This game is about as appealing as a terminal illness. It's so bad, I wouldn't even give this game to my worst enemy.
We both had a rather large degree of skepticism. The beat-em-up minigames in Tekken 3 and Tekken 4 weren't that great, and we feared this wouldn't be any better. We were also kinda irked by the fact that Nina Williams was the star of the game. She was always one of my least favorite characters in the Tekken universe. But we still gave the game a chance. I mean, it's Tekken, how can it go wrong?
Looking back, I probably shouldn't have corrected my friend on the title, because honestly, Death By Disease is a more fitting title. After all, this game is about as appealing as a terminal illness. I mentioned in my Tekken Tag Tournament review that Tekken Tag was like the Tekken equivalent to Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Well, if Tag Tournament was the Tekken series' equivalent to Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Death By Degrees represents the Tekken series' equivalent to Mortal Kombat Special Forces.
While that may be a bit overly harsh, the similarities are striking. You might ask, what's wrong with this game? An easier question would be what's right about it. But, instead of spending this entire review simply bashing the game, I'll give some constructive criticism.
My first major problem is with the storyline. It doesn't really have anything to do with the Tekken universe. Tekken, it seems, more than any other fighting game franchise (with the possible exception of Mortal Kombat), heavily relies on storylines to make their characters more interesting. It's just a shame that all the backstory that was built up over nearly 10 years of sequels were largely ignored by this game.
In the place of the generally entertaining Tekken mythology is a generic secret agent story which mixes a bit of a bad ripoff of Metal Gear Solid and James Bond with a little second rate Tekken-style storytelling into a cocktail of, poppycock, of no interest to anyone. The only connection it has to the Tekken universe is the main character, Nina Williams, who's a minor character at best in the Tekken series.
Unfortunately, it gets worse when you get to the gameplay. Around this time period in the game industry, a trend started developing with beat-em-ups. Lots of beat-em-ups were coming out with right analog stick controls, where you'd move the right analog stick toward an enemy to attack. I've always hated these controls, although I think some games pulled it off decently (like Rise to Honor), Death By Degrees doesn't. The controls just feel horrible. It's difficult to strike in the right direction you want to, and the AI is horrid. Sometimes they gang up on you, other times they fight you one at a time. It's completely random and inconsistent. You can also pick up guns and shoot your enemies, but the guns are pretty much worthless. There's almost no ammo, making the hand-to-hand combat the norm, rarely interrupted by shooting.
But forget about the fighting for a second. Even moving can be treacherous. The best way to describe the controls is, they're similar to the the early Resident Evil games. Not exactly the kind of controls you want to pattern your game after. Moving around doesn't feel smooth or fun. You walk very slowly by default, and by holding circle you can run, but that alerts your enemies.
the camera angles suck. They don't even allow you to see where your enemies are most of the time. It's possible to sneak up on your enemies or sneak past them, but because of the camera angles, your enemies almost always see you before you see them. By holding R2, you can put the camera right behind Nina, but this only works most of the time, and when you do this, you can't walk. You run by default. So, holding R2 can allow you to see you enemies, but it prohibits you from sneaking up on them, so it's completely pointless.
Come to think of it, Death By Disease also follows the early Resident Evil games in other ways. For example, you constantly come across files, which relay the story which nobody gives a crap about. Also, you come across a lot of locked doors which you have to backtrack to later. Backtracking is of course, annoying as hell in this game.
Even the save system is horrendous. There are save points throughout the levels, but the game doesn't just show you where they are. That would be too simple. Instead, there's this stupid system that makes you search for the save points. Every so often, when you get near a save point, a box will pop up in the top right of the corner with three lights. One light means you're near a save point. As you're getting warmer, the second light turns on. And when you finally find it, the save point will light up, and then you can save the game. It's annoying and completely pointless. Why does it make you search for the save point just to save the damn game?
There are some things worth mild praise though. For one thing, there is some variety to the gameplay. For example, there's a first-person sniper minigame which is okay, actually one of the most entertaining parts of the game. There are some other minigames which vary from somewhat decent to horrendously horrid.
There are boss fights which are, pretty horrific as well. The only thing I like about the actual hand-to-hand fighting is a feature where you can break the bones of your enemies. Every so often, you'll fill this purple bar in the top left of the screen. When it's full, holding L2 and pressing the right analog stick will bring you into a first-person x-ray view, where you can precisely aim your shot at a certain body part. Then, you pull off the killing blow, watching your enemy's bones snap. The same x-ray view is used when you sneak up and grab your enemy by the neck. When you snap their neck, it goes into the x-ray view, showing your enemy's neck bones snapping. It's awesome.
Problem is, even that has its issues. When trying to pull off the L2 killing blow, the game gets very picky and your accuracy needs to be 100% perfect. If you're off by just a fraction of an inch, Nina will do a regular kick instead of a killing blow. This wastes your purple bar, and you have to build it all the way back up again before you can try the kill move again. It's moronic and annoying, and it pisses me off. That's about all I can take from this game. To sum it up, the gameplay is garbage.
Despite the fact that Death By Degrees was released a full two and a half years after Tekken 4, the graphics are a huge step down from Tekken 4. This game looks pretty awful, even by the standards of when it was released. It's downright ugly. The sound sucks too. The music is generic and isn't catchy in the least. I usually find Tekken music to be memorable at least, but this game is the exception.
One of the files you can find in this game is a recipe for sauteed rat meat. That pretty much sums up this game. I'd rather eat four helpings of dead rat than play this game. The most fun part of this game is actually the included demo of Tekken 5. Even though it's the most bare-bones demo you can possibly imagine. When you press start, it automatically goes into a single round fight where you play as Raven and fight against Asuka Kazama. One round, and that's it. But even that, is more enjoyable than this game.
I could go on for hours talking about all the crappy aspects of this game, but I'm going to cut this off here. Overall, this game is garbage. It's not even fit to use as a coaster. Why, Namco, why? The Tekken series was so amazing, why would you want to tarnish its legacy with such a godawful pile of moose droppings? The sooner this game fades from my memory, the better. I would give this game away, but I don't want anyone else to be infected by its crappyness. I wouldn't even give this game to my worst enemy. It's that bad.
Just, whatever you do, don't play this game. No matter how curious you might be, just don't. I swear, if you do, before long, you'll hate this game so much that you'll be begging for the sweet mercy of death... by disease.