Title: Killer is Dead
System(s): PS3*, Xbox 360
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher (Developer): XSEED Games (SUDA51)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes
Suda51 has returned to the “assassins game” realm with Killer is Dead, a sci-fi neo-noir game following the path of an executioner. While it is a game following the assassin’s path, it is not a direct sequel to either No More Heroes or Killer7. It does share a universe with those two games. However, it has no other links to those games. It’s slightly disappointing since a direct sequel to either would’ve clarified some of the plot elements that weren’t wrapped up in the previous games. But that’s not really a failing point for the game, which is generally pretty good due to the simplicity of the gameplay. It’s a pretty traditional hack & slash action experience that sticks to the core of the genre.
Killer is Dead‘s story is pretty pulpy in a similar vein to Simon R. Green’s Nightside and Secret Histories novel series. There’s also a little bit of James Bond mixed in for good measure. It’s also a world where technology has advanced enough that cybernetic enhancements and touristy trips to the moon are pretty commonplace. At least that’s the case if you’ve got the money. You play as Mondo. He is a a globetrotting womanizer who is also a high-tech executioner. Your purpose as an executioner is to root out and kill evil in all its forms. For example, your first mission as an executioner, beyond killing your predecessor, is hunting a monster that’s been killing people and kidnapping children. The monster happens to be a woman who painfully morphs into something akin to a half-human spider that can throw eggs. Yeah, that’s within the first half hour of gameplay and exposition. It gets even weirder. There’s also the gigolo missions done with various women, which add some variety to the gameplay and story well beyond the sheer insanity that is the action of the game.
Love and death
There is a lot of good in Killer is Dead. However, it would be wise to really hit the bad right off the bat. It’s the women. We’ve seen better acted and better written female characters in previous games with SUDA51’s involvement. The aesthetic presentations of the women are about on par with previous games, even within a similar style. However, the way they’re written and voice acted just feels like many of the female characters are there to be eye candy with very little substance. Even your assistant is a pretty, and in many ways, vapid nitwit that really adds nothing to the game. Later on, she does get a bit better, but the voice acting for her stays consistently irritating and she’s the one that you have the most screen time with.
Gigolo missions in Killer is Dead, while they do add some variety in the gameplay and story, could and should be better done. Ultimately it’s a bit of quid pro quo, but they really don’t go as far, involved or deep as other games with any level of relationship meters. Most the gigolo missions give a little bit of dialogue, a little bit of eye candy and some new gear. There’s a lot of potential depth in this portion that’s just not taken advantage of and we’ve seen similar ideas done better. For example, The Witcher handles it better.
Now onto the good. As with all SUDA51 games, Killer is Dead has a very distinctive look and artistic style. While the coloration is far more subdued than other games, it works for the mood that the game’s trying to come across with. It’s a darker mood and feel from the other games. The game’s style opts for a neo-noir presentation. Think about various movies based on the works of Phillip K. Dick, especially if you’re looking at A Scanner Darkly. It has a similar darkness and almost seeming drug-induced hallucinatory style. It’s remarkably well done.
The action parts of the gameplay are also pretty fluid with good hit detection. Killer is Dead is kept surprisingly simple, which allows for comfortable and fast paced gameplay. The hit detection is also pretty solid. It’s not perfect, but let’s face it. Everything could stand to be at least a little bit better since no art is perfect. It’s still pretty good. The only thing that I can really complain about in terms of the action portions of the gameplay is the hit detection in relation to the targeting while in crowds. If you’re surrounded and making pretty wide slashes with your sword, which a lot of the strikes with the sword are wide slashes, you’d expect to hit more than just the enemy you’re attack. And the hit detection does allow that, but it’s inconsistent. It could be tightened up a bit.
Killer is Dead is a pretty good game. It has a lot of flaws, especially with the portrayal of women. Even the heavy flaws, it’s a good and simple game with a beautiful look to it. While it’s not a great game, it gives you exactly it promises. If you love the other games that had SUDA51’s involvement in it, you’re going to find a lot to love about Killer is Dead. If you have no experience with SUDA51 games, it might not be the best place to start off. That doesn’t mean that you won’t find something to enjoy about the game, as well as probably something to hate. It just means you might not get intricacies and carryovers from the other games. It’s still worth your money, but I’d suggest playing at least No More Heroes beforehand.