Most fans of fighting games will be familiar with the Tekken name. Namco has continually delivered extremely popular and successful games with the Tekken series. The series not only consistently featured innovative and addictive gameplay, but also a number of distinct and memorable characters. Over the course of ten years, the Tekken quality has not faltered or disappointed the series fans.
Fewer fighting game enthusiasts might be also familiar with the occasional spin-offs based on popular fighting games. The Mortal Kombat series attempted to bring character depth to Sub-Zero with Mortal Kombat Mythologies. While the action adventure featuring the charismatic ninja was not groundbreaking, it was still received with a good degree of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, a similar attempt in Mortal Kombat: Special Forces failed miserably, resulting in terrible gaming experience. Other fighting game series have also seen spin-offs based on various characters, however the results have typically been less than impressive.
Death by Degrees marks Namco’s entry into the marginally successful subgenre of fighting game spin-offs. Featuring one of the popular Tekken characters, Death by Degrees delivers an entertaining action adventure with uncommon gameplay mechanics and a fairly interesting story. While the game is enjoyable, it falls short of providing the kind of gaming experience and quality typical of the Tekken series.
Nina Williams is the star of the show in Death by Degrees. The beautiful MI6 agent begins her adventure at a fighting tournament on board a cruise ship. Nina is in the tournament as part of a joint operation between MI6 and CIA. The British and American intelligence agencies are investigating a secret weapon. The mission starts out fairly simple. Two agents are expected to go through the ship and look for evidence as Nina participates in the tournament. With any luck, the agents are expected to get all the information needed without having to rely on their assassin companion.
Unfortunately, just as Nina catches a moment to relax after winning the tournament, trouble strikes. The agents have been detected and both of them are in grave danger. It is now up to Nina to save the day. She will have to single-handedly defeat an endless horde of guards, survive against impossible odds, unleash her deadly combos, and look good doing all of it.
Death by Degrees opens with a brief tutorial sequence featuring Nina in a bikini. Besides making absolutely sure players get to see Nina in the least amount of clothing possible without giving the game an adult rating, the tutorial alone is enough to show how Death by Degrees diverges from most other action adventure games. Death by Degrees is designed to support combatting multiple opponents at the same time. Instead of utilizing the buttons traditionally reserved for attacking, the game requires players to use the right analog stick. Attacks can be initiated by tapping the right analog stick in the direction of the enemy. Thus, Nina can quickly redirect her attacks and fend off multiple enemies. Unfortunately, getting used to the uncommon control structure can prove to be challenging. Players might initially find themselves accidentally hitting various buttons on the controller to attack instead of using the analog stick.
Nina is equipped with numerous deadly combos to help her in combat. As she defeats her opponents, Nina will earn skill points. These skill points can be used to purchase additional combos. Players can use the combos to easily penetrate enemy defenses and land devastating blows. Nina can also equip melee or ranged weapons, adding further diversity to her attacks. With a pair of swords or an automatic pistol, Nina can become a deadly adversary. However, for the most part, bothering with the different weapons and combos is optional. Nina’s basic attacks are sufficient to easily overcome most obstacles.
While the attack combos and additional weapons may largely go unused as you get through Death by Degrees, Nina’s special attack is immensely helpful. When Nina has enough energy, she can initiate a Critical Strike. When you attack an opponent with Critical Strike, the game switches to an x-ray view. You can see target areas of the opponent’s body glowing red. Upon focusing on one of these areas, you can execute the attack by tapping the analog stick. If the attack is successful, the shows Nina actually land the blow and inflict devastating damage on the target area. While the animations show bones shattering, do not be surprised to see the opponent stand up in a few seconds and continue fighting. It is probably safe to assume that the animations are meant to provide a very graphic illustration of where the opponent will be hurt rather than depicting what actually happens.
While fighting most certainly takes up a great portion of the game, Death by Degrees is not an endless barrage of senseless combat. The game also features exploration sections and a fair number of puzzles. In typical action adventure game fashion, Nina will be running around a confined area looking for various items that will allow her to proceed to the next segment. Death by Degrees does feature many long corridors and empty rooms you will find yourself going through multiple times as you try to complete objectives. While the exploration and puzzle solving in Death by Degrees can be a bit tedious at times, on the whole it remains entertaining enough to keep players wanting to move forward. Especially as the story begins to unfold and you start finding out about Nina’s past, you might find yourself invariably drawn to Death by Degrees to see the ending of Nina’s adventure.
Despite its attempts to create an immersive, innovative gaming experience, Death by Degrees suffers from a series of problems that can turn away many players. First of all, the average load time and frequency in Death by Degrees is almost unacceptable. The game has to load every time Nina goes from one small segment to another. While it is perfectly understandable that only a certain amount of data can be kept in memory at any given time, the lengthy load times truly detract from the gaming experience. Especially given the fact that you will end up visiting certain areas three or four times, it is very annoying to continually watch the load screen after only playing for a few seconds. Even the inventory and map menus take a long time to load. Since players are frequently required to access these menus, the extended load times make the game less entertaining.
The combat system that is at the heart of the game also leaves something to be desired. The unusual controls already add a learning curve to the game. In addition, the more complicated combos can be very difficult to execute and may still not bring enough variety to the gameplay. While the inclusion of melee and ranged weapons is great, Nina’s incredibly effective punches and kicks makes them look like an afterthought. Overall, the combat system can wind up feeling repetitive, if not a bit overly ambitious. Death by Degrees might have benefited from a more traditional approach.
Death by Degrees is certainly not a bad action adventure game. Longer than the average game in its genre, Death by Degrees offers a decent story that can drive players to finish the game. Despite its problems, the combat system can be entertaining as it does allow Nina to engage multiple enemies with finesse. The Critical Strike system not only adds color to the game, but particularly suits the assassin main character. However, Death by Degrees is not the kind of game that can be recommended to every gamer. Many players can be easily frustrated with the long load times and gameplay mechanics that can become highly repetitive. If you are a fan of Nina from the Tekken series or if you are an action adventure gamer looking for something different, Death by Degrees might be worth a shot. But do not go in expecting to find a stellar game.