"Of all the great comic book characters created during the 1970's, perhaps 2000ad's Judge Dredd is the least recognizable to mainstream America. The comic's hard edged sci-fi setting mixed with liberal doses of black comedy and social commentary make it more than suitable for American tastes. But still for reasons unknown it has continued to languish in relative obscurity. So why has this erroneous situation occurred? Some may choose to blame the woeful 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie for driving (..."
Of all the great comic book characters created during the 1970's, perhaps 2000ad's Judge Dredd is the least recognizable to mainstream America. The comic's hard edged sci-fi setting mixed with liberal doses of black comedy and social commentary make it more than suitable for American tastes. But still for reasons unknown it has continued to languish in relative obscurity. So why has this erroneous situation occurred? Some may choose to blame the woeful 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie for driving (scaring?) potential fans away. Or perhaps the situation could be attributed to the high penetration of domestic comics leaving little room for a specialty import title such as this. No matter the reason, one thing is certain, Judge Dredd deserves a greater level of recognition outside of it's native shores of England. In an attempt to address this imbalance, Rebellion have seen fit to produce a FPS action adventure that attempts to capture the gritty, balls out story telling that the series has become famous for. And in a way that's exactly what they've achieved, though I've been left to wonder, ''Will the average Joe care enough for this game to give the story a chance?''
One of the great benefits of licensing a comic as old as this is that there was always going to be a wealth of backstory to mine in the construction of the plot. And mine it they have as Rebellion have wisely seen fit to resurrect some of the most popular villains the series has ever produced. The 4 Dark Judges, Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis, originally came from a dark parallel dimension where life itself was seen as a crime as only the living can break the law. Having cleansed their own realm of all lawbreakers, they sought to carry on their unholy crusade by slipping into ours. Unfortunately for them what they didn't count on was the presence of Megacity 1's top Judge and scourge of criminals everywhere, Judge Dredd. With the help of PSI Judge Anderson, Dredd was able to defeat the Dark Judges by sealing their spirits away before their evil plans could come to fruition. As is the way with such things, evil can never be stopped for long and after a brief introductory patrol the game kicks off with the escape of Death and company from confinement. Their unholy crusade is once more at hand. The cleansing of all crime from Megacity 1 has begun... the cleansing... of all life...
With source material as good as this, Rebellion were already well on their way to crafting a FPS of potentially epic proportions. All they had to do now was develop a game that equaled what the story was all set to deliver... no easy task in these post Halo days. And while from a fanboy's perspective they may have delivered the goods famously, the average gamer may not be so easily impressed as they are sure to have seen this game in numerous different forms before. Forgoing the past 5 years of genre innovation, Judge Dredd: Dredd Versus Death harkens back to the good (?) old days of Doom and Wolfenstein. For the most part, the player is simply required to move from point A to point B by throwing switches to open new areas while handing out equal portions of justice and punishment to the not so nice people encountered along the way. The occasional ''defend the innocents'' style objective does spice things up a little, but as with the escort missions among others, it's all been seen before.
The single noteworthy innovation lies in Dredd's ability to arrest citizens found to be in breach of the law. By ordering a perp to surrender two possible actions will occur. Either they will give up peacefully or they will decide to fight back, thus giving the player the chance to dish out a little of Dredd's patented rough justice. If it does come down to a firefight (and it usually does), then it's possible to manually disarm the offenders by shooting the guns out of their hands. Care must be taken not to get too carried away as if Dredd is seen to be in breach of his duty to uphold the law, other Judges may see fit to pass their own verdict on the player. And when that happens, the sentence won't be life in the Isocubes! As long as they were fired upon first, the player is well within their rights to dish out justice anyway they can so long as the perps do not surrender. The constant balancing act of upholding the law and defending oneself is a refreshing change of pace though it isn't as integrated into the core gameplay as I would have liked. With the exception of shooting background innocents, rarely does the player ever have to worry about upsetting the other Judges too much.
As with the gameplay, the weapons of Dredd vs Death also manage to walk the fine line between licensed glory and gaming mediocrity. Dredd's main dispenser of justice is his Lawgiver, a fully automatic pistol capable of a number of differing fire modes. Each of the 6 ammunitions types is unique and offers a special use for any given situation. The incendiary bullets are best used on zombies while the armor piercing rounds are ideal for putting down the stronger perps. Sadly, the concept is far more exciting on paper than in execution as most of the fire modes lack the required oomph to get the player's heart racing. Oddly enough, fans of the comic series are sure to find some pleasure when confronting Megacity 1's undesirable element with a Lawgiver in hand. Licensed glory, gaming mediocrity... The rest of the game's arsenal fares much better with many of the weapons feeling powerful and manly. Say what you will about their originality, but when the laser cannon is fully charged and the joypad is vibrating like a reactor on overload, suddenly you begin to feel that perhaps this game isn't so bad after all.
Re-enforcing the gunplay are the excellent controls that remain tight and responsive throughout the course of the game. Rebellion have wisely opted to copy the control lay out seen in Bungie's Xbox FPS masterpiece, and in doing so have provided an instant sense of familiarity for players new to Megacity 1. Every possible action has been expertly mapped to the Xbox's joypad leaving the player free to concentrate on the action. Not that the player has to concentrate too hard thanks to the freshly lobotomized AI being little more than a bad joke. For much of the time enemy reactions are limited to either standing still and firing while taking hits, or running off to hide in the closest corner. Remember when I made that comparison to Doom and Wolfenstein? The proof to back up that claim is right here unfortunately. In a world of reactionary AI and intelligent NPCs, the citizens of Megacity 1 come across as brainless cowards. Perhaps the Dark Judges were right in their verdict after all?
Much like the rest of the game thus far, Dredd vs Death's multiplayer modes are rather lackluster. In fact, the multiplayer mode reads more like a check list of disappointments as the exclusion of vital game modes and Xbox Live support is as disappointing as it is mysterious. For what it's worth however up to 4 players can partake in one of the many deathmatch modes by sharing the same screen... shesh there isn't even any LAN support?! Ironically with the scant number of gameplay modes all being simple deathmatch variants, it leaves one to wonder who would want to bother with the multiplayer aspect of the game anyway? Unfortunately what this means is that the large number of player models, levels and game types waiting to be unlocked in the main story mode will probably go unused. The player models have all been excellently designed and as such would have at least benefited from a gallery mode with which to view them with...
If there is one thing that is going to make fans sit up and take notice of Dredd vs Death, it would be its outstanding graphics. Within seconds of the game first starting one of the things that becomes immediately apparent is how vibrant the colors are. What might have seemed horrible and garish elsewhere suddenly comes alive within the confines of the license as Megacity 1 shines like no other city can. If you thought that the one redeaming feature of that *spits* Stallone *spits* movie was the design of Megacity 1 then wait until you see Rebellion's interpretation of the great future megalopolis. Neon lights fill the skyline as hover vehicles fly around, over and sometimes through the perfectly replicated architecture. Be sure to keep an eye out for the cynical yet highly amusing billboards as little reminders to ''Respect The Law, You'll Live Longer'' serve to amplify the atmosphere of the license perfectly. Adding to the sense of authenticity portrayed by the backgrounds are the excellent ragdoll physics that take over whenever someone is shot. Bodies fly through the air and collapse in some of the most grotesque positions imaginable. In fact I would go so far as to say that hours of fun can be had by simply exploring the morbid possibilities that a corpse and a gun can create...
It's a shame then that the background music can't live up to the same level of quality present in the graphics. Having spent more than 10 hours exploring the highs and lows of Megacity 1, I can honestly say that I can't remember if the music was good or bad, thus it must qualify as being harmless. For reasons known only to Rebellion, the awesome Judge Dredd inspired song ''I am the law'' by New York based thrash metal band Anthrax was overlooked in the construction of the game's soundtrack. If there was ever a game that would have benefited from a few monster riffs and some heavy beats then it was this. The rest of the audioscape fares much better however with the background sound effects, voice acting and gun shots all being wonderfully implemented. You will believe that Dredd really means business when he calls for all nearby perps to throw down their weapons and prepare to be judged! Judge Dredd has never sounded so menacing!
With the benchmark for Xbox based FPS action adventures floating somewhere in the ionosphere (thanks to you know what), and Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death being based on a comic adaption, it's amazing that everything turned out as well as it did. While you couldn't call it original or innovative, it is still none the less a solid game. Fans of the source material are naturally going to get more out of it than your regular Joe as not only have Rebellion captured the spirit of Megacity 1 perfectly, but they have managed to retain its flavor as well. The black humor and social commentary that has long been a trademark of the series has survived the transfer to silicon perfectly, and is sure to bring a grin to many a gamer's face. If you're not familiar with the series however the you may wish to proceed with caution, particularly if you consider yourself as being a well traveled gamer. There is nothing here that you haven't already seen implemented to much a higher standard of quality before. Of course in the end though, only you can be the Judge of that...
* Interesting gameplay innovation requiring the player to actually arrest the criminals
* An original story that brings back 4 of Dredd's deadliest enemies
* The weapons make a very satisfying bang
* Tight and responsive controls
* A perfectly rendered Megacity 1 with some fantastic graphics
* Fans of the comics will surely find something of value
* Generic gameplay
* Won't be enough to satisfy gamers not interested in the license
* Terrible multiplayer modes and complete lack of Live support
* The music tracks are instantly forgettable
Community review by midwinter (August 27, 2004)
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