Hands-onDead to Rights Xbox

We check out Namco's upcoming Hong Kong-style third-person action adventure game for the Xbox.

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Namco's upcoming Dead to Rights, a promising cinematic third-person action adventure game, has appeared in playable form on the Xbox. First announced for the PlayStation 2, the game was subsequently announced for the Xbox and is slated for release on Microsoft's console before the PS2 version hits. We had a chance to spend some time with the E3 demo of the game to see how it's coming together.

The game's story puts you in the role of Jack Slate, a police officer whose life takes a most cinematic, albeit unwelcome, turn. Slate faces dual traumas when his father is killed and he's framed for murder. His journey to clear his name and track down his father's killer serves as the main drive of the game and takes you through the seedy underbelly of society.

The first level of the game serves double duty as it moves the story along and teaches you the basics of the game's control. The game's intro cinema introduces you to Jack and his canine companion, Shadow. The cinema smoothly transitions into the level, which challenges you to explore a construction site. As you make your way through a variety of hazards, the in-game tutorial walks you through the basics of gameplay. Third-person action-game veterans will be right at home with the game's control setup, which is a mix of Max Payne and Headhunter that ends up being far more polished and intuitive than either title. The control layout is nicely mapped out. You'll move Slate with the left analog stick. The X button will kick, A will shoot or punch, and Y will jump. You'll be able to perform a solid assortment of combos that mix punches, kicks, and throws. The B button will function as an all-purpose action button for a variety of uses including disarming enemies, using an enemy as a human shield, and grabbing someone in hand-to-hand combat, among other fun things. The R trigger will lock onto opponents or dodge during a fight. The L trigger will crouch. The D pad will cycle through weapons. Finally, the right analog stick will pan the camera.

Once you've gotten the hang of the basics, you'll find the game offers some nice cinematic touches that are incorporated into gameplay. Holding down the Y button will cause your jump to happen in slow motion, and the effect will drain your adrenaline meter similar to bullet time in Max Payne. During your slow-motion leap, you'll be able to target enemies and pan the camera to ensure you don't miss any of the onscreen insanity. One of the coolest aspects of the game's control is when you disarm enemies. Sure you can rip the gun out of their hands and beat them up, but a double tap of the B button rewards you with a slow-motion sequence you can watch from a variety of different angles. In addition to looking cool, the cinematic elements actually serve a purpose. Disarmed opponents drop better weapons than those you've just gunned down. Further, the more you trigger the cool sequences, the quicker your adrenaline meter fills. As you go through the game you'll also find that you'll unlock some very cool disarm techniques that you'll be able to trigger by pressing a direction on the D pad while you're disarming someone.

As if Jack Slate's arsenal of moves weren't enough, you'll collect a pleasing assortment of weapons that includes all the classics such as pistols, shotguns, and machine guns. However, the most useful "weapon" in the game is likely to be Shadow. Jack's loyal canine can be selected from the available weapons in certain situations and used to take out enemies. As a side perk, the faithful pooch will snag his target's weapon and bring it over to you. Dog and PETA enthusiasts will be pleased by the little dude's seeming invulnerability as he wades through a hail of gunfire.

Gameplay in Dead to Rights is looking to be as varied as Jack's moves. You'll obviously spend most of your time in the game controlling Jack; however, the E3 demo gave us a taste of some of the variety in the game. Early on in the construction-site intro level we were able to make use of Shadow against enemies. Further into the level we reached a point that was impassable by Jack, and we were able to take active control of Shadow and do a bit of sniffing about, which opened up a way for Jack to advance. However, as cool as Shadow is, the most viscerally pleasing aspect of DTR's gameplay has to lie in controlling a female dancer. Later in the game, as Jack goes off to clear his name, you'll have to make your way through an "adult" establishment. Fortunately the evening's entertainment, Hildy, is a friend who is willing to help you get past the club's patrons. Control then shifts to your scantily clad comrade who must hold everyone's attention as Jack sneaks past. The interface is simple--you'll match onscreen button prompts that move across the screen. Successful button pushing rewards you with the fruits of the DTR team's meticulous motion-capture work and a fine little dance number that makes good use of a nearby pole. The changes in gameplay as you move through the game definitely keep things lively in the game. Best of all, the transitions to the various gameplay types flow very smoothly with the unfolding narrative.

Graphically Dead to Rights is coming along. At present the game's look is somewhere between a very nice-looking PS2 game and an Xbox game. Lighting is very well done, and the game maintains a solid and high frame rate in spite of the onscreen action--a later level that had us facing off against a mob of gun-toting folks hardly hitched at all even in the game's early state. Textures and character models in the game could be a bit less angular, but there's still time to smooth out the rough edges on display. At present the game is looking almost as good as it plays, which bodes well for the final game.

So far Dead to Rights is shaping up quite nicely. Polished gameplay and solid graphics really make for a strong game that leaves us anxiously awaiting more time with it. Dead to Rights is currently slated to ship this summer for the Xbox. Look for more on the game later this month at E3.

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