Namco over the past decade or so has built up a fairly solid fighting franchise in Tekken. Taking on games such as StreetFighter II and being exclusive to the one console, Tekken still stands out as one of the premiere fighting franchises available today. Aside from being a great fighter it also has a wide variety of characters and this is where Death by Degrees comes in. Namco has created an offshoot franchise from Tekken starring one of the female stars, Nina Williams.
The game actually revolves somewhat around the Tekken universe, keeping Nina a fairly believable character for the storyline. She works as an undercover agent for MI6, who many people will recognize from the James Bond films, but Nina is no Bond. She is one brutal and tough lady as the storyline shows. After winning a tournament on a cruise ship she is discovered to be an undercover agent and thus a wanted woman. From there you take control of Nina as she works to find a secret weapon and escape the cruise with her life.
Death by Degrees is played from a third person perspective although that seems to be used only very loosely. The game offers you two views, from behind Nina or a cinematic panning style to view the action on offer. The main aim of the game is to obviously put together clues to find out what is exactly going on but to do this Nina will uses use all her fighting power. There is some stealth elements to the game as well. It offers you the choice of going in all guns, well feet and stilettos blazing or to sneak up and crack necks slowly. The control system is going to be frustrating for some gamers especially considering it's been tried before and dismally failed. However it works in Death by Degrees extremely well.
We do have a few issues with the game namely the camera and save system. The camera really is shocking. It's locked to one position unless you choose to follow Nina from behind and when turning left or right in this view, it does not change the perspective of where you look so continually adjustment is required. The save system makes this game frustrating because if you don't save the game doesn't save for you. Not a major issue but having to FIND the save points without them indicated other then a radar signal getting stronger and stronger when close enough really takes the cake. You can run around for ages trying to find a save point.
While Nina does have the opportunity to use weapons, most of the time her martial arts skills are put to the test. This is where the best feature of the game lies and that is the way Nina moves about while fighting. Nina can perform pretty much all her moves from Tekken (punches, kickflips, trip moves) in the game but this is all automatically handled depending on where the enemy is in relation to the character. Nina also has critical strike moves to use. When the meter is built up by defeating enemies, you can unleash a powerful strike which will actually show on screen the damage such as a rib cage being shattered. Also throughout, occasionally the x-ray style view will appear to show arm breaks. Basically you will get three seconds to line up the vulnerable area before a whole heap of hurt is put on the foe. More moves are purchased and unlocked throughout the game, stringing moves together gives you the opportunity to gain new moves.
The game is set on a cruise ship which lends itself to a lot of puzzle solving and unfortunately quite a bit of monotonous backtracking. There is some variation in the gameplay however with a Time Crises style mini game featured early on and of course you can use stealth instead of action if you wish. The boat itself is quite detailed with a number of different rooms but the layout is like a maze and can get you stuck and frustrated easily, the map doesn't help much either. The visuals of the game are a mixed bag. Some areas of the ship really stand out, where as others feel closer to a PSX game. Nina herself animates extremely well and the extra control you feel from the control setup makes it worth it.
Death by Degrees is very much a mixed bag game with some fantastic gameplay but two flaws that almost fatally destroy it. The control system is not as bad as many may have feared and the storyline and gameplay actually work well in line with Nina's tekken character. There are better games out there but if you like Nina or a fairly moderate action game, DBD suffices well.
looks like it will successfully take the Tekken franchise and manage to use the universe for a character focused game. With a character that people can relate to from other games, a great control system and interesting location and storyline, Death By Degrees could be one of the better PS2 games for early 2005. Look for it in a few months time.
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