*Authors Note* Killer is Dead is available for PS3 and Xbox360
Straight off the bat, this review was super hard to write because I am a super fan of Grasshopper Manufacture and their devil may care attitude towards game design. I was really looking forward to this game for many months, regardless of the tiny press it was receiving. Sadly, as I’m about to explain, it really doesn’t stack up to their past successes.
So the first important thing to note about Killer is Dead is that the main character is supposed to have a “James Bond” aspect about him where he takes out the bad guys and seduces the women, both of which have their own unique gameplay elements.
Like many GHM games Killer is Dead doesn’t exactly have much in the way of conventional story telling with many plot points being hazy to understand at best. Unlike other GHM games though, this doesn’t really work with the characters involved and furthermore doesn’t really do much to develop those characters into something different to when the game began, even though as the story progresses some very dramatic things occur.
The episodic style of the story actually did work for me, because while having connections to the over-arching plot they felt self contained. The game was most lacking when it tried to then thread these together.
One other point about story (well, dialogue really, but same ballpark) is that the suavely portrayed Mondo makes a few 4th wall breaking comments akin to Travis Touchdown from the No More Heroes series commenting about the fact he is in a game. This works in No More Heroes because the character is an arrogant otaku. When Mondo the suave hitman dressed in a clean suit whose dialogue is mostly dry and to the point makes these references it is super jarring and really detracts from the rest of the dialogue.
As far as the visual appeal of Killer is Dead goes it really shines. The engine they’ve got at GHM is making some amazing cell shaded visuals possible, especially some of the effects used. When I first cut through an enemy I actually stopped playing and just moved the camera around to check out the blood splatter on the ground and walls because the shine of the liquid on the solid block colours of the environments was just stunning. The effects of the abilities look great, like the after-images of Mondo when dashing and doing the “dodge burst”. Unfortunately the environments themselves and sometimes even the character models are just… well, dark and you can’t see what exactly you’re supposed to be looking at.
Time to address the elephant I guess, the gameplay. More than half of Killer is Dead is a brawler – like many of their games before, but for some reason chooses to disregard past criticisms of those games and many games like it. The attacks themselves are fine if a little hard to use mid-combat (I’m looking at you drill) but the defensive moves are pretty rubbish. The previously mentioned dash is initially a 2 part where using the block button and a direction will have Mondo dash once and then do a combat roll with a long recovery after. This is then extended out to 4 later through upgrades. The block itself is inconsistent not always being instant or keeping you in block after dodging an attack forcing you to release the button and block again. The game has two types of simple attack reversals: the “Just guard” and the “Dodge burst”. The problem is the harder to accomplish “Just guard” is useless compared to the “Dodge burst”. The “Dodge burst” is faster, can be performed on attacks from a distance and also moves you out of the damage zone. On top of that, you completely thrash that enemy in slowed time dealing heaps of damage compared to the almost none from the “Just guard”. To compound this the game is completely barren of a lock on feature making many tasks (especially some of the challenge mode levels) very difficult. This lack of lock on only really works when your combo chain is at max and you’re bouncing from foe to foe in a crowd.
The other main gameplay type is of course the Gigolo mode. There isn’t really much to say about these as they’re standard dating-sim fare. Give gifts at the right time and oogle the lady too much. They don’t really add a great deal to the game but you will sometimes get some annoying calls from the girls mid level which reduces your run animation down to a slow walk.
In closing this game had some real potential and looks great. It’s a pity it doesn’t play as good as it looks. Sub par brawler mechanics and awkward story telling really let this game down, which is saddest because they’re usually the areas that GHM really excels at.