In the cavalcade of comic book heroes turned multimedia properties, it can be hard to remember a character such as Judge Dredd. My only experience with the character has been limited to two movies: one being a high octane thrill ride that feels like watching a great action game being played, and the other a cliché filled mess that co-starred Rob Schneider. You can imagine why I might be a bit skittish to play a game obviously influenced by Judge Dredd; but being a comic book fan I am curious to learn more about the Cursed Earth and mythology of something like the Dredd-verse.
Unfortunately, JYDGE by 10tons does not have a similarly interesting backdrop that inspires that same curiosity in me. But it can be a fun, if unbalanced, bloody romp.
Don’t forget your helmet, Rookie
JYDGE is an isometric, fairly twin-stick controlled, shooter that practically duplicates the Judge Dredd setting and takes heavy inspiration from Hotline Miami. Your objective for each level ranges from saving civilians, collecting evidence, and shooting lots of gang members with mohawks. You start at your patrol car and the game sets you free to approach the bad guy infested building from multiple angles. This is one thing I appreciated greatly in JYDGE. Hotline Miami typically only lets you enter the building from one place and you must then improvise on which rooms to enter when you are within the building. There are 18 levels spread across 4 acts and to unlock the later ones, but in order to do that you must unlock medals by playing the previous maps on “Hardcore mode.” This felt like an attempt to artificially inflate the game’s length rather than an exciting time to try out new items I gained by playing through the first act.
Maps are coated in the noir-neon aesthetics you might expect from your typical cyberpunk affair, that can also unfortunately lead to the player not being able to keep track of every enemy on screen as some rooms are very dimly lit. Sometimes only the light emitting from projectiles can help keep track of where you are going. This also makes it tough to find doors and exits to bob and weave your way around enemies. You are able to destroy walls around some of the environments though and it can be really satisfying to launch a rocket into a group of guys that results in an blast of gore and a whole section of wall taken out. Even so, there is something to be desired as these levels carry an interesting aesthetic but may not be as tightly designed as those in similar games.
The game features a deep progression and customization system that allows you to equip a variety of upgrades. There are damage buffs, a scatter shot every time you reload, a proximity electricity beam, and other bonuses that allow you to customize your character. You are also able to attach mods to your JYDGE’s sole weapon, the appropriately named “Gavel.” You gain access to fire modes such as plasma bursts, ricocheting lasers, shotgun spread, and many others on top of a special fire mode such as a rocket launcher that lets the player clear large amounts of enemies within a certain proximity.
“You be the JYDGE”
Control-wise JYDGE feels somewhat loose compared to its peers on console. There is no button for lock-on, instead you must aim the right stick in a certain direction and it will auto aim to one enemy. The JYDGE himself moves sluggishly compared to the enemies and it can be hard to dodge fire when caught in an open area with swarms of dudes shooting at you. The game also seems incredibly unbalanced in some of the later levels, especially in those that act similar to horde-based modes. I don’t think the gameplay translated well to this objective design and it felt woefully unbalanced if you did not equip certain fire modes for your Gavel. Dying kicks you back to a screen in which you can select different upgrades to approach the level with, but you must also sit through a loading screen before you can give it another run. The lack of a quick restart really breaks the momentum of the game and I sincerely hope 10tons considers implementing this in a future patch.
By the same token, the music of JYDGE can often be at odds with the flow of the game. Hotline Miami set a new bar for game soundtracks and the thumping, trippy tracks for each level kept me engaged throughout my experience with it. JYDGE sounds like it is going for the same feel, a synth-heavy Outrun experience. Some tracks though such as “Checking Out My Girl” and “Da Best Life” sound like someone’s first foray into FL Studio making beats that would be more suited to early 2000’s R&B. There are some guitar heavy tracks that contain barely any synth as well, making these songs seem at odds with the theme of the game. The credits list only one artist behind all these in-game tracks so it seems strange that they would not keep each song in line with the proceedings on screen. Also the tracks are not level specific making it seem like an afterthought compared to Hotline’s deliberate choice of a looped song throughout each level in line with the tempo of each second.
All things considered, JYDGE is a competent game that can be satisfying at times that will leave you wondering what could have been. 10tons has great concepts in play here that make for a good time, but it didn’t keep me engaged enough to keep playing. In fact it only made me want to play Hotline Miami more, but that is good company to be rubbing elbows with.
Here is the JYDGE Launch Trailer:
JYDGE is available for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac and Linux via Steam.