If a hot blonde in various bits of fetish gear can make you overlook imprecise controls, long load times, outdated Resident Evil-style puzzles and possibly the most frustrating save game system ever, then Death By Degrees is the game for you.
Death By Degrees is the first time a character from the beloved Tekken fighting game franchise has had a solo outing, and sees assassin Nina Williams involved in a joint CIA/MI6 operation to take down some arms smugglers. And for those keen on titillation of the cyber-variety, Nina takes on the forces of evil in various states of skimpy undress - in fact, her first fight is next to a pool while she's wearing a white bikini.
The game is a hybrid between frenetic fighting and Resident Evil-style puzzle/exploration. And if that sounds like an odd mix, it is - Death By Degrees has an uneven flow which has a player madly flailing at the control pad taking on half a dozen enemies one minute, and then moving at a snail's pace trying to find 'keys' (in this case, fingerprint IDs) to open new doors the next.
The game's fighting system is similar to last year's Rise To Honour, where attacks are performed by tapping the R joystick in the direction a player wants to strike. This allows you to take on multiple foes at once with ease as, in theory, you can quickly attack in any direction on the fly. Death By Degrees also adds a dodge function that players can use by tapping the L joystick, as well as giving Nina special attacks and weapons that are used via a combination of the PS2 controller's shoulder buttons and the two joysticks.
All this sounds like it could make for a decent albeit simple combat system, but the execution is so sluggish and the controls so imprecise that it quickly becomes frustrating. Nina simply doesn't react to commands as quickly or as smoothly as you'd want her to. Her attacks are impressive, but she takes a split second to change direction - enough of a lapse to get her whacked upside the head by the many assailants taking her on at the same time. Dodging is also, well, dodgy. It takes a short while for Nina to recover after dodging before she's ready to move, once again meaning you're open to attack.
The whole tap-attack system can suffer from being too repetitive (as in Rise To Honour), so to its credit, Death By Degrees tries to spice up the action by adding special attacks that can be bought throughout the course of the game. But since their use requires you to pull off some frankly unintuitive joystick and shoulder button combos you'll quickly abandon them in favour of the simple joystick tap.
The camera system in Death By Degrees is also mind-bogglingly off kilter. Pressing the R2 button automatically focuses the camera view behind Nina, but as you move forward the camera refuses to change perspective. It leads to rapid disorientation - particularly when running.
The puzzle elements don't fare much better in Death By Degrees. Go into a room, pick up an object, backtrack four rooms to use said object on a previously locked door, go through the door, repeat - it's so 1990s. The puzzle elements also highlight just how sluggish the game is. Nina at her normal walking speed is slower than Anna Nicole Smith at a trivia night, and backtracking through rooms makes you realise just how many load screens this game has.
But special mention has to go to Death By Degrees' save game system, which we're willing to bet The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy would happily dub "worst save system ever". There are only specific spots you can save your progress in (and we're fine with that concept), but Death By Degrees actually hides these save areas. A little bar similar to a mobile phone reception indicator pops up on screen when you're near a save point - one bar means you're close, two is even closer, and three is right on the money. It's annoying enough as it is, but to make matters worse, it's also not consistent. We found instances where you'd have one bar showing and the save point was two floors up; yet in another room, we were only two metres away from a save and yet there was still only one bar showing.
Death By Degrees shows some potential, but an unpolished execution and an overall sluggish feel means it's for die-hard Tekken fans only. Bring on Tekken 5!
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