There seems to be a veritable renaissance of twin-stick, indie, cyberpunk shooters out there right now, what with Neon Chrome, Neurovoider, Ruiner and more all coming out in the last year or so. But hey, here’s another one. And it’s alright.
JYDGE draws its influences unabashedly from the popular 70’s and 80’s dystopic sci-fi comic series Judge Dredd, which you probably remember best for the cheesy but mildly entertaining Sly Stallone movie it was adapted into.
Here’s the skinny: you’re a futuristic cop dispatched with the lawful right to act as Jydge, Jyry, and Exycytynr for the limitless supply of scumbags your beloved city is churning out. That’s literally the long and short of it, and what little story there is to JYDGE is told through static news broadcasts voiced by literal robots and containing no visual flair or substance. That’s alright, though, because you’re not here to ask questions. You’re here to vaporise perps and confiscate their bubble gum in anticipation of future chewing.
Missions play out from a slightly tilted, top-down viewpoint centred on your eponymous Jydge. You probably know the rest. Left stick moves, right stick aims. Your primary weapon is on the right trigger, secondary on the left, and you interact with objects in the environment using X. Infiltrate, turn faces to hamburgers, exfiltrate. Rinse, repeat.
Adding variety are a number of different mission types including hostage rescue (save the civilians without killing one), seek and destroy (eliminate a specific set of targets), and survival (survive an endless wave of enemies until a timer depletes), as well as a whole host of cybernetic and artillery modifications you can apply to switch up your play style. The mission types honestly don’t add much seasoning to the dish, so your appetite for JYDGE beyond the first course will depend on your desire to tool around with the modification system.
As you complete missions you’ll earn stars for completing challenges and credits for performance and exploration. Stars will slowly unlock mods in your skill trees that you’ll then be able to purchase and equip as a loadout for each mission. Mods have a wide range of uses. Cyberware, for example, enhances your Jydge’s general performance, while fire modes turn your “gavel” (okay, that’s pretty clever) into everything from a shotgun to a long-range laser blaster. Some mods even allow for special weapons like powerful ryckets, or change the properties of your ammunition to grant benefits such as a healing effect on kills or plasma bolts on a reload. The mod tree is extensive and the combinations seem virtually limitless, but it’s all there to help you adapt to and address the specific challenges you’ll encounter. This is where the meat of JYDGE’s gameplay loop can be found, and it signifies both its greatest strength and its most infuriating weakness.
JYDGE’s missions are short. Bite-sized, really. I’d say none of them should take you more than 5 minutes to complete. The story is spread out into four acts of four missions each, giving you a total of sixteen missions for a playtime that shouldn’t exceed more than a couple hours if you blaze straight through it. The problem is, you can’t. JYDGE’s mission unlocks are tied to the same challenge stars the mod tree relies on. Initially, there are three challenges per mission, but once you clear Act I a hardcore difficulty opens up that adds three additional challenges and remixes each mission to make it a bit more challenging. At this point, the number of stars you need to unlock each new mission increases exponentially, and you can probably work out the loop on your own from there. Your only option is to go back through the previous missions over and over while messing around with your loadout to more effectively deal with the challenges presented.
Challenges include eliminating every target on the map, opening all the containers in the area, or finishing the main objective and exiting the map in a certain time frame. Some are easy, some are much harder, but all are annoying when you just want to get on with the game and see something new. This is always a bad idea, in my opinion. It’s a transparent desperation move to make a 2-hour game into something that’s two to three times longer. As you get further into the campaign you’ll find yourself going back to previous missions and running them over and over again, trying out different loadouts until you have the layout and tactics dialled in to snatch up that one extra star that’s been eluding you. This is a great way to add some value to a game that a player has already fallen in love with, but making it a necessity creates an adversarial relationship between the game and the player that undermines an otherwise enjoyable experience.
So, in the end, this Jydge has been found guilty of conspicuous padding and needless repetition, and my sentence will see it placed in a comfy resort prison with all the other decent games when it could have walked free this very day as one of the good ones. Let this serve as a warning to all other perpetrators who would seek to increase value through nothing more than a shallow investment of time.