Dead to Rights II: Hell to Pay E3 2004 Preshow Hands-On Impressions

We get a peek at Namco's upcoming follow-up to its film noir action game.

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The original Dead to Rights was the promising start of a new franchise from Namco when it hit consoles in 2002. The game was a mix of style and substance that combined elements of stealth, traditional action games, and film noir into a unique package. For the sequel, Dead to Rights II: Hell to Pay, Namco is aiming to expand on many of the elements introduced in the original game. We recently had the chance to see the game in motion and try our hand at Jack Slate's latest adventure to find out how it's all coming together.

Jack's back and ready to kick the crap out of Grant City's criminal element.
Jack's back and ready to kick the crap out of Grant City's criminal element.

While details of the game's story are being kept under wraps, we know that Jack is back in Grant City, with faithful pooch Shadow in tow, to restore order in the still unpleasant town. This time around, it appears that Grant City's criminal element has diversified and now features new factions of malcontents who are at least as violent as the old crew that once terrorized the city, if not more so. While he isn't rolling back into town with a cadre of people to set things right, we expect he'll be all right thanks to an expanded move list, his innate surliness, and Shadow, who's always eager to put the beat down on a perp. Jack will also get some help from some old and new faces that are eager to see Grant City cleaned up.

The gameplay in Dead to Rights II has been beefed up since the first game and now affords Jack a wider, and decidedly more brutal, array of moves that should come in quite handy for taking out the trash. Jack's core moves remain basically the same: You'll be able to run, gun, and duck out of harm's way without much trouble. While his ability to disarm foes is back, there have been some brutal expansions on the concept. The disarms we've seen so far are a lot more lethal than last time, which we have to admit is pretty satisfying. As for gunplay, Jack's repertoire of gun tactics has been expanded to allow him to shoot in a 360-degree arc around him as he flies through the air. While it may sound like this new addition may make things a little easier when going through the game, guess again. You'll find a larger and more aggressive assortment of foes who aren't in a hurry to die and will do whatever they can to keep that from happening.

Outside of Jack's personal moves, you'll find that the environments are much more interactive. You'll be able to pick up and blow up canisters as before, which is fine, but it pales in comparison to blowing up a car your foes are hiding behind. Of course, they can do the same to you--so don't get cocky. In those instances, when you're not in the mood to fill your opponents full of lead, and instead would like to take a more hands-on approach with your need for justice, you'll find an expanded melee combat system that lets you use your fists or any number of blunt objects you'll find around you to knock your foes senseless or dead, depending on the situation. The only major question mark around the gameplay at the moment is Shadow, Jack's dog. While we know he'll be back, it's unclear how he'll fit into the experience. Namco reps were fairly tight-lipped about his role in the game, although they did say that he'll do more than just make the controlled appearances he did in the first game.

Just about every aspect of Dead to Rights II is being improved or refined over that of the original.
Just about every aspect of Dead to Rights II is being improved or refined over that of the original.

The refined gameplay will be complemented by an improved graphics engine that will help set the game's tone. Jack's character model has been redone to help denote the passage of time and his generally constant state of annoyance. You'll notice a higher level of detail on Jack as well as smoother animation. While his foes haven't quite been given as dramatic a makeover, you'll certainly notice an upgrade in their appearance. The environments sport the most dramatic improvements with a greater level of detail and the interactive elements we've already mentioned. Lighting has received a serious boost and helps sell the game's gritty atmosphere. You'll see dramatic touches, such as colored lighting, along with more subtle elements like the muted glow of streetlights in the rain. Speaking of rain, you can't really draw from film noir without including a good dose of rain to sell the moody violence, and Dead to Rights II serves up some nice rain and particle effects to do just that. The game's frame rate can become inconsistent when the action heats up, but we expect the team will be working on that.

The levels we played in the game offered a limited taste of what's to come. We got to see some disarms and blow up some cars to take out enemies, and we were able to interact a little with the environment. What we saw looked promising, aside from the fluctuating frame rate mentioned earlier. To be fair, there were quite a few more enemies onscreen than in the previous game, which bodes well for the impending carnage in the final game.

Despite its early state, Dead to Rights II looks like it's heading in a promising direction. The gameplay appears to be expanding in the right places, and the graphical face-lift is certainly a good thing. Dead to Rights II: Hell to Pay is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. Look for more on the game from the E3 floor in early May.

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