Action games aren't exactly the PSP's strong point at this stage in its life, but Namco has brought its successful Dead to Rights series to the handheld in an attempt to capitalise on the gap in the market. Sadly, for PSP owners and Namco, the game fails to nail any one area of its design, making for a simple, short and repetitive action title that does little to suggest the PSP will ever be a perfect fit for games of this type.
If you're unfamiliar with the Dead to Rights series, you play as Jack Slate. A man intent on cleaning up the streets of Grant City, using whatever means necessary. To help take down the endless waves of thugs you can use your trusty, but rather violent dog, Shadow. Jack is also from the Max Payne School for Slow-motion Diving, and can use this skill to devastating effect. There's a story of sorts, but it's told in a way that really makes it hard to take notice of, and really isn't anything more than filler between levels.
In an obvious attempt to tailor the game's controls to the PSP, almost all the challenge has been removed. You auto-target all enemies and can even see the location of hidden enemies due to the lock-on tracking their locations through walls. You can get through most of the game by simply auto-targeting and tapping the fire button. Get in close and you can turn an enemy's weapon on himself in a rather brutal set of disarm moves, and the slow-motion diving is fun and causes some extra damage, but it's all fluff added to the game without really being integrated in a way to make it vital to the experience.
Enemies will come at you in waves, with more spawning as soon as one set has been dispatched. They'll often appear from areas that you had previously cleared, forcing you to backtrack slightly in order to take them out. If you get surrounded by enemies you can unleash Shadow to help you out, but even this gimmick becomes old after a while. In fact, everything in the game is done so often that you are begging for some new ideas. You'll kick doors open with the same action over and over again; you'll disarm enemies with the same limited set of animations; you blow up barrels and cars for no real purpose. It's simply a game lacking anything even remotely original.
You do get to fight boss characters from time to time, but these are pretty tedious affairs, with each boss usually becoming scared during each fight and legging it during a cutscene, forcing you to take on more goons, before getting another shot at the boss. Throughout the single-player campaign you unlock various things for the multiplayer mode, and while this might seem like a decent set of rewards, it really isn't.
While the game can get away with a total lack of manual aiming when you're playing alone, in multiplayer against up to three friends, the auto-targeting makes the whole thing somewhat of a joke. There's literally no skill to what happens at all. It's just a case of who has the best weapon and who happens to see an opponent first. You can even track the movement of hidden players by using the auto-targeting, almost eliminating sneaky tactics completely. Unless you happen to appreciate dumbed down shooters, there's really no reason to play Dead to Rights Reckoning with friends.
Initially the game looks pretty good, with solid character models and some nice explosions, but as with every other aspect of the game, you soon notice it's not as good as you first thought. Characters don't animate that well and you'll see the same animations from the main character over and over again. There are numerous clipping problems and the camera is a little slow in giving you the ideal viewpoint of the action. Music is adequate, but totally unremarkable, and the story could have been told better with the inclusion of some voice over work.
Dead to Rights Reckoning isn't an awful game, but it's jut got nothing about it that warrants much attention. It teeters on being average across the board, but its short life-span, woeful multiplayer mode and simplistic gameplay will prevent even the most desperate PSP owners from drawing any enjoyment from the title. It's a series that has never been on the cutting edge of game design, and this PSP game does nothing to prove otherwise.