First appearing on the pages of legendary British comic 2000 AD in 1977, Judge Dredd has been cleaning up the mean streets of Mega-City One for almost 45 years now. This surly, brick-jawed law enforcement officer is a cop, detective, judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one. He's a draconian ultra-fascist, a ruthless enforcer for a cruel authoritarian state, and a man driven entirely by the word of the law. He is the law.
Sounds like a bit of a dick, right? That's kinda the point. Judge Dredd is pure satire, down to his ostentatious eagle-emblazoned uniform, which co-creator Carlos Ezquerra based on his years living under the nationalist Franco regime in Spain. Judge Dredd is part black comedy, part biting satire, part sci-fi police procedural, and occasionally quite moving. It's incredibly blunt and on the nose at times, but also hugely entertaining to read.
In a story titled Death Row, Dredd spends Christmas Eve frantically trying to find evidence to clear the name of a condemned criminal he knows to be innocent. He manages it with seconds to spare, saving the man's life. But then he immediately sentences the man to death for another series of violent crimes, which he has ample evidence for this time. See what I mean? A total bastard, utterly obsessed with enforcing the law.
Even though Dredd is the poster boy for a dystopian government that dehumanises and abuses its citizens in the name of the law, he's also cool as hell. There's no getting around it. The shoulder pads. The helmet. The surly expression. The gun. The motorcycle. While I enjoy Judge Dredd for its self-aware sense of humour, I'd be lying if I said the character (and the cyberpunk city he exists in) wasn't also a major part of the appeal.
You can enjoy Judge Dredd stories on a purely surface level, for the art, the action, and all of that cool-sounding future slang. Or you can dive a bit deeper and appreciate it as a bleak, outlandish commentary on the worst elements of our own society. Yet despite having all this great material to work with, and such an awesome character too, there are very few Judge Dredd video games—and even fewer good ones.
The first Dredd game, a shooter/platformer, launched in 1986 for the Commodore 64. Critics mostly hated it and it sold surprisingly poorly—as did a 1990 follow-up. In 1995, Acclaim published a shoddy side-scrolling brawler based on the terrible Stallone movie. In 2003, Dredd vs. Death launched for PC, PS2, and GC—a decent first-person shooter that's notable for being the only game to capture the spirit of the comics.
Amazingly, that's it. This character, a comics legend, has been around for almost half a century, and we only have one good game to show for it? Not even a great game, either. It's completely baffling, because in every sense Judge Dredd—the character, his gear, the setting—is a perfect fit for a video game. There are thousands of great comics in the 2000 AD archives to adapt too. No one even has to write a new story.
How about an Arkham-inspired open world game set in Mega-City One? We could patrol the streets on Dredd's preposterous weapon-equipped bike, the Lawmaster, chasing down perps, protecting the innocent, and investigating crimes. His futuristic gadgets and voice-activated Lawgiver pistol, with its various firing modes, would be a perfect excuse for a tech tree-based upgrade system too. The pieces are all there.
Rocksteady adapted the Batman comics brilliantly in the Arkham series, taking familiar characters and stories and giving them a fresh spin. That's something the developer of a Dredd game could do as well—adapting those years of existing stories, but also creating a new game universe with its own distinctive identity. Hell, just cut to the chase and give Rocksteady the licence. I can't think of a better team to take on a Dredd game.
A game could also take inspiration from the 2012 film, set in a single location and trapping Dredd there somehow—similar to Arkham Asylum. Perhaps Devil's Island? This maximum security prison, often featured in the comics, is surrounded by highways where computer-controlled trucks speed back and forth 24 hours a day, making escape impossible. I'd love to see Dredd ending up there and having to fight his way out.
I'll stop pitching fantasy Dredd games now, but the fact I could come up with a pair of (I think) solid game ideas without really thinking about it shows how much potential there is here. There might be more to the lack of Dredd games that we don't know about, like Rebellion (the owners of 2000 AD) being extra careful with the licence. But whatever the case, it's time for someone to give Judge Dredd the game he deserves, even if he is a fascist asshole.
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