|System: Xbox 360, PS4|
|Dev: Grasshopper Manufacture|
|Pub: Xseed Games|
|Release: August 27, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes|
by Shelby Reiches
There has been a progression in Suda 51 games from the off-the-wall absurd to the increasingly functional. This shift became most apparent in 2011 with the release of Shadows of the Damned, a project Suda developed in cooperation with Shinji Mikami, of Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and Bayonetta fame. It was, for all intents and purposes, a standard third-person shooter with a unique aesthetic, a surreal storyline, and the sort of camp that has become Suda’s hallmark in favor of his earlier, more experimental style.
Maybe I’m the only one who misses that, the odd socio-political mash-up that was Killer7, a game set entirely on tracks that smacked strongly of rail shooters, but became very much its own beast. Killer Is Dead excited me by name alone, clearly drawing on that earlier title. That it also possesses a similar art style to Killer 7 and a plot that returns to the world of super-powered assassins had me doubly so.
In the end, though, this is very much its own game, confirmed by Suda to have no direct connection to his previous efforts. A hack-and-slash action game, Killer Is Dead melds melee in the way of Suda’s last title, Lollipop Chainsaw, with over-the-shoulder shooting a la innumerable third-person shooters. This isn’t the sort of title where you can sit back and pick off enemies from afar, though.
The combat, on the whole, is fast and fluid, with protagonist Mondo Zappa wading into enemy throngs with a katana in one hand and a shape-shifting, cybernetic limb as the other. He slices and dices, but also strikes with powerful, concussive blows using his secondary limb. It’s similar to what was on display in another E3 action game, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, though Killer Is Dead is significantly farther along and, by virtue of that, if nothing else, notably more polished.
Beyond the basic combos at his disposal, Mondo Zappa can also evade and counter-strike with perfect timing, which results in tremendous damage to the unlucky foe. Meanwhile, Zappa’s cyber-arm can be used not only to knock enemies off balance, but is also capable of transforming into various different weapons, which can be fired in the aforementioned over-the-shoulder manner.
When they are fired, they consume blood, a resource that recharges as Zappa does damage with his katana. It is also used for a focused berserker mode, in which Zappa zeroes in on a single foe and strikes with a powerful barrage of deadly slashes. Tying these abilities to a resource meter keeps them from being easily abused and forces the player to do a bit more to explore the range of combat options available to Zappa.
The big question, though, is why would you want to keep Zappa alive? Few plot details have yet been unveiled for the game, but based on our limited time with it, we have managed to glean that there is a pervasive, negative force in the game’s world called Malice. Whether this is exactly what it sounds like, the philosophical/psychological concept of purposeful negative intentions, or a more formal/physical manifestation thereof has yet to be unveiled. The demo, though, which comprises the tail end of the sixth mission, leaves the moon stained purple with that same Malice, indicating that there is certainly some real, physical component to it in the world of Killer Is Dead.
This fits with the oddball nature of the world, which meshes clear cyberpunk visual influences with the sort of brain-warping events that Suda is known for. In Killer, you have to defeat a pop idol gone bad, his body shriveled and atrophied, to retrieve a client’s “ears,” which manifest as a pair of golden headphones (more at home in a ‘50s depiction of science fiction than in anything from the modern era). Returning these to the young lady from whom they were stolen reveals her to be a bird, and she flies off into the open air leaving Mondo Zappa and his crew penniless for their efforts.
Does it seem nonsensical? A client who becomes a bluebird and flitters away? Golden headphones that serve as “ears,” allowing one to hear while blocking out “Malice?” The moon affected by that same phenomenon? This might very well be the most “Suda” game in years. It also looks to be a sizable one, looking to be comprised of thirteen levels, each named (presumably for the target thereof). That last bit isn’t confirmed, though. We just saw what appeared to be a level list via a debug screen on one of the E3 units.
In addition to its core gameplay, Killer Is Dead features what it calls Gigolo Mode. It involves going out on “dates” with attractive, female characters and trying to spend as much time as possible stealing glances at their “assets” without being spotted and punished for it. You fill Zappa’s blood meter by doing so. Why is this mode in the game? Does it truly add anything to the experience, or is it just for senseless titillation? We can’t know for certain until it’s in our hands, but it seems like the latter.
As Suda’s games have grown increasingly enjoyable just on the basis of their gameplay, they seem to have lost a certain, unmistakable quality that has so long defined him as an “auteur” game designer. It appears that Killer Is Dead may prove his opportunity to rekindle that dying flame.
Date: July 16, 2013