When it comes to comic book video games, certain things should go together like cereal and milk: Swinging around as Spider-Man, mowing down thugs with automatic weapon in the shoes of the Punisher, and stalking criminals in the shadows of Gotham City in the role of Batman. One concept that seems like a slam dunk on paper that should rightfully fit in with all those examples is an on-rails light gun game starring Judge Dredd, an idea that was tried out by Gremlin Interactive in 1998. If the last sentence caused your ears to perk up like a dog who heard the word “outdoors?” you should adjust your expectations greatly; Judge Dredd on the PSOne is a disappointing wasted opportunity.
Back in the early days of 3-D video games, companies tried to sell their wares by showing off the fancy full motion videos, or FMV’s, and if this title could be, well, judged by that aspect alone, it would be an eleven out of ten in my book. Judge Dredd took a page out of the original Resident Evil playbook with its between level “story” development and hired actors to play out the sequences as opposed to animating them and hiring voice actors. The results are, well, see for yourself:
See? Told ya, and unlike a certain other actor, this Dredd keeps his helmet on!
Unfortunately between those beautifully cheesy mini-movies, you have to play Judge Dredd, which isn’t that fun. You have two control schemes: playing with a controller where you move your cursor across the screen and shoot your target, or you can plug in a Namco GunCon to emulate the feeling of the arcade at your home. Wait, I can play a Judge Dredd light gun game with an ACTUAL gun?!! Slow down, it’s not as cool as it sounds. After calibrating the peripheral as best I could, I still found it to be horribly inaccurate and unreliable, leaving the controller as the best option for play and that has its own problem: It makes the game far too easy. Moving your cursor with the directional pad makes it incredibly simple to line up accurate shots, and unlike the gun controller, you don’t have to aim off-screen to reload, just tap any of the four trigger buttons.
Controls are one thing, but that really makes Judge Dredd a poor entry in the rail-shooter genre is its level and enemy design. The levels, while emulating the gritty nature of the source material, are far too busy and you have no idea what you should and should not be shooting. Staying alive in a game like this is all about gathering spare lives and more powerful weapons within stages, but unlike say the House of the Dead where you know there’s something in that box or barrel, you have no clue where to look for anything, that is unless you play on the easy difficulty.
When playing on easy all the hidden power-ups are clearly shown on the map by two obvious looking red arrows, and while it feels like cheating having the game tell you where something is, keep in mind that if the game was designed better you wouldn’t need the help, and often you’re still unclear what you’re supposed to be shooting at. Luckily this is one of those games that doesn’t cut itself off and requests you play at a higher difficulty to see the finale, so if you’re just playing to see amazing cut-scenes, playing on the lowest setting will allow you to see the story through to conclusion.
The enemies are no better designed than the environments and that’s a huge problem when one of the sub-objectives is not shooting civilians, which comes with a healthy penalty to your life meter even on easy. You’re not sure something is an enemy until it starts unloading bullets at you and the people you’re trying to save have a nasty habit of walking right in front of someone who’s shooting you. Regular stage enemies are one thing, the bosses are another story. All of the stage bosses in this game are large mechanical tanks, drones and jets and none come with clear points to shoot out other than their turrets. When in these encounters it’s easy to eat through previous lives and continues just simply trying to figure out what it easy you’re supposed to be shooting at.
I’d almost recommended slogging through the average at best shooting action in this game just to get to the cheesy FMV’s, but that comes with a higher price than just simply ordering this game online or perhaps picking it up at your favorite game shop. PSOne games are easily played on either the PS2 or 3, so chances are you don’t have a PSOne kicking around anymore unless your especially nostalgic to Sony’s first ever console.
In booting up this game on my PS2 it stuttered, skipped, and often froze to the point where I had to turn off my system. I tried it in my PS3 slim model and received similar results. My disc, despite being used, was in exceptional shape and I even got it resurfaced at a game store to make sure it wasn’t an issue with an unwanted scratch. The solution to the problem was in fact none of the above; In order to play Judge Dredd correctly, it must be done exclusively on the PSOne, so while the game may be cheap to buy, you have to track down a console you already may have built into multiple machines to play one mediocre game.
If you could evaluate a game on its movies, a lot more games would probably be million sellers, but in the case of Judge Dredd, it would have a dollar return that would make James Cameron’s Avatar look like the North American box-office receipts for Dredd (…sniff…) If you’re a fan of the character and can overlook the games short comings, it’s a harmless rail shooter that’s okay to play, especially if you’ve got a friend with a similar train of thought. To get the most out of the experience though, you’re going to have to track down a PSOne and a light gun or two, which isn’t really worth it for this game alone.
So far I’ve looked at three Judge Dredd games all simply named “Judge Dredd.” Next week I finally look at a game that has a little more to the title, and is also quite the under appreciated gem.