There’s a fine line between being cool and coming off like a try hard, a line that anyone who’s had to suffer through Metal Gear Rising knows isn’t extended by how many cutscenes proving you’re totally cool are thrown in there. It’s a hard thing to nail because no one really knows where that line is, otherwise everyone would be, well, cool. Killer Is Dead is a bit of a hit and miss when it comes to it’s style. It tries to ooze cool but sometimes accidentally vomits it up instead, tripping over it’s bare-bones narrative but managing to clutch to it’s amazing aesthetic just in time to save itself from falling into completely lame territory. The main problem of the game is every character’s badass persona, or their complete lack of it.
You play as Mondo Zappa, a government assassin with an amazingly deep voice, glasses, and no personality. Mondo’s only significant identifying feature is his arm; a blood fuelled mecha-organic thing that morphs into an assortment of weapons on command. Joining him are his bosses, Vivienne and Bryan, and an annoying schoolgirl Mondo keeps in his houseboat, Mika. While Mika pops in to revive you if you die, Vivienne and Bryan don’t do much outside of two very brief sections of the entire game. No one is important to the plot (at least what there is of one), nor do they get any characterisation beyond what they look like, so everyone just comes across as bland instead of emanating an aura of jazz-like cool. This is a stark contrast to the visuals, which are straight up awesome.
Where the narrative fails, the visuals make up for in buckets of shiny blood. The look of the game is vibrant without getting in your face, like a jazz club down a back alley that only the coolest of those in the know have ever heard of. The swords look incredible, the blood splatter shimmers with each exploding head so satisfyingly torn asunder, and the lighting is dramatic enough to make David Lynch weep a tear of joy. There are a few instance where the game looks atrocious because of its dedication to a unique visual style, and the bloom is a bit full on, but I was almost always satisfied with the excessively cool atmosphere of the game.
This coolness extends primarily from the soundtrack, which is (for lack of a better word) fascinating. Akira Yamaoka brings a strange blend of electronica, classical, ambient, and weirdness to the already strange world on screen. While it’s not on the same level as Silent Hill’s melding of sound and visuals, it helps the game’s mood and lifts a bland interaction between characters into a more tolerable scene with some pretty lighting. Even one of the more tedious missions involving a hide n’ seek game with ninjas was more enjoyable because the music in the background was that good. The missions themselves were a bit hit and miss though.
The game uses a simple mission system to thrust you into whatever strange situation needs solving by an assassin, but the quality and longevity of each mission was, at times, questionable. Missions were divided up into three types: story, challenge, and gigolo missions. The challenge missions are straight-forward enough, typically lasting a few minutes, but the story missions weren’t quite as consistent. A story mission always had a boss fight (the target), but getting to it could last anywhere from half an hour to under a minute, and that’s not including the ludicrous number of cutscenes and loading screens that could show up. The mission descriptions were as vague as the plot, only offering the target’s name and statistics from the last time you played it. Then there were the gigolo missions…
Soooooo, Killer Is Dead garnered a lot of controversy when it originally came out from it’s gigolo missions because, well, it objectifies women as sex objects preeeeetty hard. The aim of a gigolo mission is to seduce a woman on a date by building up your ‘guts’ meter while ensuring her ‘interest’ meter stays up. How do you build up guts, you may ask? You peer down her shirt, look at her fine legs, basically do whatever you can to get the blood rushing. How do you not make her lose interest? Don’t get caught perving on her and maintain eye contact for a few seconds! Once you do that, you can give her a gift, and then it’s back to her place for a night of love making and weird straddling cutscenes. So, what’s the point of all this besides hooking up with virtual hotties? To get upgrades for your weird arm, of course!
As I mentioned, Mondo’s arm has an assortment of sub-weapons, but in order to unlock them, you need to unlock your date’s chastity belt. It’s actually quite funny and light-hearted, but man did I feel weirded out by it. These women are tantalised by you for no reason, won over solely by shiny gifts, and are basically just sex vending machines that pump out unlockables. The controversy’s got some solid grounding if you ask me, and gigolo missions were the weakest part of the game. Those missions aside, the game played pretty well.
If you want simple action that combines run n’ gun with hack n’ slash, that’s what you’re gonna get. It’s fast, frantic, and occasionally dabbles into the psychotic. While there’s not a lot to it beyond slashing and occasionally dodging, it’s fast enough to punish you for making simple mistakes and reward you for pulling off well-timed executions. There’s also a combo meter that allows custom finishing moves to be done to yield various rewards (HP gems, XP crystals, etc.) once it reaches a high enough count, which acts as a huge incentive to not mess up. If you want a deeper combat system that doesn’t just rely on mashing a button a hundred times before dodging, you might want to look elsewhere, but I enjoyed myself far too much with it.
Overall, Killer Is Dead is a minor disappointment but still very enjoyable. When you’re not being interrupted by cutscenes or cringing at the try hard dialogue, the game is good, simple, bloody fun. While it doesn’t have the flair of Killer7, it still has a vibrant look and soundtrack that raises it from just another hack n’ slash to something a bit more memorable. Whether you’ll remember it longer than a week is a bit less certain, but hopefully it’s not just the Gigolo missions that’ll stand the test of time.
Please Note: This review was based on the PC version of the game, and provided to us by the publisher for the purpose of review.