Running through a dark heavy world, wielding a katana and cybernetic arm, and battling shadowy twisted freaks. You are Mondo Zappa, executioner for the Bryan Execution Firm, out to kill criminals and assassins. Welcome to the world of Killer is Dead, the latest game from the mind of Suda 51. The game is currently scheduled for release in the US on August 27th and Europe on August 30th, but here in Japan, the game is already out (one of the few things we actually got earlier over here… Meanwhile, I still have to wait until next week to see Star Trek: Into Darkness) so here is a look at what the game has in store.
NOTE: Sadly, I have not had as much free time to play Killer is Dead as I would have liked. I've only cleared 8 of the 12 (13 if you count the DLC bonus episode) story episodes, so my impressions may still change, but I hope that what I have to say here is enough to either convince people who are on the fence to try the game out, or help people avoid a game that may not be their cup of tea.
Visually, what you've seen so far is what you get: An overall dark somewhat noir-ish world where everything has a shiny sheen to it. The aesthetic choices of the world are similar to other Suda 51 games, and they fit well, giving the game a unique atmosphere.
Action is where Killer is Dead truly shines. The game is for the most part a hack-and-slash in the vein of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta where a certain degree of skill is required. Combat is more about not getting hit and dealing effective counters than just button mashing and hoping for the best. You are offered a variety of different moves and methods of attacking, as well as several upgrades than can be utilized along the way. The game has a very user-friendly learning curve. Throughout my time with the game, I found myself using pretty much every trick I was taught in the tutorials and tips without it ever feeling like the game was forcing me. Nothing really felt like extra baggage in terms of skills or attacks.
While the game does an excellent job of making you feel like a badass, it also does a good job of making dying not feel like the game is out to get you. I'm reminded of the pie chart for "Reasons for Death in Call of Duty" where 1% is "The enemy was better than me" and 99% is "Fucking bullshit." In Killer is Dead, every time I died, I pretty much knew why it happened and rather than making me want to hurl my controller across the room, made me want to get back into the game and focus harder.
Plot is most likely the game's weakest point. The story does little to help induct you into the world it has set up. The setting is a not-so-distant future where cybernetic enhancement is a norm, but the game does little outside of showing cybernetically enhanced characters to establish the ramifications of these technological developments on the world at large. The world of Killer is Dead, for the most part is completely impenetrable. Many plot points are brought up with little explanation leaving you wondering why they're there, much less how they're even possible.
Granted, as stated above, I have not yet completed the game, so it's quite possible that within the next four episodes, things will be satisfyingly explained. Even so, I feel that worldbuilding is something that should be done earlier in a story, not later. Overall, when it comes to the plot progression, I feel like I'm a passenger along for the ride, rather than the driver.
Another weak point of the game are the Gigolo Missions – mini-games where you, as Mondo, seduce women by sneaking peeks at them when they're not looking to build the mood and then offering gifts when the mood has peaked. The game feels oddly out of place and tacked on and serves only as a way to spend the money you've earned on execution missions by buying gifts.
The only real benefit of completing the Gigolo Missions is that the women – called "Mondo Girls" – when successfully seduced, give you upgrades to your mechanical arm. If the seduction games were more enjoyable or challenging, they would probably be more fun, but as is, they feel more like nothing more than a time-sink with some eye-candy at the end.
Overall, where Killer is Dead is good, it's really good. The combat is fast-paced and deliciously engaging, with excellent action mechanics. But it's between the combat where the game feels bogged down. If you're a fan of Suda 51 games like No More Heroes or Lollipop Chainsaw, this game will likely not disappoint. Likewise if you want an action game that uses both your brain and reflexes. However, if you're going in expecting to dive in and be part the crazy wacky world you've seen in the trailers, be prepared to find yourself left outside, looking in from the window.
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To contact the author of this post, write to cogitoergonihilATgmail.com or find him on Twitter @tnakamura8.