Namco probably best known for Tekken, Soul Calibur and Pac Man isn’t a stranger to making quality titles. So when Death By Degrees starring Tekken’s Nina Williams was announced it came with mixed impressions. On one hand spinoffs with fighting game characters hasn’t resulted in the best games. Remember Mortal Kombat Mythologies anyone? On the other hand Namco’s Dead to Rights is a quality action title and if Death by Degrees is even half as good as Dead to Rights the game will still be decent. So what’s the result? Read on.
In Death By Degrees you’ll obviously be in control on Nina Williams, one of the stars of Namco’s Tekken series. At the beginning of the game you see a sweet FMV of Nina fighting hand to hand in a steel cage. After winning the battle royale with a bone shattering blow Nina jumps out of the arena and on to the deck of the cruise ship. Without a moments rest she’s attacked by a group of armed assailants and captured. When she’s thrown into a small room the CIA contacts her and the mission begins.
Fans of the Tekken series already know that Nina is a capable fighter. She’s got an arsenal of moves that you can use by slapping the right analog stick in the direction of an on coming enemy. That’s right Death By Degrees goes for the analog control design, even after it came with mixed reception in Jet Li’s Rise to Honor. Unlike Rise to Honor you have a little more control of what moves Nina does. A helpful move list in the menu shows you all of the moves you learned and how many skill points you need to learn a new skill. Although, you can go through most of the game just ignoring the combos entirely. Nine times out of ten slapping the analog stick in the direction of the enemy gets the job done. It’s cool to see Nina unleash a new attack like a windmill kick or an air combo for the first time. However, the inaccurate analog control will frustrate many gamers from learning moves.
Combos are automatically performed in Death By Degrees. All you need to do is make sure you have something to hit before the timer runs up to keep the combo counter going. Keeping a combo is rewarding because you can gain lots of skill points with a single combo. Unlike Tekken titles keeping a combo is way to easy to do. Besides dodging enemy attacks there is no thought required, just slap the stick as fast as you can. The time gaps between combos are pretty long too, you can have a couple of seconds to keep a combo going. This leaves the game with two glaring problems. The first is the ease of fighting, which will no doubt disappoint fans of Tekken games. The second is that Nina gets way too powerful, way too fast. The game is really unbalanced because Nina will have be able to do a couple of bone breakers in a row and have a huge life bar early on.
The bone breaking moves, which this game is known for, are an interesting touch. You gain energy to do this super attack by fighting, getting hit and drinking bottles of mineral water. When Nina’s purple power meter is full you pressing R2 switches the screen to an x-ray lay out. Now you need to move around a little mouse cursor to a flashing area and slap the right analog stick. If you do this in the limited time Nina will do a powerful attack and break what you selected. This kills most generic enemies and is required for some boss battles. Early on when Nina battles a pink haired boss Nina will have to use bone crusher, just to damage him. All other attacks like kicking, shooting with pistols and hitting him with a giant sword don’t do any damage. Kind of a cheap way to set up a boss fight.
This brings me to another oddity in Death By Degrees, the weapon system. The game boasts that Nina can pick up a lot of weapons, which is true. You’ll find a variety of hand guns, uzis, katanas, and tonfas to equip. Both melee weapons and guns can only be used for a short amount of time. Guns run out ammo and melee weapons break. Using a melee weapon is rarely useful. Nina can do the same, if not more damage, than using a weapon. Gamers will use weapons just to change the pace of the game, not because they’re actually useful. Guns are even more useless because of the inaccurate analog aiming. When shooting a pistol you’ll slap the stick in the direction of an enemy. In theory you should be able to shoot a bunch of enemies in a row. In reality the bullet probably won’t head in the direction intended. The analog stick just isn’t meant for that kind of control. Worse of all guns don’t do much more damage that a kick to the face and “automatic” guns have a wait time in between shots. This makes guns pretty worthless in game.
The bursts of fighting in the labyrinth like cruise ship is stunted by adventure-like puzzle solving. Nina will need to scour the ship in search keys and fingerprints, which are used like keys. Often gamers will have to backtrack through areas just to unlock a new door to get a key to run to the other side of the ship to get another key. Searching for items is one thing, but searching for save points is ridiculous. Sometimes in the upper right hand corner appears a cell phone like meter that indicates how close a save point is. It’s like a game of hot and cold, but the meter isn’t that accurate. When you’re in the two bar range a save point could be above you, below you or right in front of you. It looks like Namco had all of this set up to make the ship seem larger than it is. This problem is coupled with Nina’s slow and rigid movements. Nina walks and runs like an old action figure. Even while holding the run button Nina moves way to slowly for an action title. The blocky movement might work in Tekken 4, but Death By Degrees could have used some good 3D motion control seen in Soul Calibur 2. Controlling Nina’s stiff movements is a problem when laser sensitive puzzles will kill you if you trip one wire.
Besides Nina’s box-like animation the graphics in Death By Degrees are pretty good. You have a fair amount of character detail and some gorgeous environments. Even if the whole world suffers from some jagged edges, it’s a minor problem. It’s in the pre rendered video sequences where Death By Degrees looks its best. It should come no surprise to expect fast paced, well cut action sequences. Death By Degrees has enough movies to entertain and a convenient movie play list.
Death By Degrees has some serious control issues that detract it from being a fun game. The useless combo system and ease to power up Nina makes the game takes away any skill. Essentially what you’re left with is a mindless brawler with shoddy control. Because of these glaring problems you won’t come back for a second play and may not even play the game to the end.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 3
Most of the menus are in English, but there are enough puzzles that require knowledge of kana and kanji. As we stated before all of the speech are in English. Even if the voiceovers were in Japanese it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in gameplay.
Namco’s Death by Degrees ships with a Tekken 5 demo on February 8th in North America.
+ Pros: Nina has a wide range of attacks and weapons.
– Cons: Can you imagine a slow moving action game?
Overall: Death by Degrees is an interesting experiment with the Tekken franchise. Too bad it plays like a train wreck.
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