Killer Is Dead ReviewSeptember 15, 2013
On the surface, Suda51’s latest game Killer Is Dead feels similar to something like DmC or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The hack n’ slash, fast-paced swordplay feels pretty solid and familiar – but once the story gets rolling, it all feels like the craziest dream you’ll ever have. The garish stylized visuals, the insane, nonsensical story and the overt sexuality certainly lend Killer Is Dead a unique identity, but sadly it doesn’t add up to a great game.
Creating any sort of summary of Killer Is Dead is a challenge in and of itself. There is a story here – or, at least, there’s cutscenes. They make zero sense though, and will likely leave you with more questions than answers. Our hero Mondo is a suit-wearing, sword-wielding assassin with a robotic left arm that’s powered by blood. He takes on increasingly preposterous missions for people who want bad guys killed. Early missions task Mondo with battling a monster spider-woman hybrid in a mansion inspired by Alice In Wonderland, and sword fighting a dude in a golden thong on the dark side of the moon. Almost none of the clients actually pay up when the job is done, and when the sexy boss lady of this government-funded (wtf?!) organization points this out, the crew just laughs about it. Mondo will take cases for free if the girl’s hot enough, and characters in the game love to yell out the phrase “Killer is dead” as often as possible. Sometimes Mondo likes to break the fourth wall, referencing the fact that he’s inside a video game. Yeah, it’s weird.
The combat in Killer Is Dead feels pretty refined, but it’s not especially deep. You can unlock new combos for your sword, and you can punch enemies to break their defense, and if you dodge at just the right moment Mondo will be able to perform an Adrenaline Rush technique, wherein players mash the attack button as quickly as possible for a decimating combo. Mondo can also execute some cool-looking insta-kills, such as decapitations and slicing foes right down the middle. He also can utilize his gun-arm thing in combat, but unfortunately it’s not woven into the swordplay a la the Devil May Cry series. Instead, using this weapon puts the camera into a behind-the-shoulder perspective, which works well for flying or wall-crawling enemies. But switching between it and the sword feels awkward and incongruous – you’ll likely rarely use the gun unless you’re forced to. Players can unlock various sub-weapons for your arm, such as a version that can freeze enemies and a drill – but you’ll have to play through the graceless Gigolo missions in order to procure them. Even if the gun didn’t exist in the game at all, though, the combat is pretty fun and stylish.
In between these main missions you can do a variety of challenges from a sexy nurse named Scarlett, who pits you in an arena against a swarm of enemies. Or you can participate in the aforementioned Gigolo missions, which will likely offend many. In these missions you’ll attempt to woo girls in various locations, by staring at their naughty parts in first-person when they’re not watching you. Once you’ve filled up a bar by taking enough mental snapshots, you’ll have gained the guts to give her one of the gifts you’ve purchased, ranging from flowers to perfume and jewelry. If you flatter her enough, and she doesn’t catch you staring creepily at her, she’ll have sex with you. Yep, it’s a pretty odd, misplaced minigame, but if it would make sense in any video game, I guess this is the one.
Graphically, Killer Is Dead definitely looks like a Suda51 game, with its ultra-stylized, barely textured, ran-through-10-Instagram-filters visuals. At times it can look pretty neat – it works especially well in the intro, where Mondo stalks a serial killer through the rain-soaked streets of a grimy city at night. After a few hours, though, it can really start to mess with your eyes and brain; combined with the bizarre “story” you may need to take frequent breaks during your playthrough. It reminded me of the garish hues utilized in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – another game that’s best in small doses. Some of the animations look a little off, and there’s a LOT of screen-tearing going on here. When you add the frequent loading screens into the mix, you’re left with a presentation that leaves a lot to be desired.
Overall, Killer Is Dead will likely please fans of Suda51’s previous work such as Killer7 and No More Heroes. The lewd Gigolo missions are sure to offend some players, especially girl gamers. That said, they are optional, and the action-packed swordplay here is relatively tight and engaging. While Killer Is Dead is nothing groundbreaking, it certainly has a personality – for better or worse.