before sending your wolf friend to finish them when they run off into cover. Seeing as Shadow can't really die and just collapses for a while when he's been filled with bullets (and thereby proving somewhat contradictory to the message provided in All Dogs Go to Heaven) he's also quite useful as a distraction - send him into a room full of thugs and they'll be so busy trying to murder your pooch that you'll be able to enter the room unnoticed and start popping heads.
Shadow isn't just a combat tool either, he's yours to control in stealthy sections designed to give a spot of relief after the relentless lead-spray and bad man punching contained within Jack's ongoing investigation. What with being a dog and everything Shadow has the ability to smell and hear through walls - envisaged in-game by seeing Left 4 Dead-style outlines and the goons' evil hearts pumping gangster blood around their soon-to-be corpses. As Shadow (in the demonstration en route to saving an unconscious Jack from certain peril involving a recently blown up train) it's your role to make your way up the level avoiding snipers panning back and forth across the level and picking off patrolling guards, dragging their corpses into corners where no-one will find them.
Away from his usual stance, Shadow can enter both stealthy and aggressive modes. In his stealth stance he creeps around, alerting guards with brittle yelps, watching their outline turn to an inquisitive yellow, then sneaking up behind their diverted patrol and taking them down with one-hit takedowns. When showing aggressive tendencies however he becomes a hell beast - raising his hackles, allowing him to bowl through enemies to knock them flying or leap at their faces to bloody his canines. This is clearly why those with young children should never consider letting a rabid wolf into the family home.
The basics of the action as both Jack and Shadow have been seen elsewhere, sure, but it's still rather nice being up in the rafters of a draughty train station with a sniper rifle while your faithful mutt rampages below - biting balls off with joyful abandon. It's also easy to sniff about the sudden lurch from past times that's on show with Retribution's Focus mode - or 'bullet time' - that you earn through finesse kills during combat. Retribution knows that it's not big or clever, but certainly does know that grabbing an enemy and running around with him as a meat shield before tossing him on the ground and commanding your dog to eat his face is appealing to a certain gamer mindset. Not altogether mine, nor perhaps altogether yours, but face-eating dogs will always have an audience.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is not going to be an artful treatise on gaming, nor will it be eligible at Crufts. Jack's casual banter genuinely doesn't get much further than victory brays such as "F*** you!", "Why are you f***ers still fighting?" and my personal favourite "Get out of my way! F***er!" It's big and it's dumb - yet if Volatile manages to ensure the locations are varied and the gameplay doesn't weary it has the potential to be a decent and proficient parcel of violence. Don't be surprised if 'testicle attack!' is included in the feature list on the back of the box either.
Dead to Rights: Retribution is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010. Woof.