JYDGE (Xbox One Review)
Releasing any game in the crowded October schedule is a brave move. Releasing a highly-stylised two-stick combat game in the same week as Ruiner (read Rhys’s review here) is also a brave move. Naming your game JYDGE? Well, that’s a whole other story…
JYDGE (pronounced ‘judge’), developed by 10tons, is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve from the very first moment. Take its lead character, for example — it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognise the very clear nods to Judge Dredd and Robocop (seriously, the fake robotic voice might be my favourite thing about it).
If the lead character points to a 1980s vibe, then the game’s setting simply reinforces it. Every level is awash with dingy dark spaces, illuminated by muted neon. It’s a strong look — one which brings to mind films such as the aforementioned Robocop or even something a little earlier like Assault on Precinct 13.Lastly, the soundtrack also has a pretty 80s synth-heavy feel to it, and whilst it’s arguably a little too peppy for the type of game it is, it’s still solid.
Aesthetically speaking then, JYDGE comes together pretty well – the sum of its parts forming a pretty coherent and appealing whole. It’s a real shame, therefore, that the game itself isn’t quite as interesting.
Instantly familiar to anyone who has played the likes of Hotline Miami and LA Cops, JYDGE sees you navigate buildings full of enemies in a city called Edenbyrg, and you’re tasked with either clearing that building out, rescuing hostages without harm, or both. Most enemies you encounter can be dealt with fairly quickly, but most levels also contain one or two mini-bosses with health bars and generally more powerful weapons.
Depending on how successfully and how quickly you complete these missions, you’re given a mobile-style ranking out of three stars. In keeping with the mobile-style progression, later levels require you to have gained the requisite number of stars from previous missions.
One nice touch does come in the form of Cyberware. Almost serving the same purpose as Deus Ex’s augmentations, Cyberware is how you both upgrade your character and spec his loadout to suit your own playstyle. Each mission provides you with currency to spend on new Cyberware. Most improve your character with boosts to armour and the like, but there are also some useful side effects to apply, such as applying additional health to hostages to ensure they can potentially survive any crossfire.
You can also choose to upgrade your weapon (which has the pretty cool name of “The Gavel”), a multi-purpose rifle, giving it the ability to shoot rockets as its alt-fire mode. Although the game’s insistence on replacing vowels with a Y as a stylistic choice means they’re referred to as “Heavy Ryckets”, just in case you’re nostalgic for Britain during the Industrial Revolution.
So far, so good, but it rarely feels like you get to use much of this stuff in unique ways, and there are a number of small but cumulative irritations that prevented me from enjoying JYDGE as much as I wanted to.
One of the main issues I encountered was that I could see scenarios where stealth would be a valid option for completing levels, but the game seemed geared at all turns to steer me away from it. Maybe that’s an intentional move – after all, this is a game whose lead character is nakedly based on an ultra-violent comic book character – but when you can so clearly see a way in which the game could be better, it’s hugely frustrating.
As an example, one of the game’s first missions tasks you with rescuing two hostages. Both are in the same room, being watched by a loan enemy. After a quick tour of the perimeter, I was able to sneak in behind said enemy with the intention of dropping him silently with a melee kill. Or, at least, that’s what I planned to do.
You see – melee sneak attacks aren’t one-hit kills. Not only that, but melee attacks are slow – slow enough that the enemy you’ve attacked can often get a shot off before you finish them off, alerting enemies in nearby rooms and forcing you into unnecessary shootouts.
Ultimately, the most disappointing aspect of JYDGE is the game that I could see it being with just a few tweaks. As it is, it’s a game with a great aesthetic and some neatly implemented ideas that just doesn’t do enough where it matters. This makes it something that’s worth playing for an hour or two, but you’ll be struggling to stick with it any longer than that. Wait for a sale.