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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Review: Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death

PC, October 2003 [Amazon UK]

Released in 2003 this multi-platform first person shooter from Rebellion was not well received and faded quickly into oblivion. Having revisited the tired demo as part of my ongoing immersion in Dredd comics I had a look on Amazon UK and discovered it available from marketplace retailers for the paltry sum of £4 (including postage). That’s not much more than two US superhero comics and less than the price of a computer gaming magazine. For £4 I thought why not – reputation be damned.

The multiplayer mode was something I knew I’d not be playing, and the arcade shorts were light entertainment at best, irritating shooting galleries at worst. The thrust of my interest was in the single player storyline, hoping to avoid the damn level from the demo as long as possible. The storyline itself is solid enough for an action focused Judge Dredd tale. This isn’t a Dredd story with characterisation and introspective on Dredd’s actions and attitudes, nor is it a satire on any real world events or such like. This is action Dredd, pure and simple, and there are no pretensions of it being anything else. To this end it actually works better as a narrative than Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (so far - I’ve yet to finish that at the time of writing).

You’re put through a short, yet rather pointless tutorial to begin with – one that even the ingame voice of Dredd laments. After you’ve inevitably punched an instructor by “mistake” and had to do it all over again you are freed to walk the streets and arrest some perps. This first proper level is a pleasing start to the game, demonstrating the ability to shout down perps to arrest them and if you’re feeling experimental then you’ll quickly discover you can get away with arresting most of the populace (as almost everything is a crime in Mega-City One). You get tasked with several routine arrest tasks one after the other, and it’s a solid enough foundation for a better Judge Dredd game in the future, should one ever appear. The implementation here is stiff, with people wandering aimlessly and no actual freeform element – crimes don’t occur around you that you can then deal with, you’re restricted to the sequential preset objectives. A fun start, especially the bank heist towards the end, and a good idea, but a primitive deployment.

Before long you’re embroiled in vampires and dealing with a prison riot at the penitentiary that holds the Dark Judges (Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis). It’s here that the story properly begins, which is told entirely through ingame cutscenes (though the camera breaks out of the HUD and into widescreen). The Dark Judges are trying their best to wreck havoc in Mega-City One through hordes of vampires, zombified citizens and the human Death Cult. After attempting to stop things before they start, investigating the zombie situation and doing your best to rescue citizens you (Judge Joe Dredd, obviously) hunt down each of the Dark Judges individually before a final confrontation with Judge Death in Deathworld.

The Dawn Of The Dead homage level (zombie citizens running amok in a mall whilst gently amusing announcements about mad consumerism blare out from the mall speakers) is good stuff but the game tends to fall apart in some of the longer locales. The prison, running around the Icarus lab, trekking through the ruined buildings – they drag on without enough variety. Facing off against the Dark Judges is a bit too hit and miss for my liking. Judge Fire was easily the most satisfying, fighting him with the sprinkler system inside the Smokatorium. Mortis is an almost immobile turret, Fear chases you but doesn’t really excite and Death is an invulnerable distraction on the final level. They’re great potential bosses but they’re too poorly exploited (apart from Fire).

The graphical style is an odd one. There is a style, certainly, and it’s chosen deliberately and it’s pretty consistent through out. Rebellion have chosen to build, in 3D, Dredd art that sits in the Carlos Ezquerra zone of influence (in fact it all looks quite Henry Flint). The characters are an attempt to translate these drawings into three dimensions but they’re crudely constructed and low polygon beasts, with none of the array of texture wizardry to be found in FPS games a year afterwards, or indeed in RPG 'Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic' from around the same time. The scenery walks a more shaky line, sometimes gelling with the character models and other times jarringly different. You can get a decent impression from the screenshots here as to whether it’s too backwards to accept in this modern age of visual glory.

The final quirk of Dredd vs. Death is the completion time – it took me around six hours and I’m the man who finds Max Payne games take a long time to finish. Sure, you’re left with a pile of time challenge arcade levels but they’re often frustrating and repetitive, and they certainly lack variety. Still… the single player game is a fun blast, despite its many flaws. Arresting criminals, disarming gunmen with a shot to the weapon and generally enjoying the six bullet types available on the modernised Lawgiver pistol (a very nice and chunky piece, these days), not to mention the pleasant selection of weapons for use in the other slot (you can only ever carry two). It’s fun to be Judge Dredd (the game makes a decent effort at translating this from the page) and that’s really what this is. If you’ve an interest in Dredd at all then it’s not a bad piece of fun for £4. For a full price game it would be a truly terrible purchase (and I’d be saying 5/10), and for someone not interested in Dredd it’s not worth their time. For those that are it’s six hours of competent fun for the price of a Commodore 64 budget game…


Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 5:10 PM


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All original content is copyright Alex Hopkinson 2005. Other content is copyright the respective owners. To contact the author email: alex [at]

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