Dead to Rights: Reckoning is the latest installment in Namco's Dead to Rights franchise, a gritty action series that casts you in the role of hard-boiled officer Jack Slate, who's charged with keeping the troubled metropolis of Grant City free of crime. The PSP game finds Jack and his faithful pooch, Shadow, still plugging away. Although this time out, the pair is really under the gun. When an informant who's key to taking down a seemingly untouchable crime boss goes missing, the dynamic duo is forced to follow a series of tantalizing clues as it races to save the hapless stool pigeon before she's whacked. The new game contains all the key elements the franchise is known for, but it adds wireless multiplayer and some other unique PSP-specific twists to the experience. We recently got the final version of the game and have been putting in some time to see how it's turned out.
The single-player experience plays out much like its console cousins. You'll be dispatched to an area and then charged with completeing a particular task, which usually involves killing a whole lot of bad guys. The PSP game offers a more straightforward and arcadelike experience than the previous entries in that it focuses heavily on run-and-gun gameplay. You'll go through each area and basically blow away anything that looks remotely evil. These targets are easy to spot, as they'll invariably be shooting copious amounts of bullets in your direction. Dead to Rights features a pretty easy-to-use lock-on system that facilitates targeting in the game, letting you focus on saving your own neck.
Between each mission, you'll find story sequences that tie the bullet-laden levels together and show Jack's investigation into this particular case. Though Jack is going up against a veritable army of foes, he's not alone. Shadow, the police wonder dog who's accompanied him on all his adventures, is also along for the ride. The four-legged dynamo proves invaluable in the fight against evil, as he can be dispatched to instantly take down foes.
As you progress through the single-player game, you'll unlock new content in the PSP-exclusive multiplayer game that lets you take on up to four friends via Wi-Fi. While we've seen the single-player game pretty often over the past few months, we haven't had as much time to mess around with the multiplayer game...until now. The wireless battle mode, as it's called in the game, offers two game types: deathmatch and last man standing. Deathmatch is exactly what you'd expect it to be: a fast-paced kill-or-be-killed frenzy that challenges you to rack up the most frags before time runs out. Last man standing is a variation on that experience, and it requires you to be the last one alive before time runs out. Each of the modes will let you customize a number of in-game conditions that can radically change the experience. You'll be able to set the weapons available to you, as well as the frag limit, time limit, respawn time for pickups, one-shot kills, and the ability to wield two guns simultaneously.
When you play the multiplayer mode, you'll have to set it up like any ad hoc Wi-Fi PSP game. As a result, one player hosts a game that others can join. Before hopping into a game, you'll be able to use the existing player profile you've made, or you can make a new one. Your profile will consist of the multiplayer skin you've chosen, as well as the weapons you'll use. The game's selection of skins and levels is initially very modest, but as you move through the single-player game, you'll unlock new stuff that will help flesh out the multiplayer experience. You'll even get access to some cheats--like infinite ammo or health, or an amusing superdeformed character mode--that give the main game some added replayability.
The graphics are looking sharp and are roughly on par with the console versions. Jack and Shadow have a good amount of detail and sport fluid animation. The disarm and takedown moves flow smoothly and make good use of the camera. The game runs very well on the PSP, with a stable frame rate that holds up most of the time, regardless of the onscreen craziness. The only major hitch to the visuals is the game's camera, which can do some downright bizarre things when the action heats up. Reckoning's audio is sparser than we'd like, but it's still solid. The driving rock tracks that fuel the soundtrack are pretty good. The gunfire effects are satisfying, as are the death cries of your foes. Shadow's growl is also suitably menacing, though Jack is, sadly, pretty silent in the game. Namco apparently opted for the "strong, silent" stereotype for the veteran cop, which extends to no voice-over in cutscenes.
Based on what we've played so far, Dead to Rights: Reckoning has the elements of a solid game, though it appears to be lacking the polish to tie it all together. The visuals are solid, but the camera can be problematic. The gameplay mechanics are basically sound, but they don't work quite as well as we'd hoped. The multiplayer is a bit sparse when you only have a couple of people to play, but four-player games should provide enough action to keep you entertained for short periods. The game hits shelves next week, so look for a full review soon.