Imagine a bleak dystopian future where crime is rampant and multiple citizens are being held as hostages by dangerous people. JYDGE, recently launched on Steam  and now available via the Switch eShop, explores this exact scenario. When all goes to hell in the cyberpunk city of Edenbyrg, the local police department launches the JYDGE initiative to sweep the streets clear of crime.

While the concept has clearly been inspired by Judge Dredd, the publisher and developer 10tons has clarified that its new title is both a prequel and spin-off to Neon Chrome. For anyone who didn’t enjoy the rogue-like elements of this recent eShop release, JYDGE is a top-down shooter that is intended to be a more streamlined, simplified and fun experience – comparable to the likes of Hotline Miami and even Mr. Shifty. The procedurally generated levels as seen in Neon Chrome have been replaced with preset levels and the difficulty is now far less punishing.

Taking control of the JYDGE, you jump right into the action as a law enforcer. Each level follows a similar pattern – eliminate all enemies in sight, neutralise a key target, save the hostages and then get out. As JYDGE borrows art assets from Neon Chrome, the level presentation is strikingly familiar with bright colours highlighting doorways, signage, collectables and other points of interest. Disappointingly, the futuristic theme still feels just as uninspired. While a bit more colour has been added to levels with the odd patch of greenery from time to time, the design of each stage still lacks variety in terms of layout. For the most part you’ll be breaching buildings that are made up of lobbies, boardrooms and bathrooms. You might find yourself in the occasional bar fight, but you’ll still be awkwardly navigating tight corridors and walking down dead ends into janitor cupboards.

According to 10tons, enemy bullets have been slowed to make fire fights more manageable. Sadly though, the shootouts in JYDGE just do not compete with more prominent top-down shooters. Even the generic but upbeat soundtrack promoting law and order doesn’t solve the case. Despite the slower pacing of gun fights, it still struggles when it comes to precision shot making – which severely detracts from the addictive nature and general satisfaction of this genre. The AI of the punk-like enemies in JYDGE don’t help the situation. While the JYDGE can take a stealthier approach to each level, if detected enemies will immediately shoot to kill and lack any further strategy against you. Bosses and special enemies like robots are much the same. As soon as the JYDGE is spotted, enemies will follow you around an entire level until the fight draws to a conclusion. The most strategy required is dancing about during fire fights or hiding behind walls until the enemy eventually blasts down your cover.   

Seek & destroy A.I. in this type of game is normally less of a concern, but in JYDGE it becomes a problem when the controls are often imprecise and sluggish – especially when many levels demand twitch reflexes. Fortunately, the environmental destruction offers a brash way to breach rooms within a building. Explosive barrels are also littered around levels allowing players to destroy large chunks of the environment. As minor as it may be, it’s handy to be able to shoot through a wall if your original tactics fail.  

The “Department of Jystice” is where you go in between levels to upgrade and customise JYDGE - along with the weaponised gavel - using the “confiscated” credits obtained during missions. In the cybernetics lab the “cyberware augmentation module” enables this customisation; with a total of four slots you can boost the JYDGE with extra health, boost citizens’ health, gain additional body armour and even provide the hero of justice with an assist drone. Additional tools such as hacking upgrades can also be unlocked to provide minor advantages in certain levels. The gavel can be upgraded as well, with changes to the type of ammo it shoots and the ferocity of the bullet storm it is capable of unleashing.

Unlocking new upgrades all depends on the amount of medals you earn in a level, which are objective-based. These objectives vary, with standard tasks including completing a level within a certain time frame, rescuing all the hostages to looting every container. If you shoot a hostage, or one gets caught in the middle of a fire fight, the outcome is a “mistrial” – essentially game over – and you’ll have to retry. Luckily some enemies won’t always be present on the second go if you’ve defeated them the first time round. 

The loop of medals and unlockable customisations encourages players to replay levels, while also earning more cash to buy these upgrades. A harder difficulty setting is also introduced early on in the game – offering even more objectives and medal unlocks. The title is not exactly short on content, and eventually you’ll have missions down to a fine art if you can forgive the relaxed pace of the game. If you’re finding the challenges a bit too hard, there’s also a two player mode where two judges can deliver justice together.

Conclusion

Much like Neon Chrome, JYDGE operates by the book. It’s a mediocre experience that fails to stand out within the top-down shooter genre. Looking beyond the uninspired themes and design – not to forget the excessive use of justice-related puns – the major problems can be linked to the casual tempo of the gameplay. Further issues come from the imprecise controls, leaving you lacking the necessary precision when moving and aiming. In a genre where you want to quickly and efficiently eliminate all enemy threats, this title rarely makes you feel like a hardened law enforcer.