Death by Degrees
Death by Degrees sees the return of probably the most famous hair in videogame history, as we get to explore the
pants past of perennial Tekken fave, Nina Williams.
Take one successful, if not universally loved, fighting game series. Pick one of said series' most popular characters, Nina Williams, and discard the rest. Now completely change the game genre to something in more of an action/adventure flavour. Add a sprinkling of elements connected to the original series, a dash of design flaws and mix it all in a bowl with some of your new chosen genres biggest hits. Place in development oven for 12 months at room temperature until half-baked. Serves 1.
At least, that is the norm in these situations. Yet while Death by Degrees does tick most of the boxes for this sort of genre switch, it manages to be not as bad as you would expect it to be. Sure it has design flaws and apes much from its action/adventure stable mates (predominantly old school Resident Evil), but does have some nice touches to call its own.
The combat system for one, a variation on the twin stick system used in games like Rise To Honour and Blade II, manages to be much better developed than in either of those games. Although it does take a long time to stop just mashing buttons and to find the correct timings and nuances of the system. Though even then, your button presses still occasionally feel a little disjointed from the on-screen action. There is a nice feeling of achievement when you manage to block an opponent's attack, but again it just doesn't feel like you are actually doing it half the time. Namco still gets points for effort; it's a brave stab at a control system that aims to convey the roots of the character.
It's a shame, then, that more fundamental aspects of the game are so poorly implemented. Loading times aren't particularly long, but they crop up between every cut scene and when moving between each (relatively small) area. The cumulative effect creates much irritation. The game camera is also a big negative point. A button press sets it behind Nina's head so you can look around, but not if you're too close to a wall or standing on stairs. This inconsistency proves frustrating when you step into a new area and want to look around for any enemies. Another problem with the camera is when the camera switches (like in Resident Evil), except here it more often than not messes up your controls.
Over the course of the game Nina goes through several costume changes, necessitated by the fact that these outfits get torn and dirty from all the fighting. Also, more are unlocked upon completion as bonuses. We'll let them have that one as it's a tried and tested genre feature. For other reasons though, it isn't a stretch to conclude that this game is not much more than an exercise in mild titillation and fetishism.
The designers have obviously been taking cues from their peers over at Team Ninja, using the much loved graphical technique of Lady-Bump Mapping. Nina's love pillows are bouncier than a space hopper on a trampoline; when she climbs up into an air duct the camera focuses on her backside; even one of her idle animations has her carefully retrieving her underwear from her chuff. Leave the poor woman alone will you - even Lara Croft didn't have this amount of trouble with her camera. I guess at least it is a good example of marketing to your target audience.
The graphical fetishism also comes into play with the 'Focus' technique. Here the camera zooms into an X-ray view of your current adversary so that you to target specific bones and organs - a visual effect incredibly similar to one seen in the Jet Li film Romeo Must Die. How unfortunate then that it has seemingly zero impact on the gameplay. If the enemy you use this move on isn't killed by it, he'll get up again and continue fighting as if nothing happened. Hmmm.
There really isn't a great deal to say about the audio. It definitely stays true to the Resident Evil comparison where the voice acting is concerned. It certainly isn't as bad as everybody's preferred voice acting punch bag, but it's not far off. Let's not forget the music either, an incredibly repetitive Bond-esque spy ditty plays throughout, only relenting during fights - truly uninspiring.
It certainly isn't as bad as it could have been; indeed some parts are quite decent. Unfortunately though it just doesn't become anything greater than the sum of its parts, and because the majority of those parts have not been developed long or well enough, the game just isn't fun enough to warrant much attention. Though in saying that, if as in this case the character/series is popular enough, then such flaws will be overlooked. All I can say is for fans of Nina/Tekken to consider playing something more worthy of your time, or at the very least to rent this game first before buying.
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Death by Degrees
Direct feed trailer (640x480, 1Mbps)
Death by Degrees
Shaky cam trailer (320x180, 432kbps)