Having been a 2000AD reader since the very first issue I’ve always been sceptical about Judge Dredd games, films, and other third-party uses of the character, mostly because they’ve all been failures. Failing to capture the spirit and tone of the original comic.
This Judge Dredd game is based on the 1995 film of the same name – the one starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by Danny Cannon. I’ve previously avoided it until now, having been one of those who went to see the film when it first came out and being unimpressed by it. To be honest: ever since they announced Stallone as Judge Dredd I’ve been disappointed by the process of bringing one of my favourite comic characters to the big screen. Of all the actors they could’ve chosen to play Judge Dredd: they chose one of my least favourite actors of all-time. So my hopes for this video game were low to begin with.
Playing Judge Dredd now I have to say that I remain unimpressed. I don’t mind that it’s a side-scrolling run-and-gun action game (because that type of game is probably the most ubiquitous and least-original genre to use for a film license, and this game did receive some criticism for that at the time of release), but I do mind that the controls are convoluted and un-intuitive, and the gameplay underwhelming.
Dredd runs around, climbing ladders, attacking criminals, and trying to arrest them, but it’s far too easy to fumble and kill everyone by accident. You’re supposed to have the ability to choose to arrest perpetrators (“perps”) if you want to, but there doesn’t seem to be any reliable process for doing that. You can shoot perps, or kick and punch them – supposedly into submission – but more often than not they die in a puff of smoke. I tried a number of different things to guarantee an arrest, but couldn’t work out how to reliably do that. So I gave up trying.
Graphically, Judge Dredd isn’t bad. Backgrounds are colourful and well-drawn; sprites are reasonably well-animated, and weather effects (not seen in the Megadrive version) are atmospheric. I don’t rate the music in this game at all; it’s more like tuneless electronic dirge than music, and does nothing for me.
The biggest problem I have with Judge Dredd, though, is the clunky gameplay. Dredd‘s movement is varied and should work, but I found myself struggling with the controls and not really enjoying playing it. Combat with perps is unsatisfying and mission objectives banal. There’s little to no dialogue in the game so characters have zero personality. In the comic, Dredd and his opponents are well known for their biting (and often drily humorous) exchanges, but in this game characters are reduced to soulless shells. To cannon fodder, basically.
Maybe I’m being overly critical of this game because I grew up with Judge Dredd stories. Or maybe I’m not… This game was made in 1995, so video games were still quite primitive, but I can’t help thinking that this (and every other game and film about Dredd) could have been so much better. It just seems to me like this game was made quickly, with little real effort to bring the characters and world to life effectively, and to just make money from the film license. Which of course was the case. And Probe Software, who developed Judge Dredd, were notorious for churning out middle-of-the-road platform shooters for licensors and publishers.
In my opinion: this game is not really befitting the name of Judge Dredd, and is a waste of the license. Bizarrely, it’s still available to buy on Steam (at the time of writing), although I’m not sure which version it is (SNES or Megadrive) or how it’s been presented. Reviews of it are mixed and there is also some discontent about the method in which it was re-released. Personally, I’m not that interested in buying it for the reasons mentioned above.
Final note: I’ve only ever played one Judge Dredd game that even came close to being satisfactory, and that was Rebellion‘s 2003 first-person shooter Dredd vs. Death. While I didn’t think that it was brilliant, I did like aspects of it and quite enjoyed playing it after buying it in a Steam sale. I still think, though, that a really good Judge Dredd game is there to be made, and hasn’t yet been realised.
See also: 2000AD Special.