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Death By Degrees
Score: 81%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:
The graphics in Death by Degrees are nicely detailed and give us a peek into Nina Williams' life outside of the ring. She's a covert CIA operative assigned on a "sweeper" mission. She's not even to be directly involved in the mission unless everything goes to hell - which of course, it does. Long story made short, you're going to have to do most of the work yourself and you can expect to be up to your neck in baddies and puzzles to solve.

As the story begins, the scene is set on a lovely, albeit eccentric cruise ship. The decoration and design seems to be equally inspired by classic Greek and modern Umbrella Corp. The aesthetics of the ship are quite pleasing, but the camera angles are, at times, a bit too "Resident Evil" for my tastes; you're in a bad angle and that's the only angle you get. Mind you, a lot of the area is free roaming with a controllable camera, but the camera controls take a bit of getting used to.

One very interesting aspect of Death By Degrees is the X-ray attack view mode that the game slips in to when a critical strike is being made. This occurs in some cut scenes, but is also an attack type that can be performed when your focus is built up. The camera changes to an X-ray view and you can target your enemy's vital organs; build up this critical strike skill and you'll be able to make multiple attacks in the same critical strike attack.

Poor Nina tends to work her way through her outfits; first totally ruining her beautiful evening gown in her on-deck fights, then when she finds a replacement, slowly wearing that down. It's a nice touch of realism and and interesting bit of gratuitous eye-candy at the same time.

The music in Death By Degrees plays a helpful, if not vital, role; the music plays when bad stuff is about to happen. Specifically, if you can hear music playing, someone knows you're there. When you're in a fight, listen for the music to stop before you assume that the enemies are all gone.


Gameplay:
As I mentioned above, you're a covert CIA "sweeper" called into play on a mission gone horribly awry. You'll need to salvage what you can of the mission and take out the teeming masses of baddies (nearly) all on your own. You'll have a variety of weapons and attacks at your disposal, but you'll need to use them wisely; weapons run out of ammo and swords and other mle weapons wear out. You'll want to perfect your martial arts moves and use weapons when they offer some advantage.

Death By Degrees is the adventure game that you get when you cross a fighting game with a survival horror game. There are many times when Death By Degrees jumps back and forth between feeling like a Resident Evil game, a Tomb Raider game and a Tekken game. Ironically, of these three, it probably feels like Tekken the least, since Death By Degrees sports an analog stick-based attack system that feels more like Ape Escape than Tekken. The system is fairly intuitive, really, but after being trained for so long to slap buttons, it seems like I'm fighting against my nature to slap the stick in the direction I want to attack. Oh, by the way, if you haven't played Tekken 5 yet, you can get a (small) taste of it by playing the enclosed Tekken 5 Demo disc. There's not a lot there, but it's a glimpse.


Difficulty:
While Death By Degrees is technically a 1 player game, I find that its cross-genre heritage means that the part you find difficult is likely to depend on what you're familiar with and, ultimately, the best manner of playing Death By Degrees may be to take turns with a couple of friends whose gaming talents are in genres other than your favorite genre. For example, when I was playing it, I would get to parts that I would have a hard time with. My wife would give it a try and would get past that part on her first or second attempt. Later, she'd have a puzzle that she couldn't solve and I'd step in and solve it in one or two attempts ...and that's okay - even Nina Williams needs an assist from time to time.

As it is for most adventure games and survival horror games alike, progressing in the game simply takes practicing your abilities and attacks and conserving your resources. The difficulty in Death By Degrees can often be boiled down to a need for patience; you'll need to be ready to try some parts a few times before getting past them.


Game Mechanics:
The camera could definitely have been handled better, but if you can get beyond the camera issues, Death By Degrees is a pretty solid game. The storyline is interesting and some of the twists are pretty cool.

This is not the world's best game, but it is a pretty good game and is an interesting study in combining genres. It's definitely worth picking up if you're into Nina Williams (of Tekken fame) and were hoping to see more of her.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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