After the antics of Killer 7’s Harman Smith, and No More Heroes’ Travis Touchdown, fans of Suda51’s work will no doubt feel comfortable with the premise of Killer Is Dead. As a third-person hack and slash action game, it takes place in a technologically advanced future where the humans enhanced with cybernetics don’t seem to raise an eyebrow. You take on the role of Mondo Zappa, an ‘Executioner’ who takes on contracts to rid the world of dangerous individuals.
Tough job, no? Well, luckily Mondo has a few tricks up his sleeve. Firstly, he’s a dab hand with a samurai sword. Moving at an almost inhuman speed, this primary attack certainly packs a punch. Then there’s his enhanced arm that can be upgraded to fire a number of types of ammunition, or turn into a giant drill.
The most striking part of Killer is most certainly the visual style, although this is both a positive and negative thing. Each one of Mondo’s jobs is broken down into an ‘episode’ which has its own intro and outro scenes, like a TV show. The cutscenes look great; however when the graphical style is applied to the actual gameplay the result is often a bout of eye strain.
The story, for the most part, is also pretty uninteresting. The basic premise regarding Executioners is easy enough to follow, but it soon deviates into dreams, family, and the moon. Some may enjoy its quirkiness, but for me it just grated. The humour also often falls totally flat, with Mondo attempting to break the fourth wall a number of times.
In terms of gameplay, the control scheme is nicely done. You can string together sword combos with ease, as well as deliver a vicious punch that acts as a guard breaker. Switching between sub-weapons is simply a matter of pressing the right trigger, while aiming is taken care of with the left. There is more depth to proceedings than that, though.
While you probably could struggle through the game mashing buttons randomly, it pays to use your head. Mixing offensive and defensive tactics is key here. Countering an enemy attack at the last minute will leave them wide open, allowing you to inflict some serious damage with multiple sword slashes (which is accompanied by an interesting change in colour palette).
Defeated enemies will also drop items such as health or currency. The most interesting item, however, is the one that fills your blood meter. Blood is consumed every time you use your sub-weapon, so it needs to be monitored closely. Also, when you have enough blood you can enter a burst mode which is basically a one hit kill on the lesser enemies.
To try and keep things fresh the game has an upgrade system for your arm, sword and general things such as speed and health regeneration. My advice would be to focus on sub-weapons and speed/health as you’ll want these later on in the game.
Unfortunately, the game has a number of issues that just can’t be ignored. For starters, the smooth combat is plagued with a truly awful camera system. There are times where it just refuses to track the action, and you’ll often get attacked by enemies out of sight, while the camera spins about into the most useless position possible. The game is also crying out for some sort of lock-on; even if it’s simply a soft-lock.
The enemies are also generic to the extreme. Over the course of the game you’ll fight the same handful of ‘Wires’ (as they’re known) – and once you’ve figured out their weak points they pose precious little threat. The game does try and counter this, but instead of stronger, smarter enemy types it just throws frustrating amounts at you at once, or enemies that can sit way back and just snipe at you until you die. Killer Is Dead certainly has its fair share of difficulty spikes.
It’s a shame because when it comes to the boss fights, Killer has some interesting ideas. For example, one mission sees you have to kill an 8ft tall samurai who can summon a magical giant tiger. It sounds cool, but before you can even get to that battle you have to take part in an incredibly tedious fetch quest around a pretty barren level map. Still, the end result must be worth it, right? Giant tiger, right?! Wrong. It dissolves into a poorly implemented chase sequence, followed by a pretty standard one-on-one duel.
That pretty much sums up Killer Is Dead. Good ideas wrapped in completely average gameplay.
The game also has one of the worst set of mini-games I have ever come across. The idea is that, to win a new weapon you must impress one of the ladies in the game (referred to as beauties). Now, this is where it gets weird. In order to win their hearts you must give them gifts which can be purchased using the in-game currency. However, to build up the courage to give them the gifts you must first build up a special meter. The way you do this is by waiting until the beauty looks away, and then move the left analogue stick so that you’re staring at her chest or legs.
Do this enough and you get to give her a gift, win her heart, bed her and get given a weapon. If she spots you looking at her body though you get a slap and fail. There’s even an item that allows you to see through the beauties’ clothes. It’s the most pointless, sexist thing I’ve ever come across in a video game – how this got the green light I’ll never know.
Completing the main story on normal mode took me a shade over seven hours. There is so much more to do after that though, with side-quests opening up on a regular basis. Unfortunately, once again they are extremely average with a lot of them just requiring you to hack your way through a number of enemies, or get through a level within a time limit.
Killer Is Dead is a real missed opportunity. The fighting mechanics are there, the ideas are there, but the end result is just so totally average. It’s a game that’s hard to dislike, but also one that fails to impress on pretty much every level.