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Written by  :  Zovni (10635)
Written on  :  Apr 21, 2004
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars

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A little bit of justice for Dredd

The Good

Dredd vs Death could be called the first real game about Judge Dredd, considering the other previous games were based on that incestuous mess called “The movie” which is better left unmentioned. And as far as first try go, the game isn’t exactly a homerun, but it has it’s inspired moments and offers a sufficiently entertaining gaming experience.

The first obvious thing that Dredd vs Death does right is capturing the darkly humorous tone of the Judge Dredd comics. The game stars you as “The law” himself, Judge Dredd. In case you didn’t know, his entire persona is a sarcastic take on the neo-fascist, bloated cesspool that society seems to be turning to in these days. “Judges” are special enforcers that are able to execute bank robbers on the spot and put away for life someone for having an unlicensed pet hamster! This distopian world is brought to life with comedic billboards, cutscenes, funny one-liners (by Dredd and several other characters) and assorted graphic details like character models that depict persons so fat that they have to use a mini-cart as they walk around to hold their bellies up!, etc.

Gameplay-wise the game is your average console-inspired FPS game (read: Halo-clone, complete with recharging shields, primary/secondary weapons, etc.). The progression of the game takes you initially through all sorts of urban peacekeeping tasks like deposing a peaceful gathering of citizens that clamor for freedom of speech and other crap like that, or stop a band of vandalizing graffity artists with ANY means necessary. Sure, you get a better rating if you play a nice boy and peacefully reduce the offenders, which adds a nice layer of cop-sim gameplay, but you can just as well let them have it with a nice burst from any of your lawgiver’s bullet-configurations and rejoice in your iron-fisted approach at justice. As mentioned how you treat the criminals counts against your rating, but can also instantly end your game as a pack of internal affairs-like judges spawn if you let your “law-meter” drop to low by shooting everyone in sight.

How do you peacefully bring in criminals? You have the option to yell a “cease-and-desist”-like warning that cycles through a collection of funny Dredd one-liners, and when they kneel down and stay still you can put a pair of ‘cuffs on them while getting another one-liner and as a list of the charges and the sentence given flashes-by on screen with all sorts of sarcastic counts (ie. 14-56: unlawful possession of a goldfish: 20 years, no parole). However criminals rarely give in without a fight, so you have a pack of gas grenades to persuade them otherwise, or you can try shooting the guns off their hands, or just mow down a couple of their friends and see if the violence knocks some sense in their little anarchistic heads :D.

If you do decide for the “I kill for peace” approach you’ll be rewarded with a hefty dose of action gaming that thrust you in the middle of massive firefights against criminals, undead monsters and even vampires that try to take over Mega-City One from it’s law-abiding citizens. For the most part the game presents a moderate challenge (though it won’t ever be an issue for the experienced player) and the enemies often work togheter to kick your butt and hunt you down. The most interesting enemies by far are the (generic looking unfortunately) vampires, which remind me of the howlers from Clive Barker’s Undying, as they jump around and run at you from every direction often catching you off-guard.

To take care of these menaces you have a selection of Department of Justice-sanctioned weapons and civilian models that cover every ground of the fps-weapondry spectrum, the fact that you can only carry 2 weapons at a time makes for a nice limitation and adds a touch of strategy to the game as you often run out of ammo for your “good guns” and have to scrounge around for the best replacements you can find and in the process leave what could possibly be a desperately needed weapon laying on the ground.

The graphics for the most part make a good job at what they do. They are not the best you have seen but they do their thing effectively. There’s lots of nice lightning and particle effects, as well as other refinements such as rain, fog and other nice details. Most importantly the character models were all modeled and textured following the distinct look of the comics, complete with disproportionate juggs for the ladies, Dredd’s nasty mug, and his gigantic motorcycle (which unfortunately you can’t ride in the game, big letdown). I did have somewhat of an annoying issue which involved way too much specular gloss in some of the models (particularly the judges) which made them all look glaced and as if they had all been coated with wax, but it could have been my outdated videocard.

Another good element for the game comes from the sound department, I’m talking of course, about it’s bitching soundtrack. I don’t have with me right now the names of the record labels involved, or the artists, but their work lifts the game to considerable levels of enjoyment as their hard rock/industrial tracks pound on in the middle of firefights turning the whole thing into a bitching action frenzy. Not to mention that the industrial tracks go hand in hand with the game’s setting and mood.

The Bad

Dredd’s problems mostly arise from the lack of attention to some details that could have added that “right stuff” so needed for a game of this type to gain triple-A class status. First the game has a pretty shoddy storyline, there’s a somewhat clever attempt at the end to fuse two parallel sideplots into the main story, but basically the game boils down to “bad guys have released the Tribunal of Death, hunt them down (killing/arresting all other criminals that cross your way) and rescue your fellow Judges… that’s it... Yawn...

Another problem might arise if you just went “uh??” when I mentioned the Tribunal of Death… as the game does a pretty shitty job of introducing you to any of the characters, locations and relationships between the characters that populate the gameworld. In fact, all the info you get comes your way through a brief text placed on the loading screens and which usually boils down to stuff like: "Judge Death is very very bad, it’s good for everyone if you kill him." In other words, previous knowledge of the Judge Dredd universe is not only a major help, but also a necessity if you want to somehow cover up in your head the glaring plot holes and omissions that the game has.

Another big problem is the lack of variety in the gameplay and the level design. After a while the game is just a shooting gallery which boils down to you shooting everyone in sight, and while some of the levels are truly interestingly crafted locations, (such as the underground New York) most of the others are your generic sci-fi crap that has been around since the days of Quake 2. And I know I’m always game for a mall level in which you have to shoot down zombies a-la Dawn of the Dead, but are you? The arcade levels and multiplayer deathmatch modes that can be unlocked are a poor substitute as they simply add more of the same: shoot-down-everything-that-moves exercises that while appreciated should have been a brainless complement to a more interesting gameplay premise, not just more of the same.

Oh, and did you even use half of the lawgiver’s bullet modes? Neither did I, except when it came to watching the enemies bounce around from my explosive rounds thanks to the ridiculous drag-doll physics that send them flying miles into the air and make them bounce off walls as if made of rubber. And let's not even talk about the boss fights... I seriously have no idea what I did to defeat Judge Fear for instance.

The Bottom Line

A funny and worthwhile shooter that provides a respectable amount of action gaming and brings the first real adaptation to the videogame world of Judge Dredd and his universe. Unfortunately a moderate case of lazyness from the developers knocks the game down to “average fps” status to the trained eye, but that’s still entertaining enough to warrant a look, and the cop-angle and it’s dark sense of humour make it a good first effort for Dredd and co.