I knew you would say that!
It's a real testiment to a franchise, character or idea that over a few decades videogames of said thing keep coming out. It's not always great and sometimes it's pretty damn painful to watch but also there are moments when it all comes together and the world is a really great place.
For this specific feature our man in Argentina wants to take you all on a journey into the past to look at all the games that are part of the enduring and masterful 'JUDGE DREDD' character and universe. From comic book cop to the videogame world... He is the LAW!
The Retro lo-down on the lawman...
The second issue of the British mag 2000 AD delivered back in 1977, a great story and the most law abiding character the world had seen: Judge Dredd.
Created by John Wagner and Carlos Esquerra this particular tough judge - not even remotely as popular as most DC and Marvel characters – slowly gained an increasing fan base that continued to grow to this very day. How could it be otherwise? The story of MegaCity One, the law system in this post-apocalyptic world and everything revolving the Dredd entourage made the comic unique and so, as usually happens, the character was taken to the big screen twice, the first movie starred Stallone himself in 1995 (avoid it by all means) and a 2012 version which was great to this reviewer’s opinion. Why, even one of the best metal bands out there – I’m talking about Anthrax – dedicated a song “I’m the Law” to the judge.
The videogaming world couldn’t be left outside, and the Judge left his mark there too. From the Armstrad era to the cell phones age, check the Dredd games and judge for yourselves (nice pun, eh?).
Mega-City One... 48 & 64
The very first Judge Dredd game was published in 1987 by Melbourne House in the UK for the Amstrad CPC, but it was not greeted by the critics. Although some of the game’s backgrounds could have been coloured differently, the game depicted pretty decent graphics for its time, and I believe it wouldn’t have been too criticized if it would have been shorter.
The main objective is to get Dredd to arrest or kill the main perp of each stage, to do that, you have to manoeuvre through all the different platforms while keeping innocent civilians safe from your bullets and using robots to cover your arse from the enemies’ projectiles. The trick to subdue the criminals is to use different kinds of ammunition that you can select from your Lawgiver – the Judges standard issued weapon. You can select incendiary bullets, explosive, ricochet, normal, armour piercing, etc. Dredd’s fists are always an option too when bullets have all gone, but they are not really effective. As I said at the beginning, the game is fun at first, but it gets too repetitive and will feel dull after a while.
During the same year, the UK publisher Piranha attempted to release Judge Death, a game supposedly based on Dredd’s top enemy, but the title never hit the streets as the company went bankrupt before releasing the game. Rumour has it that the main character of the game would have been Dredd’s long time sidekick Judge Anderson and the gameplay was to be Operation Wolf-ish, but nothing is certain.
After the unsuccessful first incursion of Dredd to the world of videogames, Virgin Games decided to give the star of 2000 AD another chance; the platform being no other than the ZX Spectrum, although it was later published for the Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64 too. This new title featuring Joseph Dredd was not bad, though not particularly remarkable either.
What I think Virgin did right with this title was to capture the essence of the Dredd’s world, the humour, the atmosphere of oppression in every building, not an easy task, mind you. The game has its good six levels of platforming shoot em ‘up where Dredd faces a good amount of perps and Dredd’s evil deadly equals, the Dark Judges. Each stage of the game is a Mega Structure within MegaCity One that Dredd needs to clear of crime. The player must pay attention to two indicators while fending off the evil doers, one is the health meter which once depleted means game over and the other one is the crime meter.
This particular one, once full, makes the best Judge of all time resign from his duty due to his bad performance. The game is hard and entertaining through all the six levels and gave all Dredd fans at that time some hope in the future of the character’s games. Unfortunately that hope was soon to quiver.
Insert Coin to JUDGE...
If evidence can be produced to demonstrate that God exists to all the atheists out there is this; the Dredd arcade game that was cancelled. Yes, in 1992 His merciful hand prevented humanity from ever seeing this atrocity. Although a couple of years later a short preview of it was made available and word is that some MAME users dread (no pun intended) to play it. Blasphemous!
The first Dredd arcade game was a beat ‘em up title developed by Midway based on the engine of Mortal Kombat II, digitalized graphics included. The controls included a button to kick, punch, block and… crouch (?). Why include a crouch button in a 3d beat ‘em up game, is beyond me, but probably Midway knew better.
Apart from very few good funny moments and the design of Dredd, everything else in this game looks and sounds awful. The digital voices are a pain to the ears, the backgrounds look designed by a 5 year old with Parkinson disease and there’s even some lady dog-walking a mini Goro on the background.
If you still feel brave enough, you can play a version of this game on MAME, since three stages were fully completed before someone (God, I think) decided to pull the plug on the project.
I have mentioned earlier, the Stallone movie, haven’t I? Well, that disastrous attempt to capture the attention of a public who did not know who the hell Judge Dredd was, spawned a videogame for the Genesis/Mega Drive and the SNES brought to us by Acclaim and Probe in 1995. The game received such a harsh criticism that I almost cried (manly tears, as usual) for the developers. I don’t particularly feel that the game is THAT bad, but my opinion might me a little softened by the fact that the game brings me back tons of good memories and that it was in fact the first Dredd game I ever played.
The player controls Dredd throughout a set of stages based on the movie and some others that had nothing to do with it. It follows the same type of gameplay as its old predecessors: Dredd needs to advance laterally while wiping out the hordes of criminals that attempt to retire the Judge permanently. The Lawgiver will give the player the chance to use different types of lead to achieve the ultimate goal.
The title’s difficulty is unforgiving and that is little balanced by the chance of using passwords. Enemies seem to be everywhere and they will always be happy to obliterate the Judge, something that will happen after a couple of hits. Graphically speaking the game is not bad, but stages are just too damned dark, seriously, I had to turn up the brightness almost all the way on my old Blankpunkt TV set. This probably tried to add up to the post-apocalyptic/wasted barren of that world, but it was a bit exaggerated. The music is just average and doesn’t say much, but it is not exasperating either, which after all it’s a good thing, isn’t it?
This game was no jewel, that’s a fact but it’s a seriously overlooked chapter in the 16 bit book, probably because of the time it was launched. When Judge Dredd hit the stores, everyone was over the moon with the Saturn being released and/or the Demolition Man game who also featured Stallone and a post-apocalyptic world where law enforcement was different than in present days.
Probe and Acclaim attempted to hit another blow at the Dredd punching bag by releasing a port of the game to the good old Game Boy. Here the plot focuses only on the film storyline and does not include any extras as in the SNES and Genesis versions. The GB version tried in vain to be as faithful to the 16 bit cartridges as it could and here is where the main flaw lies. In trying to do that, the 3 bit version suffers from a performance standpoint.
Controls become imprecise as Dredd moves slower than he should, the hit detection of bullets seems off too, etc. Also the colours are a problem. There is one level where certain ID cards are needed to advance, but since there is no colour or written indication of which cards correspond to which doors, the only way to advance is by spending first a lot of time going back and forth until the correct lock is found and opened. A tedious thing to do by all means.
The arcade rooms around the world finally did see a cabinet with Dredd’s name on it, In 1997 Acclaim published a rail shooter game based on the Dredd’s franchise developed by Gremlin. The game plays similar to other games such as Area 51 or Time Crisis and includes long videos in between stages which are not to be taken seriously, I think.
Enter the PSi/1 Division...
The arcade game was ported to the PS1 and it was the sole Dredd game for this generation of consoles. The game had a look and feel pretty much like its arcade version, but the main problem here was the use of a light gun. There was absolutely no way to configure one properly.
I tried different models and several cd’s of the game back in the day, and all the time accuracy was at its low. The only proper way to aim and shoot was to use the PS controller’s aim but it just blew the arcade experience to hell and back.
level and characters design's were far too repetitive, always the same perps and the same wasteland-looking structures. The problem is even more serious when you have to avoid shooting at innocent civvies, ‘cause sometimes you just can’t tell who is who until the enemy is covering you in lead.
The difficulty on this game is not solely based on the enemies but in not knowing where to look for new and improved weapons to gain the advantage over the bad dudes. This occurs in all difficulty levels except on easy, but who plays in easy mode, right?
Death get's senteanced!
Dredd games here took a giant leap of 6 years and it is in 2003 when a new game of the judge is released. The hero of MegaCity One could then be played on the original Xbox, PS2, Gamecube and the PC brought by Sierra and Rebellion Developments.
After playing the PS1 Dredd I loaded this one not expecting much, by that time, I had zero faith in developers trying to work with Dredd (same thing happened to me with Superman after the 16 bit era). But gladly, I had prejudged (no pun here either) this title. Dredd vs. Death is a very good game, one that actually capitalizes everything in the Dredd universe and uses it properly in the form of an FPS.
The story focuses on a cult trying to bring the Dark Judges back from the underworld and Dredd trying to stop them and a flood of undead creatures that suddenly infested MegaCity One. The Lawgiver allows the player to change ammunition to cause different grades of damage, something that never changed in all the games, and some perps can be either shot or arrested.
Gameplay wise the game reminds me a lot of Time Splitters, and that is not a bad sign at all. The Law needs to be abided in the game too, so if Dredd eliminates a certain number of civilians or fellow judges and the law meter turns red, a Special Judicial Squad is dispatched to control him.
The dark side of the game is the music which just doesn’t accompany the action or blends with the atmosphere of the stages. Definitely the only black spot here.
Rebellion Developments struck again in 2012 by releasing another game of Dredd, this time for Android, I-phones and Windows phones: Dredd vs. Zombies. Yeah, I know, the name sounds cheesy as heck, the word “zombie” stamped in almost every product to grab the consumers’ attention and so on, but again the game is quite good.
It is a third person shooter where you control Dredd in 30 levels of zombie blasting fun. Four upgradeable weapons are ready for Dredd to send zombies back to the Underworld, the Lawgiver, Spitgun, Scattergun and the Hi-Ex Launcher.
The Controls are good, even for a phone game. Dredd is controlled by a left virtual thumb stick and a button fires, aided by the auto aim feature that helps the player lock the nearest zombie.
Each level grants the player a certain number of stars depending on the time it took to clear the stage. The more stars you have, the more levels become available to play.
RetroGameGeeks Final Thoughts
Despite many promises there has not been a Dredd game for the current generation of consoles, just a quick glimpse of Dredd and Judge Anderson in Little Big Planet if you downloaded the costume in 2009. Maybe the PS4, Wii U and X-Box One will be lucky enough to have a Dredd title in their ranks, Rebellion do after all retain the rights to not just the Dredd character but the entire brand of 2000 A.D. itself so we live in hope.
Will the Judge obtain the justice of a perfectly done game with his name or just a hung out Jury? We will have to wait for the final verdict. In the era of the FPS genre it seems like it's the right time for a well made game to shine through especially if they can link it in with the next modern Dredd film due out in the next two years.
For now though we still have some interesting entries to sit down and play with, almost every game so far has at least one or two good things about it, from the capturing of the look of Mega-City One to the violence coupled with dark and twisted humour that the now legendary comic and graphic novels have flowing through each page.
For the original boxed copy lovers reading this it's also worth noting that every game mentioned here can be picked up for pennies, even the Gamecube version of Dredd VS Death won't set you back more than £5 - £10 which is quite a bargain if you ask this perp bustin lawgiver posessing fanboy.