Review: Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death

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It can be easy to forget now but every generation of first-person shooters spawned dozens if not hundreds of titles. Names like Quake and Half-life remain ubiquitous while oddballs like Star Trek: Elite Force and KISS: Psycho Circus are all but lost to the march of history. Among the many licensed FPSes of that particular era was Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death, a game I wasn’t even aware of until a decade after its release. It can be hard to return to older games without the benefit of familiarity but Dredd is accessible and unique enough to jump into even now, despite its many weaknesses. I wouldn’t call it a lost classic but it’s definitely a lost title that deserves to be rediscovered.

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Everyone should be familiar with Judge Dredd (hopefully by way of the comics or the excellent 2012 Karl Urban film) but I will suspend my disappointment and assume you are not, you uncultured cur. Order in the wild, dystopian Mega-City One is maintained by the Judges, heavily-armed law enforcement officials with the power to arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals on the spot. Among the greatest Judges is Joe Dredd, a man who exists solely for the purpose of dispensing justice. Dredd vs Death details a period where Mega-City One is gripped by a plague of vampires and zombies, eventually leading Dredd to a confrontation with the otherworldly Dark Judges.

Translating the jackbooted Dredd to the medium of video games is as simple as giving the player a gun and hundreds of criminals to execute, but Rebellion cleverly took things several steps beyond. Throughout the story campaign you will encounter criminals of all shapes and sizes, some armed and some not. You have a dedicated button for challenging perps to drop their weapons and submit, and if they do you can sentence them to prison (complete with pop-up text of their identity, crime, and sentence). Those that resist can of course be executed, or if you want to get fancy you can disarm them by shooting their weapon out of their hand, which makes them much more likely to submit. Arrests affect your stage score and also keep your justice meter aloft, which can end your game if you let too many suspects skate free or kill too many civilians.

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It’s a fun little diversion that does a lot to break up the action of larger levels, an important task because the core shooting is not all that great. Dredd has his signature pistol, the Lawgiver, which uses universal ammo in different amounts to fire special bullets like heat-seekers and ricochets. However, enemies have extremely simple AI and are weak enough to the Lawgiver’s standard rapid-fire that there’s little use in switching ammo. You can also appropriate weapons from enemies, but these are standard shotguns and rifles for the most part and you can only carry one extra weapon at a time. Some levels can pit you against foes in close quarters, requiring fancy footwork and quick reflexes, those these situations are mostly exceptions to the rule.

The eleven levels that compose the campaign are colorful, varied, and do an excellent job of conveying the scale of Mega-City One. Buildings and plazas can be enormous, garish, and decrepit depending on the district, and routine trips to penitentiaries and shopping malls can lead to chains of objectives through chaotic shootouts. The grand scale isn’t great for level flow though, leaving plenty of long stretches of nothing to traverse. There’s also nothing to really seek out in levels aside from health kits, which are essential to keeping your static health in check if enemies keep chipping away at you.

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You’ll get three to four hours of justice from the campaign, presented in the thick geometry and rough textures of the time. The game also offers several Arcade scenarios where you gun down targets as fast as possible, and a fine little multiplayer mode complete with bots if you can’t cajole any humans into playing with you. There’s not quite enough depth to Dredd vs Death to call it great, but I’ve had a grand time cuffing perps and blasting vampires. The next time you’re in the mood for some retro shooting, consider becoming the law for a change of pace and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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