Killer is Dead launches later this week, fresh from the mind of Goichi Suda. The name rings a bell, right? You’ll know him better as Suda51, the guy behind some of the most bizarre and charismatic games you’ll find sitting in a games machine. Let me refresh your memory a little before delving into the world of Killer is Dead. Suda51 was behind Lollipop Chainsaw (review) which had you prancing round as a cheerleader with your dead boyfriend’s head hanging off your short skirt. He also came up with Shadows of the Damned (review) which offered up weapons like the Hot Boner and got you calling sex lines to enlarge your weapon for sniping purposes.
It all seemed sensible enough.
And so a little way down the line, Killer is Dead swings into view. Utilising a visual style which provides one of those “oh crap is my TV on the blink again” feelings you’ll play as Mondo Zappa, an assassin whose first job in the game doesn’t go entirely to plan and he end up being quite dead. Luckily for us he perks up a bit, comes back to life and goes about his business taking out a series of bad guys for various paying customers. There’s little by way of one mission flowing into the next as most other games would want to do though – your downtime between levels can be spent elsewhere.
Each mission is set up in the offices of your employer, and after each complete level you’ll return to the office, given your new mission and get the option of what to do next. There are a few things you can do at this point, and ploughing on through the missions won’t let you see the whole picture. The most obvious option is the upgrades menu, letting you level up various abilities using points earned during the normal game. There’s a shop too, which lets you spend your in-game cash on presents to impress the ladies.
Which leads us nicely onto another side-game. You’ll need to chat up a few women and seduce them in exchange for weapon upgrades and suchlike. This involves eyeing them up carefully to pluck up the courage to offer them a gift – each time you look closely at certain areas of the young lady in front of you you gain more and more courage, although they have a tendency to get a little shy and hide themselves from you for a few seconds. Luckily for you, it’s not long before they forget and your oggling can recommence. It ranks pretty high up the seedy scale and some will find it overly distasteful, but if that’s a surprise after my little Suda51 recap at the beginning then you haven’t really been paying attention. I could have happily done without it to be honest, but there we are.
But let’s not forget the main attraction here – we’ve got assassinating to do after all. Each task you’re given will send you to a new and unusual location, each one emphasising the bewildering style running throughout. You’ll spend time in an ever-changing Alice in Wonderland house, through tall office towers and plenty of other places that I won’t ruin for you. Each location keeps the same limited colour palette which, despite being pretty unique and works well away from the core gameplay, can start to look plain odd when you’re actually running about the place. Throughout all of this bad guys are headed your way, all looking for a slice of Mondo, until you reach your assassination target – the episode’s boss, basically. Beat the boss and you’re back at the office waiting for your next client to rock up. Only it’s not as straight forward as all that – “just” killing the enemies actually takes some skill and timing, and although earlier levels will let you hack and slash as much as you like, more complex enemies bring their own challenges. Shielded guys need clever timing and positioning, larger groups of enemies need quick thinking and eyes like a hawk to spot the best time to counter-attack, and anyone sat up on a higher ledge or level needs special consideration when you consider one minor flaw in Mondo’s attack techniques.
The guy can’t jump.
He’s got a cool bionic arm which shoots, acts as a drill and can freeze enemies, he can duck and dive and roll out of the way of stuff, and he can carry out some really cool sword-based attacks and combos which leave others in a crumpled pile, but if you’re hoping he’ll leave the ground by a couple of inches you’ve got another thing coming. It pushes you towards using your arm-based weapons (which are more projectile based on the whole) but it feels strange that it’s not there. Generally though Killer is Dead provides a pretty solid and fluid fighting system that can get utterly crazy to watch when you get in the zone to the extent your hands develop a mind of their own. It’s not overly dissimilar to what you might be used to in the Assassin’s Creed series, just with a slightly trickier to spot counter-attack indicator, and the draw of keeping your combo going as long as possible is strong enough to prevent you running away mid-fight.
But while the fighting has comparisons to other games, there’s little by way of variety in the structure of the levels themselves. You fight off loads of samey bad guys, get to a big end baddie and chop them up a bit too. Rinse, repeat. This isn’t too different to what has been done before by other hack and slash games, but doesn’t seem to carry the same enjoyment for all that long. Maybe it’s the repetition, maybe it’s the bizarre sub-games, maybe it’s the wonky camera that can’t make its mind up, or maybe it’s just that God of War and the like are better games. Either way the early promise from the interesting visuals and fluid swordplay start to fade far too quickly, and while there’s some fun to be had with Killer is Dead, there’s more fun to be had elsewhere.
Reviewed on PS3