Killer is Dead Review
Written : Sunday, September 08, 2013
By: Lee Abrahams
Who would have thought that Suda51 could ever make a boring game? His name is generally synonymous with some of the odder curios in gaming, from Killer7 to No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw, all of which have a unique sense of style and purpose. So a game about a hitman with a curious posse and hyper twisted opponents should be an easy mark. Instead we seem to have been given a title that fails to ever really find its feet. Presenting Killer is Dead.
First of all let’s get Killer is Dead's much maligned Gigolo mode out of the way. Yes, this is a mode that makes you leer at attractive women, and use X-ray glasses to sneak a peek at their underwear. If this kind of thing offends you then you need go no further, as this is clearly not the game for you. However, luckily the game never actually requires you to play these mini-games as the only rewards as some unnecessary sub-weapons. So you can skip them entirely should you so wish. This is probably the best course of action really, as this mode suffers from being painfully tedious rather than shocking.
The main problem with this mode is not really the content, which is nothing worse than countless other games or films depict, instead it’s just that the mini-game itself is so dull to take part in. You merely glance at your lady friend until you have built up enough courage to present them with a gift. Give enough gifts until you’ve wooed them and can claim your reward. So stare at them, zoom in, then look away. Repeat until tedium sets in. It’s a lazy addition really and one that seems to have been shoehorned in to deliberately cause controversy rather than add anything of note.
The motley crew of misfits.
So with that out of the way we can enjoy the rest of the game for what it is, which is a rather bland brawler with an over simplified combat system and a plot that seems like the bastard love child of Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which is to say that it makes pretty much zero sense at all and will leave you wondering if it has some kind of deeper meaning or just no meaning at all. It certainly has a unique cel-shaded art style, as you can clearly see, but most things have the kind of sheen that makes then look as though they were dipped in oil.
At first glance things seem to be heading in the right direction. We're introduced to Mondo Zappa, the newest assassin for hire (or executioner), as he rescues his crazy assistant from a lunatic kidnapper and then takes out his own predecessor. The first two levels are merely the usual introduction to affairs and are fairly bland and short to boot. After that you would hope things get kicked up a notch but they never seem to reach the highs you would expect from a Suda51 game. The first half of the game in particular is just one random idea after another, with only the most tenuous of links between them.
Your combat skills are tied into rapid sword strikes with your right hand, and various sub-weapons with your left hand, though you’ll probably only ever use the ranged bullets in a practical manner. Enemies only seem to come in a few repetitive varieties with your general fodder, bulkier tanks, faster ninjas and ranged oddities. All of them attack in predictable patterns that you can quickly dodge or block, with accurate timing enabling you to enact a counter attack or a burst of rapid fire strikes. As you duff up foes with your sword you will acquire Blood to fill up your gauge, which you can then use for bullet attacks, slow-motion instant kills or topping up your health if you have the right skills. As you chain together attacks and improve your combo you can move between foes even faster, and also acquire stylish finishing moves to enable you to snag extra rewards. As you destroy foes you can level up your health and Blood levels, enabling you to be even more destructive in combat.
Murdering foes in style.
The problem is that combat, especially earlier in the game, is pretty average if truth be told as enemies tend to group together allowing you to smash them into pieces pretty easily. As you progress you can unlock new skills to make fights a little more interesting, but none of them really make the action anywhere near as compelling as titles like Bayonetta or even some of Suda’s previous work. Occasionally you get to jump on a turret or zip along on a bike, but such breaks are just filler rather than an interesting diversion.
As the game hurtles forward things do pick up a little thanks to some quite ludicrous scenarios. An alien Colonel Sanders, a psychotic Thomas the Tank Engine, a half-man half-tiger and a giant robot-baby thing with laser beam eyes are just a few of the random events that prevent things from being completely asinine. The musical choices have high points too with a range of subtle numbers mixed with some over the top ditties. The problem is that every level is just a straight-laced run from beginning to end, with few moments of interest along the way. The only point to any of the levels seems to be the final boss fight, all of which feel interesting enough but never have that jaw-dropping feel or sense of wonder that you’ve come to expect from this type of game.
The real problem here is that the story is exceptionally short and exceptionally disjointed, with ideas and characters thrown around in a scattergun manner. The plot is barely coherent with each episode having no real link to the next, other than a general theme of assassination, and the characters are little more than a string of vapid and tiresome ciphers. This brings us full circle, as the game just turns out to be surprisingly dull and incomprehensible, with bland levels, straightforward combat and a storyline that seems like it's been randomly-generated by pulling numbers out of a hat.
Slow-mo beheading, just for chuckles.
The main saving grace of the game actually comes in the form of various sub-missions and challenges that you can unlock along the way. These take the form of timed missions, specific objectives and general fun and games. In fact these mini quests are action packed, fun and all the things that the main game seems to be lacking. Bite size chunks of action, that are meant to be an aside to the main game, are actually much better than most of the random junk you have to plough through to get to them. It’s a strange reversal and one that fails to make the most of the creative talents on display.
Considering come of the creative jaunts Suda51 has taken us on in the past, Killer is Dead feels like the well has run dry. The story is truly woeful, the characters' dialogue diabolically written and the gameplay feels stale and unfinished. The biggest surprise is that, one or two moments aside, the game is just not that fun and offers practically zero replayability unless you feel the need to max out all of the achievements. Killer is Dead is an easy target for people looking to make a point about misogyny, but that’s not the real problem here (instead being reduced to a tedious sideshow). The main issue is simply that Killer is Dead is just not that good.
A decent soundtrack for the most part, but there are some great moments with a mix of high octane tunes and more subtle, haunting jazz. If only the dialogue wasn’t so cringe inducingly bad.
As hyper stylized as many of Suda’s games but the visuals look overly dark and have a weird sheen to time for the most part.
Dull, linear levels and bog standard combat that never really feels that satisfying. The game is mercifully short though and at least some of the boss fights and side missions are fun. Kind of.
A terrible, random story tied together with gameplay that lacks ideas and creativity. If only more had been done to make the characters and the world they inhabit a bit more interesting, or at least enough to make you care.
A decent, but unspectacular, list but one that also requires you to suffer through the game three times due to unstackable difficulty levels. The rest is just maxing out stats and completing side quests. Could do better.
Killer is Dead is a hodge-podge of ideas that never forms a cohesive whole. Take away the controversial elements (as they merely feel tacked on for the sake of it anyway) and you are left with a disappointing experience that doesn’t live up to the talents of the people involved. Give this one a wide berth.