Ordinary cops don't have twenty-five-year careers, but Judge Dredd is hardly an average lawman. Initially created as a dark, violent satire on Margaret Thatcher's Britain, the perpetually helmeted officer was catapulted to popularity by eager readers who didn't entirely get the political joke. Over the years, the judge's exploits have been further extolled by Sylvester Stallone and the thrash band Anthrax, neither of which are known for their shrewd satiric voice. Sadly, "Dredd Versus Death" is yet another straight-faced take on dark justice. This first-person shooter has a few interesting touches and feels utterly cutting edge... circa 1998.
| Judge Dredd: Dredd Versus Death|
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Interactive
ESRB rating: Mature
Rating: 2 Stars
Pros: Captures some of the comic's humor; great looking environments
Cons: Feels rushed and incomplete; few enemies and NPCs; dated look and gameplay
I am the law
Dredd isn't exactly a household name outside of the United Kingdom, so a little explanation is in order. Set roughly a century in the future, the world has been ravaged by atomic wars, leaving society huddled in monolithic city-states. Mega City One is Dredd's home, where the justice department rules supreme. Judges are armored cops with license to act as judge, jury, and executioner, and Dredd is the most hard-assed of the bunch. It's a miserable, violently fascist life. Spit on the sidewalk and spend five years in the hole.
Naturally, such a dark world makes perfect game fodder, but "Dredd Versus Death" translates the grime with a depressing lack of irony. The action follows the eponymous antihero on the road to a showdown with his nemesis, the para-dimensional Judge Death, who believes life itself is a crime. Along the way, you accomplish simple objectives while arresting perps and blowing away vampires. Levels are linear enough to make "Quake" chuckle with derision, and the routine of following a blue pointer to the next objective runs ragged really fast.
This is justice?
If the gameplay is purely one-dimensional, it's not for lack of trying. Despite having the ultimate license to kill, judges are supposed to stay within the law. A law meter tracks your adherence to the code. Plug one too many groveling civilians and Dredd's version of Internal Affairs will descend like the wrath of Zeus. But there's not much effect on play. Though making arrests figures prominently in early levels, later, the game becomes a straight shoot-'em-up that dumps the law meter's stab at innovation.
Sadly, there's not much else to "Dredd" that isn't covered by a routine description of the old-school first-person shooter. The gunplay would be better if there was more variety and better AI powering the perps. But enemies attack and flee in very basic patterns, and there's not much challenge. A sole nod to current shooters is an extensive rag-doll physics system (you know we love that), which has exterminated victims flopping around like dead fish.
The future's (not) so bright...
Powered by a graphics engine that seems designed for the PC, "Judge Dredd" just doesn't stack up against any major shooter of the past two years. The architecture of Mega City One is great, with excessive neon and heaps of in-jokes that will satisfy fans of the original comics. It doesn't look like a teeming metropolis, however, since only a few pedestrians roam the streets. You'll see less than 10 distinct non-playable characters, and perhaps twice that many enemies. "Dredd" feels rushed and very unpolished as a result. Fans who've stood by for two decades certainly deserve better.
With play mechanics so thoroughly mired in past generations, it's no surprise that "Dredd" lacks online multiplayer support. Sure, there's split-screen, four-player deathmatch, but we've moved way beyond "GoldenEye." With the detail Rebellion's engine tries to push, things get murky fast with the screen split into quadrants. The two-player cooperative mode seems like a great idea, but it's sluggish and simply no more fun than running solo. The only saving grace for those unimpressed by the short solo campaign is a set of arcade missions that offer a bit of extra fun.
Think of the children!
With the world the way it is now, the twisted satire of "Judge Dredd" could have been perfect. Imagine a mutated Donald Rumsfeld as a boss, or better, head of the Justice Department. Instead, we get a depressingly face-value take on a dystopian future that works neither as a game or a parody, except of itself.
There's some humor in each arrest procedure, but it wears thin quickly. And with such poorly developed satire, do we really need to be playing out scenarios where the main character arrests a town square full of anti-fascist demonstrators? Shooting hookers may be OK, but that's just kind of sick. "Dredd Versus Death" is merely another unpleasant footnote to a long-misunderstood career.
Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs. Death (PS2)