We've gotten hold of a much more complete build of Dead to Rights and have been exploring it for changes from the E3 demo we played a few weeks ago. Unlike the E3 demo build, this current build is now structured like the actual game and features the CG and transitional cutscenes that will be found in the final game. While we can't talk too much about the game's story without spoiling it for you, thus encouraging Namco to send some real-life Jack Slates to "chat" with us, we're going to let you know how the game's coming along and talk about the game's heretofore unseen prison level.
The game's first two chapters--the tutorial level set in the construction yard and the level set in the Den of Iniquity, which features the exotic-dancer minigame--have been tightened up. The tweaking has resulted in some graphical fixes, and the pacing of some of the gameplay has been adjusted. The two most notable changes are the overall difficulty and the speed with which you can use Shadow. The game's difficulty has now been upped, which makes the game much more challenging and ensures that you won't be racing through levels with guns ablaze. While you could get away with it for fairly lengthy stretches in the E3 demo, those days are over. Instead you'll have to rely heavily on using enemies as human shields and on using your environment for cover. Using your trusty companion, Shadow, to disarm enemies and fetch their weapons can now be done much more quickly, thanks to cuts in animation, which helps improve the pacing of the game. You'll notice that you'll unlock more types of disarming moves if you use the technique extensively.
The Den of Iniquity chapter, which in the E3 demo ended following an outdoor shoot-out as we chased a suspect with information down a rainy street, goes a bit further now. The chase continues into an office building, where we eventually caught our man. We'll gloss over some story elements to preserve our health, but suffice it to say that things go awry, and Jack ends up in prison.
The game's prison level significantly changes gears in this version of the game. You'll make your way through the prison, interacting with inmates (some helpful, some homicidal) and collecting keys and items to help you explore deeper into the cell blocks. You'll have to rely on the game's fighting system and your minigame skills to get through all the challenges, as you'll come to a part in the level where you'll have to participate in a wide variety of minigames to earn cigarettes for bartering.
The minigames you'll encounter are all in the same vein as the ones you initially encounter in the tutorial. In one minigame you'll have to hit a punching bag by alternating between presses of the A and B buttons. A weight lighting minigame will challenge you to keep a cursor within a set area of an onscreen bar in order to lift a barbell above your head. You'll also learn how to break throws by interacting with an inmate in a boxing ring. The minigames and item collection are an engaging diversion, though they're a bit bizarre in the context of the game. We really started to wonder just what kind of prison Slate was in as we freely roamed the halls and cell blocks while the guards chatted among themselves and watched TV. On another note, we must say that not since Ryo Suzuki went off in search of sailors on the docks in the original Shenmue for the Dreamcast have we ever come across such unintentionally funny bits of dialogue and innuendo.
Graphically the prison level isn't exactly the best showcase for the game's engine. Outside of nice lighting effects and the large numbers of prisoners onscreen during your brawls, there isn't much on hand to "wow" you as in the earlier levels. You'll be making your way through a lot of drab corridors and stairwells with cells lining the walls. Still, the frame rate is high and solid, and the loading times are zippy.
We were pretty impressed with what we experienced in this build of the game. The variety in gameplay and moves to unlock are a nice touch and are a good way to get us to keep coming back for more. Dead to Rights ships next month for the Xbox. Look for a few more updates on what you'll find in the game in the coming weeks.