Suda 51 returns with Killer is Dead, an outlandish and thoroughly bizarre title with all the hallmarks from the Grasshopper Manufacture School of Design. Oozing with originality and a cast of weird and wonderful characters, Killer is Dead borderlines on amazing and mediocre, the tipping point being how much its intended audience can handle the overly abundant levels of blood, violence and sexism. A midst all the controversial themes, there’s actually pretty decent gameplay to be had.
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Kadokawa Games, Xseed Games, Deep Silver
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Genre: Action, Hack-n-Slash
Release: (EU) August 30th 2013, (JP) August 1st 2013, (NA) August 27th 2013
Set in Suda 51’s vision of a not-too-distant future where cybernetic augmentation is the norm, travelling to the moon is part of the everyday, as are the free-roaming monsters and demons causing havoc among the general populous. It’s in this twisted world we take control of executioner Mondo Zappa, working for the Bryan Execution Firm. Mondo takes on hired jobs, dispatching dangerous criminals and assassins across the globe with his trusty blade; and a morphing cybernetic arm. The story revolves around Mondo’s assignments and carrying out his hits in a mission-based format. Throughout the series of missions, Mondo uncovers bread crumb clues leading to a final showdown with central bad guy and resident moon man; David (yes, his name is David).
Mondo can be likened to James Bond as even Suda 51 has admitted to drawing inspiration from Sir Ian Fleming’s 007. The assassinations are carried out in exotic locations around the world, and the internal struggles of Mondo with his past and penchant for the ladies are all reminiscent of the international man of mystery, yet the execution of Killer is Dead isn’t nearly as clean. It could come down to Mondo not engaging on the same level; or possibly because he isn’t all that interesting, leaving me feeling detached from his supposed plight within.
Killer is Dead lacks the qualities of its predecessors, their awkward yet strangely charming presence that has an almost cult-like spell on the player as they progress through the game. Mondo lacks this unmistakable charm, as does the supporting cast which leaves a somewhat hollow feeling that’s very much hit-and-miss; and all over the place. Some characters are a little too cliché to my liking and never really deviate or develop beyond their overly predictable personalities.
Although not all characters were pleasing, the atmosphere was suitably captured with it darker central themes, almost on a supernatural level if you will. The art styling is a throwback to Suda 51’s latest work, but a better comparison would be with the innovative Killer7 back in the GameCube days. Although most levels play out on a linear plane, the kooky designs of some stages really help elevate it above feeling too generic and bland.
Gameplay and combat isn’t quite as jumbled, steering the ship back on course in a rain of blood splatter. The action-centric combat is a fast-pace mash fest at first, until new moves and mechanics are learned later in the game. Things start off very generic with basic attacks as Mondo’s carves his way through clueless enemy AI units with little resistance. However after getting through the first boss battle, Mondo will have acquired a few new abilities including guard breaks, dodges, blocks, heals, and the ability to make use of that crazy cybernetic arm of his, morphing it into a drill, arm cannon and many other armaments with destructive results.
Blocking is the easiest form of defense, however dodging is far more satisfying with its beneficial after effects. A perfectly timed dodge grants a temporary time-slowing effect where Mondo is given a few crucial seconds to swing his blade wildly through quick button-mashing. Fallen victims drop blood which Mondo can use to fill his “blood” meter to heal him, access stronger attack abilities, or use the droplets as a form of ammunition for his sub-weapon. New customisations can be purchased via in-game currency, further adding to Mondo’s poignant range of moves.
As an executioner, Mondo can naturally execute his targets; and extract power-ups in doing so. On easier levels, running around and picking off enemy “Wires” is relatively quick and painless, however on the tougher stages on difficult settings, you’ll need to have a semblance on what buttons you’re actually pushing in order to clear a stage. The more basic demon variety of Wires are easy to kill with a shot or two from your cybernetic arm, but Wires later in the game will require other killing methods, such as decapitation. There is some strategy and thinking involved, but nothing that will give your brain a thorough workout. Fights aren’t all that memorable, but will spark a few minutes of fun whenever the battles do begin.
The contract design of each mission can feel disjointed as the storyline doesn’t always cross over from one hit to the next. Some missions are only a few minutes long so there’s hardly enough time to get invested in what’s going on before the mission comes to an abrupt end. The uncompelling plot and pacing makes the odd 5-10 hour campaign feel under-developed and less than satisfying when the story comes to a close.
One glaring issue that I struggled with in combat is the camera positioning. While moving around, the camera has a nasty habit of jerking itself to re-align with Mondo that’s both distracting and headache-inducing. It isn’t so much the shakiness, but the quick movement of it that leaves you feeling slightly disorientated for a split-second, gradually wearing you down over time.
A point of contention for most gamers are Killer is Dead “Gigolo Missions”, inserted in between assassination missions. In these Gigolo Missions, Mondo can go on virtual dates with the women he’s encountered where the sole aim is to stare longingly at your date without them noticing. If a date catches you staring, you’ll need to quickly divert your attention or else you’ll get a slap across the face for being a little too forward.
Once you’ve filled up their affection gauge through well-time ogling and present giving, Mondo and his lady friend will retire for the night to perform ‘the deed’. Although it isn’t explicit, the voyeuristic nature of it won’t please everyone. The “Gigolo Missions” are optional, however successfully bedding a woman awards Mondo with perks such as most of his sub-weapons, so it’s in his best interest to get down and busy when the opportunity becomes available to do so.
Killer is Dead is a quirky, very far left of center Japanese action title that is going to leave you with many mixed emotions. The game has a really interesting premise and fairly well developed gameplay, tangled with a cast of uninteresting characters, questionable designs and technical issues that leaves it under done, but not enough to call it terrible. Killer is Dead is a mixed bag so tread carefully before over committing to the game.
6.5 – Above Average. Fun but it is let down by some questionable design choices. While it has its own identity, it doesn’t go beyond its own limits.