Upon its Xbox release in February, Dead To Rights seemed like a reasonably competent, albeit dated accumulation of third person action ideas, which half-inched mechanics from GTA, Max Payne, Final Fight, etc, and bound them all in a traditional "wronged cop" storyline. We liked it for about a day and moved on. The rest of the world, it seems, did not.
It may not have left much of an impression on us, but having achieved success in Japan amongst its Xbox peers (let's not quibble over the effort required) and sold pretty well in the US, Namco and EA decided to bring enhanced PS2 and Cube versions to table - and there's even a PC port underway and due out over here courtesy of ambitious French publisher LSP.
So with our better memories of the game - gathered whilst redecorating henchman-infested locales with brains and gore - relatively fresh, we seized upon the newly released GameCube and PS2 versions to see what's changed. After tweaking the Xbox version for Europe, and subsequently tweaking these versions even more, has Namco finally got it right?
Read 'em and weep
First of all, let's recap a bit. Dead to Rights is the tale of Jack Slate, a cop in slime and cliché-infested Grant City ("people aren't born here, they're forged out of broken bones and blood money"), who has built up a bit of a knack of upsetting hardened criminals. After his father is murdered, Jack sets off on an ill-conceived wave of vengeance and subsequently ends up on Death Row. Although this is arguably understandable given how much flesh he manages to disembody along the way, he's there for the murder of a chap he didn't actually kill - and obviously he wants to get out and set things straight. Like kill another 1000 people to make up for this injustice. Ahem.
So far so droll, and nothing's changed on this front, with all the old cut sequences (nicely rendered and conceived of though they are) and activities thrown in. In-between them too, things are largely the same. Most of the acknowledged changes seem to have been thrown into the PAL Xbox release already, like the weakened opposition, and us cheese-eaters can also avail ourselves of inverted aiming, an improved targeting system (which allows you to refocus by twiddling the right thumbstick as well as by releasing and re-clamping the right trigger), and some of the more exotic disarm techniques. Disarms remain one of the more entertaining aspects of DTR - in a combat situation when Jack is without a weapon, he can saunter up and crack some bones in pursuit of an aggressor's firearm. Here you only have to perform disarms twice in a specific area to unlock more.
Slap and tickle
Combat in DTR is much more varied than most third person actioners, but it hasn't changed much since the Xbox release. There are certainly lots of ways to deal with incoming threats - perhaps too many - from hand-to-hand sections (punching, kicking and throwing), disarms and sending your canine sidekick Shadow [I once had an Alsatian called Shadow and I bear the scars to this day - half eaten Ed] into action, to Bullet Time jumping shoot 'em up sections with human shields, GTA-style targeting and all manner of weapons. You can even grab conveniently placed "gas canisters", lob them around and shoot them in mid-air to bring nearby henchmen to a satisfyingly messy end. But despite a wealthy arsenal, DTR's tactic is to try and overwhelm you with numbers and, sadly, repetition, and even the generally enjoyable shoot 'em up sections wear thin within a few manic hours. As does the surface of your targeting trigger finger.
And although there are some nice set-pieces to clap eyes on and a few mini-games to punctuate proceedings, we didn't find ourselves rescued from the increasing monotony. The game engine doesn't help - it looks a bit better than Vice City, with more detailed characters, animations and blood-letting - but each time the developer tries to lug the early PS2-era visuals into the present day, the effect seems to backfire. Reflective puddles, for example, which Jack runs through to no obvious effect. If you can't make the water part properly or distort the reflection then, er, don't bother! Going halfway just looks sloppy.
The tragic thing for us is that we're talking about an Xbox exclusive game that was ported elsewhere. Quite why it looks so heinous even compared to games like Freedom Fighters is a mystery. Watching Jack's stripper friend's legs bending awkwardly mid-thigh though, it would seem difficult to blame the tech whatever the system - at times it just looks crap.
Still not dead
Still, despite a number of difficult to spot and ultimately underwhelming "improvements", the Cube and PS2 versions of Dead to Rights remain generally engaging, with an uneven sprinkling of genius. Granted, you can pick it apart and find all manner of games you've already played, and for all its variation it's still frustrating and ugly in places, but it still manages to cobble things together into a cohesive whole. The only difference between the Cube and PS2 versions is more jaggedness on the latter machine, so if you like the idea of shooting and punching your way through a cupboard-full of action movie clichés, then give Dead To Rights a go. It's certainly worth a rental, if nothing else.