I'm trying to remember the original Dead to Rights. I know for certain that I played the PSP version, 'Reckoning', and those memories seemed fairly neutral, if not mildly positive. For some reason I can't quite figure out at the moment, the existence of Dead to Rights II went completely unnoticed to me.
So I suspect that it's because of people like me that Namco's starting the entire thing from scratch on the Xbox 360 and PS3 with Dead to Rights: Retribution -- a relaunch of the entire franchise that starts from the beginning of the story. The back-to-the-kitchen approach has become commonplace in the movie and TV industry (see: Battlestar, Batman, Star Trek), and some would argue that Nintendo does this with every Legend of Zelda, but this is the first time that I can remember a game franchise hitting the Big Reset Button. But my memory is notoriously awful, so feel free to correct me in the comments.
Dead to Rights: Retribution Trailer
I was only allowed to watch a live demonstration of the new game, but it would appear that Gears of War has made its mark on the development team. Our hero remains Jack, and the basic Dead to Rights recipe hasn't changed: combine equal parts running and gunning, mix well. The Gears elements come in to play with heavy emphasis on cover (who keeps four overturned sofas in an elevator lobby?) and an evolved melee system. For example, if you're engaging two or more enemies you can aim your attacks in different directions while retaining focus on your primary target. You can also grapple with foes, which enables more hand-to-hand combat options -- one of which is an amusing toss off an extremely high balcony, a maneuver I quickly dubbed the “John Locke”). And instead of chainsaws and curb stomps, Jack's melee one-hit kills involve a brutal combination of punches, guns, and exploded body parts.
It might be a savvy move, playing to the Gears fans when there is no new Gears this year (Dead to Rights is coming out in Q4). But I was just about to move on to the next game before they showed off Retribution's real hook. In the original games, Jack was accompanied by his canine pal Shadow. In the new game, Shadow is actually a playable character, with levels designed specifically for him. For instance, Jack will be hurt and incapacitated, so it's up to Shadow to get through the level and defend Jack long enough for him to recover. He even has a stealth mode, letting him prowl around silently, drag bodies into hiding, and lunge teeth-first at the enemy's throat. Cue more blood!
This might seem like a situation ripe for co-operative play, but no dice: Dead to Rights is single-player only, as levels are focused on either Jack or Shadow...not both. When asked about hitting the franchise reset button, the Namco representative said that they felt they could tell the Dead to Rights story in a better way and on better hardware. Their success remains to be seen, but so far, they've got my attention.