For a game so heavy on action, you might expect a forgettable story in Retribution. Fortunately, that isn’t quite the case. Retribution plays out like a tough noir story, and though some of the plot twists and characters are predictable, I was more interested in the story throughout the campaign than I expected to be before playing.
The setting is Grant City, the same crime-ridden city introduced in previous Dead To Rights titles. Jack Slate works in Vice for the GCPD, and his no BS attitude has earned him a lot of respect from his peers. But tonight, he’s on the run, and all of the wrong people are looking for him. About half of the campaign takes place in the thirty hours leading up to this point, and then the remainder of the game takes place in present. During this time, Jack learns of a secretive operation by GAC, a new, high powered faction that is intent on reclaiming the city from criminals with brute force. Determined to get revenge for the death of his father and stop GAC from taking over the city, Jack and Shadow team up to do what they do best: fight crime.
At his disposal, Jack has his hand to hand fighting skills, weaponry, and Shadow. The fight system in Retribution is pretty cool. Triangle and Circle are used for light and heavy attacks, pressing both simultaneously can break an enemies guard, Square blocks, and pressing X and Square simultaneously can put an enemy in a clinch for further punishment. The left stick is used to direct attacks, so if you’re fighting off more than one foe at once (a common occurrence), you can balance your attacks between them. All of the combos for the combat system are available to view from the Pause Menu at anytime. Players can also block, side-step, and counter attack as well. By ‘clinching’ an opponent, you can throw them into other foes, pummel them, or use them as a human shield, too. Furthermore, chained attacks let you perform a Takedown, which fires up a short, instant animation in which Jack uses one of a half dozen or so finishing combos. Takedowns, besides looking cool, add a bit to your Focus Meter which I will discuss shortly.
Hand to hand combat is balanced very well with weapon combat. Jack can carry up to two weapons at once, and these include a variety of pistols, machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket and grenade launchers, frag grenades, and flashbangs. I thought Volatile Games did a nice job of keeping ammo in check. In other words, I never felt like I had enough ammo to just waste, and running out of ammo was a real problem at times. When you’re out of ammo, Shadow (if available), can fetch guns for you or you can run up to an assailant and disarm them. Sometimes, especially with more armored GAC agents, you have to melee them a little with your fists before the disarm prompt appears. When you disarm, Jack goes into a smooth animation sequence that has him stripping the gun away and then aiming it for a quick kill head shot. There’s an easy, but apparent timing element to getting these disarm headshots though, which keeps you in tune and watching the action on screen.
Jack can take cover behind objects and blind fire, as well as take aim for better shots with L2. Some of the most exciting moments in the game see Jack getting surprised attacked up close and losing his gun. This happens more at the end of the game than at the start, but it’s actually pretty awesome to “see” a CQB specialist run up on Jack from behind and disarm him (sending his gun flying across the room).
By performing headshots, Takedowns, tag-team kills with Shadow, and other actions, Jack can build up his Focus Meter. You can enable and disable Focus with L1. During Focus, the game slows down, and Jack’s guns do more damage. Used properly, you can quickly dispatch a room of enemies while Focusing.
Fist and guns aren’t enough to get you through the hundreds and hundreds of bad guys. You’ll need help from your loyal, vicious, and cute, dog named Shadow. Controlling Shadow in the middle of combat should be easy, and it certainly is. I like what Volatile Games did here: to have Shadow attack, just press Up on the d-pad. The enemy that Shadow will run over to and attack will be highlighted red. Sometimes you won’t target the enemy you intend to, if that’s the case, just change your view and press Up again. If you press Up and no enemy is in sight, Shadow will move to the blue icon that appears on screen. Alternatively, to call Shadow back, just press Down on the d-pad. Shadow can also fetch guns laying around if you press Up in the direction of a dropped weapon.
When the AI is controlling Shadow, he does rather well for himself but there are some instances where you’ll see Shadow just standing by while you’re in the middle of a fight. This is quickly resolved by pressing Up, but it’d be nice to see Shadow jump in at least a little more often by himself and help you take down the guys you’re fighting. The only other thing you have to watch out for when you’re not in direct control of Shadow is that he can get himself killed. Fortunately, rather than forcing to you to restart a checkpoint or something like that, Shadow will remain downed until you can revive him or until some time passes. It actually takes at least a minute, maybe two or three, for Shadow to revive himself, so more often than not you’ll have enough time to get over to him and revive him by pressing X when the prompt appears.
Several levels contain parts in which players get to control Shadow while Jack remains stationary. These are the only stealth elements in the game (except for a very brief stint in the last level). When playing as Shadow, you have increased running ability, but you can also die much quicker. On the other hand, Shadow can often get quick kills too.
Playing as Shadow comes in two forms: stealth, and defending Jack when he’s not able to defend himself. During the defense sequences, Shadow has to run around and quickly kill enemies that are trying to kill Jack. A life meter at the bottom of the HUD shows you how much damage Jack has taken.
The stealth sequences with Shadow are more common and pretty cool, even if they do feel contrived. During these times, Shadow has to sneak into an enemy stronghold and kill the enemy with a key to a door so that Jack can enter. In all but the last of these sequences, Jack could have easily gone the same path (usually a huge hole) as Shadow to get around the door. It’s kind of funny that he chooses to go through the door rather than crawl through a hole, but, if you look past that these goofy moments (it’s easy enough), then these stealth sequences are actually pretty cool. By using L2, Shadow can see the heartbeats and alert state of the enemies in the area. You can also sneak quietly while holding down L2, and if you press Triangle while holding L2, Shadow lets out a quiet bark. Pressing Triangle without L2 makes Shadow bark loudly. Both barks can alert nearby enemies, perfect for getting them out of sight of their buddies for a quick kill.
Hand to hand combat, guns, and Shadow are the tools at your disposal in this constant action romp. In Retribution, you won’t find any RPG elements, NPCs, platforming, or anything other than a guy and his dog kicking lots and lots of ass. While that may not make it as deep a third person game as some of its peers, it’s still a lot of fun.
Good Cop, Bad Cop
DTR: Retribution has a ten level campaign that takes about as many hours to play through (took me about eleven). I had a blast throughout, and most of the game’s elements and mechanics work well, but there are a handful of things I noticed during play that I feel compelled to mention.
For starters, the controls and the camera could use some polish. This isn’t the first game to do it, but too many functions are assigned to the same button, and it causes issues. In this case, it’s the X button. It’s used to run, go into and out of cover, activate in game objects, disarm enemies, revive Shadow, perform Takedowns, clinch enemies (when combined with Square) — did I forget anything? Now for the most part, having X do all of this isn’t an issue, but there were a number of times where I wish things were done differently.
The camera can make things tougher on you too. I found that at times, the camera would zoom in way too much and I couldn’t get a good view of my surroundings. This happens most when battling several foes at once up close. Other times, the camera seemed to stick in a certain direction and even though Jack was looking one way, the camera was stuck in another direction for just a few seconds. Finally, whether this is a camera issue or something else, the prompts that appear (to press X of course) can be a little hit and miss. This is especially bad in the case of taking cover. For some reason, not every wall or door frame can be used as cover. Most can, but on several occasions I found myself trying to take cover but the prompt would never appear.
As for the presentation, it’s largely underwhelming. The animations were good, but the overall appearance of the game world was rather bland and unimpressive. I had a few framerate snags too, but they didn’t last long. But generally speaking though, it’s only a ‘good’ looking game, I wouldn’t quite call it great. The audio is similar: good, but not quite great. I thought the voiceovers were fine, and I thought Volatile did a good job of not dropping the f-bomb too many times. You’ll hear the f-word often, but not too often (like in Killzone 2 or Rogue Warrior). Sound effects were nice and the soundtrack fits well, but you’ll notice it looping which is a minor letdown.
Ultimately, the best part about Retribution is that it’s a lot of fun. It may not be the type of fun that has me coming back for repeated play-throughs, but it was a hell of a ride from start to finish. To the summary…