Monday, January 21, 2013

Bad Game Night: "Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death"

Why aren't garbage games regarded as highly as garbage movies? People gather around their televisions to partake in Troll 2 and The Room, not just because they're ironic hipsters, but because, despite their glaring faults - or because of their glaring faults - the films are wholly entertaining. Surely this is also the case with games? Andy intends to find out. This is a Bad Game Night!

I dare you to watch the video above - a fan-cut video showcasing Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death - and not think that it could possibly the greatest videogame ever made. Go ahead, watch it. Go on. ...seriously, mate, the rest of this article won't make any sense without that video for context. So go on. I'll literally have gone nowhere by the time you get back. I am static text on a website. I can do nothing but wait for you. Y'done? Good.

Now, I'm going to level with you, because after watching that you're likely frothing at the mouth and trying to find a copy of the game. You've probably thoughts running through your head for what the game is: Dredd Nukem! And... okay, look, this game ain't that bad, but re-adjust your expectations. The game is not as good as that trailer makes it look. Not by a long shot. And I need to tell you that because, for all of Dredd vs Death's major shortcomings... I think the game is better than that trailer makes it look. B-b-b-... AWAAAAH?

Dredd vs Death is a first-person shooter courtesy of Rebellion. You may know Rebellion. They own all of 2000 A.D.; comics and games and all. But as a game studio, you'd probably recognize them for Aliens vs Predator, the remake of Aliens vs Predator, Sniper Elite, and that NeverDead thing that you watched the trailer of and thought, "this won't be as fun as it looks in this trailer," and then it turned out it wasn't as fun as it looked in that trailer, and you said to yourself, "yep, called it." Remember that day? I remember that day. I bought myself a pack of chips 'n everything to celebrate. It was a party.

All credit to Rebellion. For as bad as some of their games end up being - and oh dear god some of their games end up being pretty bad - their first-person shooters are always... satisfying. In a shallow way. Rebellion knows, if nothing else, how to craft satisfying weapons that are fun to use and shoot at people. Some of the other design stuff might be questionable, but hey! They're making first-person shooters and they nine times out of ten absolutely nail the feel of the combat. So Dredd vs Death? Totally has that. The guns are heaps cool to shoot 'n everything. Bare bones gameplay, Dredd vs Death is completely playable - and sometimes even a little fun! It's the stuff around it that makes it worse. Or, if you're me, elevates it to being possibly one of the best first-person tie-in games ever made ...take your pick.

Dredd vs Death stars a kindly superhero called Judge Dredd. His name may sound scary, but don't worry - he's basically harmless. He cares for the sick and the poorly, and stands up for justice wherever a corrupt system may crush the little guy. ...nah. Just kidding. He's a soldier in a tyrannical, self-perpetuating police state and he's a corrupt asshole who will lock people away for life if they so much as look at him funny. Our protagonist, ladies and gentlemen.

Well, such a protagonist might be sort of uncomfortable if this was in any way related to the real world. Luckily, Dredd vs Death takes place in a surprisingly well-realized comic book world - Mega-City One. You might know Mega-City One from the Judge Dredd comics, or one of the two Judge Dredd films, but I can guarantee you you've never seen a Mega-City One quite like the one in Dredd vs Death. The vistas can be stunningly beautiful, there's no doubt about that, and the cartoonish visuals hold a great amount of charm to them, but that's all a moot point. No, Dredd vs Death is the only version of Mega-City One I know of that is populated wholly by The Muppets!

...this may be a cheap shot, and perhaps a misguided cheap shot since I actually like the art style implemented in Dredd vs Death, but the way characters mouths flap up and down in lieu of lip synch just... they're puppets. They're puppets! Being manipulated by strings! That's all my brain says, and it's hilarious, but it really does make it hard to take the game seriously. The first mission you're tasked with arresting several perps - easy stuff, all you have to do is yell at them until the kneel over and the cuff 'em and send 'em off to the Iso-Cubes. But instead of arresting all the law-breakers... man, you'll just arrest everybody. And you can arrest everybody.

It's actually particularly inspired. The comedic styling of Dredd vs Death aren't lost on me, oh my no! When I first arrested a fat person who was just standing still, the sentence Dredd gave them was obstruction of public space. I just arrested a person for being fat. Oh yes. There's all sorts of proper things you can arrest people for - possessing a weapon, spraypainting, vandalizing stuff, assaulting you, shooting you (even if it's in self-defense, mind) - but it's always more entertaining to arrest people for breathing too loud, or for walking too slowly. It's rather enjoyable, for the first level!

Then the second level happens. It's a lot less open than the first level, which was rather open and spacious and you could arrest people all you wanted. Also, the game sends in vampires - essentially zombies - who run at you and hit you with melee attacks. And they aren't fun to engage in gunfights with, and also you can't arrest them for ruining popular culture in Twilight. You can't arrest them at all!

The game undoes itself in the space of a single level. It's phenomenal. I've never seen a game so promising lose all its promise so fast. Mind you, the shooting is still fine, but you start to notice how unbalanced your arsenal is and you can't arrest people for being too fat and all you're doing is shooting at monsters now. I don't like it! I don't like it! ...look, game, you were so close to being genuinely good at the start. You're undoing ALL of that good will in your second level?

And that, I think, is where Dredd vs Death ends for most people. The first level is completely entertaining. Hilarious (on purpose!), clever level design, tight gunplay where you get to use the Lawgiver set to incendiary and set perps on fire for contrived, barely justifiable reasons. The second level is a linear corridor shooter with increasingly weakening humour and a bunch of uninspired enemies. Done. Dredd vs Death was a great concept, spoiled almost immediately, and you should forget it ever existed and maybe if you're curious pirate it and play the first level. Done and dusted. Let us never speak of it again.

Bah! You fools! Obviously this isn't the case or I wouldn't have it you with the M. Night Shyamalanananananana plot twist in the opening paragraphs. Yeah, that Dredd vs Death Best Game Ever video that made Dredd vs Death seem so much goddamn fun? Yeah, this game is better than that. This game is perhaps the greatest artistic achievement of the past three decades. This game is, with exception to Deadly Premonition... the best worst game I have ever played. Why? Why??

How do I say this without coming off as an elite, big word-using literary snob?

Dredd vs Death is... the pinnacle... of pointlessness and superfluity.


Dredd vs Death is a game that so exemplifies inanity by the way of pointless and superfluous features - all of which, while lending to a game that is poorly designed and paced and rests on the laurels of its restless plot and decent gunplay, is still so goddamn fun. I mean, I said before how you can use the Lawgiver, Judge Dredd's amazing gun that can be switched between modes like incendiary, explosive, ricochet round, armor piercing... but outside of the brief tutorial, you are never once asked to use anything but default ballistic rounds. You could use explosive rounds and blow up everyone and yourself in the process, but shooting people in the head with bullets is faster, right?

I was impressed at first by the way the game only handed out a secondary weapons - a shotgun and a sniper rifle. It was a little constrictive, but hey, it made sense, right? If you're having weapons in a game may as well make sure they all serve a purpose, right? ...but then once the game begun I found myself loaded down with pistols. And submachine guns. And less good shotguns. And it's like... I have a gun, that is five guns, and you're giving me more guns?

And the arrest system. You could arrest every criminal. But you don't really get any bonuses for doing so - though some mission task you with taking perps in a live - but a lot of the time you can just kill them. Just kill them! Why arrest them when you can kill them? Why use the shotgun when you have a pistol that is also a rocket launcher? Why do it at all? Because. That's why. You do it because.

Almost by complete accident, Dredd vs Death has simultaneously set itself up for being one of the crummiest first-person shooters ever... and a magical playground in which you are Judge Dredd and you get all the weapons and you can arrest guys and yell at vampires. Judge Death shows up - damn straight, he's in the title! - and he's a ghost, and he needs to find a body. Sweet! You can punch people in the face and they say "Dredd. Stop that." Awesome! You get the Lawgiver and can use ricochet bullets that don't ricochet off of things for shit. Amazing! Truly if there is a king of arbitrary yet entertaining and disparaging gameplay elements, it would be Duke Nukem Forever, because no-one told 3D Realms that people who play first-person shooters don't care for playing dumbed-down virtual pool or needlessly well-made virtual pinball. But Dredd vs Death would be close behind, I bet!

Dredd vs Death is excessive without providing any depth; a rhyme without a reason, a song without a tune. You know in Half-Life 2 how, at the very start, you could walk through and enjoy the story being told to you in a flawlessly designed environment, soaking in the oppressive atmosphere and churning around the mystery of what is happening in City 17 over and over in your head... or you could throw old Chinese food containers at NPCs and giggle wildly as the grumble at you to just "stop that"? Yeah, that's Dredd. It's throwing Chinese food containers at the NPCs. It's a game giving you fun toys but is not quite sure what it wants you to do with them, so you end up buried underneath enough toys to make your own damn fun. It's a game that is self-conflicted and is fun to play without having anything fun to play in. ...and... well... there's a demented genius in all that. If you must walk through a collapsing structure, it'd be irrefutably more entertaining to do so while wearing a party hat and blowing on a streamer and stuffing your face full of cake and being showered with confetti for completely erroneous reasons, hmmm?

So you know what? Dredd vs Death? From an objective standpoint? Crap game. Not completely irredeemable - it can be funny, it can be satisfying, but as far as level design and player leading and just overall the driving force behind making you want to progress through the levels? Yeah. I dunno. It's either absent of intelligence or just Rebellion is so smart none of us have caught onto them yet. But if you're okay with having a game that is merely fun to play with, rather than play in... well... Dredd vs Death lives up to the hyperbole. It is an entertaining game, it just doesn't come in a package that is overall entertaining. But who cares, in the end? For a measly $5 on Steam, you get a marginally well-written, occasionally superbly-written, decent-looking and passably entertaining first-person shooter. Also, for no reason, there's co-op. So that's good fun too if you have a friend to share with. In summary: bad game, good game stuff. What's the word. Not gameplay. Not game feel. Not... eurgh... eh. Fuck it. I'm gonna go arrest a fat person for taking up public space. After all:

I am the law*!

*not really


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