Killer is Dead Review

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"Suda always had a knack for composing disjointed narratives, but they worked because good humor, strong characters, and solid gameplay cemented the anarchic bits."

Goichi Suda is to the gaming industry what Takashi Miike is to Japanese cinema, a visionary, a lunatic, a genius, a schizoid, and a legend. Whatever you want to call him, his games have an unparalleled magnetism and aesthetic charm despite being absurd and oftentimes tasteless. His work may not always be comprehensible, but he manages to walk a fine line between artistry and obnoxiousness. Killer is Dead is tricky because it dangerously tilts towards the latter. Suda always had a knack for composing disjointed narratives, but they worked because good humor, strong characters, and solid gameplay cemented the anarchic bits. Unfortunately, Killer is Dead crosses that delicate line and inches closer to intolerance and bad taste. I love Killer is Dead…and I hate it. I haven’t felt so divided about a game since SWERY’s Deadly Premonition. At least Deadly Premonition had a consistent, albeit bizarre, tone. Killer is Dead juggles between remarkable highs and devastating lows. It shines with moments of Suda’s signature brilliance but is continually disrupted by utter stupidity. It’s a work of art and a piece of trash…Killer is Dead is a strangely oscillating experience.

When the credits rolled I was still scratching my head trying to figure out what I just witnessed. Killer’s narrative is as abstract as Pollock’s paint splatters and trying to decipher the supposed metaphorical implications only escalates the confusion. You’re an assassin, Mondo Zappa, with a cybernetic left arm and a samurai sword. The Bryan Execution Firm hires you as an executioner and you’re tasked with killing dangerous criminals and assassins from around the world. These are the most concrete fragments of rationality you’ll be able to absorb from this self-righteous complacency.


"Suda 51 is infamous for his exploitations of female characters, but Killer is Dead is beyond anything he’s done in the past."

Killer is Dead thinks it’s important. It wants to be a mirror image of Tarantino’s edgy cinematography and witty dialogue, but relies too much on nonsensical montages of folly and awkward sexual innuendos. Suda 51 is infamous for his exploitations of female characters, but Killer is Dead is beyond anything he’s done in the past. By now, you’ve probably heard of the controversial Gigolo Missions and if you thought they were a satirical nod to Yakuza’s hostess missions…they’re not. While they don’t differ much technically, it’s Mondo’s personality that makes them uncomfortably vile. Mondo is a dick. He’s a despicable egomaniac with a complete contempt for women. He treats his secretary (who’s unreasonably nice to him and equally obnoxious) like shit and lusts for every female client that enters the office. None of this would be so bad if the game didn’t portray him as such a “cool dude.” His supposititious heroism masks a pompous zealot who’s no better than the people he executes. This lack of empathy for the protagonist makes the story insufferable.

If you’re still with me by now, there’s still hope. If you can stomach the conceited main character and have a high tolerance for nonsense, the rest of Killer is Dead is remarkably strong. After all, this is an action game and the “narrative” (insert laughter) is only secondary. The fighting is simple. You can slice and dice with your Katana and switch to a classic over the shoulder POV when using your arm cannon. You can dodge, perform special moves, upgrade your skills…you’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing particularly new or innovative here, but the mechanics feel right. There’s a genuine sense of weight behind your sword swings and moving around within the stylized environments is a treat.


"Killer is Dead feels disjointed and inconsistent. One moment you’re feeling invigorated by the spectacular fight scenes, the next you’re dragging your feet through empty environments and are forced to endure annoying banter."

Boss fights are the mission highlights and I couldn’t help but wish there were more of them. They’re creative, challenging…and most importantly fun. If there’s one thing that needs tightening up, it’s the dodge/attack function. When surrounded by enemies, Mondo will almost always dodge in the wrong direction and the timing required to counter attacks feels imprecise. Nevertheless, fans of Killer 7 (or pretty much any third person hack n’ slash) will certainly get a kick out of Mondo’s sword wielding action.

By now, developer Grasshopper should know a little more about pacing. But they don’t. Killer is Dead jumps between cutscenes and gameplay sequences with schizophrenic tendencies. A prime example being a dream/memory mission early on where Mondo walks through an empty environment from one flashback sequence to the next. There’s some kids running around and laughing…there’s a unicorn…and then a sudden boss fight? What? I don’t even know. Killer is Dead feels disjointed and inconsistent. One moment you’re feeling invigorated by the spectacular fight scenes, the next you’re dragging your feet through empty environments and are forced to endure annoying banter.


"The technical shortcomings interfere with what’s an otherwise visually breathtaking game."

One thing Suda always manages to deliver is a consistently profound art style. Killer is Dead boasts fantastic visuals reminiscent of Takeshi Koike’s Redline. The psychedelic characters and environments radiate with vibrant colors and obscure designs. The emphasis on heavy blacks, particularly on the characters, makes the entire game look like a comic book in motion. Sadly, the technical shortcomings interfere with what’s an otherwise breathtaking game. Screen tearing is an absolute eye sore and the frenzied camera can be headache inducing. But despite minor annoyances, Killer is Dead is undoubtedly visually stimulating and original.

It’s impossible to attach a score to Killer is Dead. It could be a one, a ten, an eight…it really depends on your liking of Suda’s work and whether you can tolerate his absurdities. If you though his past titles were too much to handle, you need to stay away from Killer is Dead. This may be his most jumbled and nonsensical work to date and will do nothing but anger you. But if you enjoy Suda’s twisted vision (I generally do), you might find a unique, albeit poorly written, action game here that provides moments of brilliance and creative bliss.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed by: Xbox 360

6.5

1 comment:

  1. Article I wrote on how eroticism and murder intertwine and clash in Killer is Dead, producing a complex, if understated experience:

    http://globegander.tumblr.com/post/59534088268/love-killer-is-dead-eros-and-thanatos-in-grasshopper

    I wrote this essay some time ago in early August based on my experiences with the import version of the game. Originally, I simply wished to explore some its overall themes albeit in a rather comprehensive and lengthy fashion. However, set within the context of being released so closely and concerning subject matter of considerable consternation to the less favorable reviews of Killer Is Dead, it has incidentally become, with little to no alteration to the original material, a defense of the game's creative and structural decisions. To summarize, it explores the thematic significance of the Gigolo Missions, how they help establish Mondo's character arc, and the manner in which the game's story isn't so much simple as it is understated.

    These are the impressions and conclusions I drew from playing the game and hopefully it provides an intriguing and fresh perspective on it for you apart from the more cynical criticisms out there.

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