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Backlogged - "Dead to Rights" (2002)

Beyond: Two Scowls.
(I own hundreds of video games and haven't even touched a lot of them. Backlogged is where I fix that.)

So this week, Bandai-Namco's Dark Souls III came out. Praise the sun! Git gud! Sunny D! Other memes, including skeletons, Wingus and Dingus, and Large Father!

But before I dive headfirst into bad framerates and countless deaths, I figured it could be a good idea to revisit a past Namco game about dying. Well. It's not really about dying, actually. It just has "dead" in the title.

Dead to Rights, ladies and gents.

Now, you might be thinking, "hey, what's this guy's deal, Dead to Rights has literally nothing to do with Dark Souls!" Well, you know what? You're right! It doesn't! I just saw it on my shelf and bullshitted an intro to make it tangentially relevant to a major game release! Because that's what I do here at The Fried Critic: tangentially ramble into conversations about old video games that nobody cares about anymore.

Come to think of it, though, did anybody ever really care about Dead to Rights? I only vaguely remember it being a thing when I was growing up. And to be entirely honest? It always looked sort of like a low-rent Max Payne, which you can't blame me for thinking. It's got a grimacing dude in a leather jacket who's angry, and expresses his anger by diving, in slow-motion, towards other grimacing men while shooting at them. Taking the plot (ex-cop pushed over the edge into being a violent angry man) into consideration, it's easy to see why somebody would think that it was liberally cribbing Remedy's landmark action title.

It's even easier to think that when you play the game and realize that's exactly what they're doing. Well, kinda sorta.

Video games were a fucking mistake.
You know that thing that happens when a big game comes out? Other series follow, and they're the same as that other game, but with something different? Like how Battlefield was suddenly a whole lot like Call of Duty, but with novel tweaks? Or like how every third-person action game ever was like Uncharted, but with some "novel" gimmick? Or like how everything is now "the Dark Souls of" its respective genre, even though that makes literally no goddamned sense?

Yeah, Dead to Rights is like that in relation to Max Payne. I can practically hear the boardroom meeting for it.

Developer Guy: "So get this. It's like Max Payne, right?"
Higher-Up Guy: "Hm. Okay. I'm listening."
Developer Guy: "It's like Max Payne, but you can do kung-fu! And there's a dog! And a stripper mini-game!"
Higher-Up Guy (in a state of disbelief): "My God, man! Why isn't this in my hands, right now?"

"You're going straight to the top, buddy!"
Is that a simplification of what Dead to Rights is? No, actually. It's not. It's basically exactly what Dead to Rights is: the gun-fu idea of Max Payne crashed into beat 'em up mechanics, with some garbage mini-games and dumb gimmicks thrown in. Does it work? Does it sound like it works?

First off, it's a super dated game. The dialogue is laughably dark and "gritty," the story is rife with tropes, the gameplay is wonky, the voice acting is bad, the shooting sucks, and it's all around kind of cut-rate.

It has a fun idea of "cop gets sent to death row and has to edgily edge his way back to innocence," and I also really dig the whole mish-mash of gun-fu and kung-fu. It's kind of cool getting into a massive shootout, then jumping into a whole sequence of backfists and spinning kicks. Thing is, it's not done particularly well. At all. The combat's repetitive as all get out, and most of it relies on artificial difficulty as opposed to... you  know... actual challenge.

Which kind of sucks when it feels like you're not really given proper preparation to even face said challenge. All of the gun combat requires using the weird lock-on, you don't really get much ammo, and enemies can do some cheap shit to ensure your punches and kicks never connect. That last one is a pain, too, because there are a lot of times where you're stripped of everything but melee combat, and it quickly turns into an infuriating slog.

So yeah. Going back to the first Dead to Rights all these years later, it kind of doesn't hold up. It has some neat ideas, yeah, but it's held back by gameplay that just flatout sucks for the most part. Not to mention the story doesn't really go to the emotional, psychological depths of Max Payne, which it clearly is inspired by.  And by inspired by, I mean is pretty much a K-Mart imitation of.

All of this being said, there's a bit of a positive end to this story... well, kind of.

No, really.
In 2010, after the mediocre first one, a second one that I own but have never touched (but will at some point, probably, maybe,) and a PSP entry that was kind of a thing, Dead to Rights finally got a good game. I got Retribution when it first came out, and was shocked at how little it caught on. The melee combat was good enough to justify giving you less ammo, controlling your dog was fun, and the narrative wasn't total garbage. It had a lot of memorable moments and felt super good to play, and I'm still disappointing that the reboot didn't do well enough to merit a sequel. It kind of deserved one.

Unfortunately, all it got for its troubles was 0.49 million total sales and a shuttered developer. Ouch.

For five bucks, you can pick up a copy at pretty any GameStop, and I'd recommend it for fun, bloody 5-8 action game. Meanwhile, you're pretty safe leaving the original in the dust. All the stripper minigames in the world can't save it from early 2000's knock-off mediocrity.


  1. I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.


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