Killer is Dead
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Price: $60
Platform: Playstation 3 & Xbox 360
A PSN code for Killer is Dead was supplied to us

Killer is Dead is the next absurd action game from Grasshopper and Suda and this time they’re putting you in the shoes of hitman Mondo as he executes various ridiculous targets. You’ll go from an Alice in Wonderland stage to fighting a samurai riding a tiger through a city while you’re on a motorcycle, to stopping an evil Russian train intent on destroying Moscow. It’s ridiculous at times but I felt Killer is Dead couldn’t decide whether it wanted to fully embrace some of the goofy things it had or ignore them.

Killer is Dead might have Suda’s most nonsensical plot. There’s definitely a story here, but 90% of it is stuff you have to pick up on from brief mentions in the hint section of loading screens or subtle cues from characters during the cutscenes. Nonetheless, once (more like if) you eventually figure out what it all means you’ll realize it’s not really that good or interesting. It’s certainly not as interesting as say, Killer7, which makes you wonder why they went to the trouble of making you work to figure out the story. At times the game seems self aware and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it didn’t really feel like it wanted to be that type of game half the time. There are many somewhat “serious” moments that just don’t gel with the rest of the product and it leads to some confusing or jarring moments. Now while the game is visually striking it unfortunately has some serious screen tearing issues. I’d compare it to Farcry 3 on consoles to how bad the tearing will get but thankfully the framerate is pretty rock solid considering how quickly things move.

Anyone familiar with Suda’s previous action games should feel right at home here, and when I say that I mean the combat is lackluster but competent just like his other titles. There’s only a single attack button and you’ll mash it for six or so hours until you reach the credits. You can do things like dodge or parry (Just Guard) but these are obvious things that should be in an action game. There’s absolutely no depth to the combat and while everything looks slick as hell while you’re doing it, you’ll be reminded that all you’re doing is rapidly mashing a single button through every fight.

Dodging an attack at the last moment will let Mondo enter a Dodge Burst which will allow you to slice at an enemy insanely fast and do a considerable amount of damage in a short amount of time. This mechanic made the just guard feel almost pointless since the timing for dodging an attack is incredibly generous and unlike the just guard, you can actually follow up with quick a lot of damage. I just found myself sitting around waiting for enemies to attack me so I can activate a burst and easily chaining together multiple bursts in a row. The combat itself isn’t deep enough to make me want to hack and slash my way through the goons the game will through at you and the burst animation is stylish enough that it never got old.

Unfortunately that’s as deep as the combat gets. There are no combos to learn, no extra moves to unlock, you can’t jump which means there’s no aerial combat, and there are no other melee weapons to unlock. The game is fairly bare when it comes to its combat and hides it by making everything look super stylized.

As you defeat enemies you’ll acquire moon crystals that are then used to upgrade various skills, unfortunately there aren’t many things to upgrade and most of them just make your already existing skills stronger. The upgrades feel a bit underwhelming, especially since there are only three actual combat skills you can unlock which adds more to my complaint to the lack of depth in Killer is Dead’s combat. Another issue with the upgrade system is that you won’t be getting anywhere near enough crystals to unlock anything until you reach Episode 7 which is just past the halfway point of the game. This means you’re left sitting there for a few hours with almost no crystals before the game just starts throwing them out like candy.

Something I definitely would’ve dumped moon crystals into is an option to upgrade the camera because it can get incredibly infuriating during fights. It’ll zoom into tight low angles for absolutely no reason while you’re attacking an enemy, leaving your vision obscured and open to attacks from where you can’t see and it’s constantly swerving around to keep enemies out of your sight. I really don’t understand why there isn’t a lock-on option that easily could have been placed on the unused X/A button.

Besides your sword, Mondo also has his robotic left arm that can be turned into a gun called the Musselback. This runs on blood which you’ll acquire by simply attacking enemies and you’ll use it for attacking enemy snipers or opening doors by shooting things in the environment. Completing the Gigolo missions will unlock a drill, cannon, and freeze gun variants that all have their use in the game. It’s super easy to switch your currently equipped Musselback but using them in actual combat is impossible without running away and turning around to shoot at the enemies chasing after you. I really wish there was a better way to smoothly incorporate it into your sword combos like other action games do with sub-weapons. Perhaps they could have used the unused X/A button on the controller?

Now on to the infamous Gigolo mode. Unlike how most people are describing it, it’s not some horrid sexist attack on women; instead it feels like a tasteless pervy minigame that feels incredibly unnecessary. The entire gist behind it is that you’ll use the money Mondo earns through missions to purchase gifts to give to the beauties; run out of gifts to give while in a gigolo mission and you fail. To give a gift you have to stare at her lady parts while she’s not looking to fill up your meter and once it’s full you’ll be able to give her a gift. Each time you successfully complete a mission Mondo will get further to bedding one of these women and you’ll either get a secondary weapon or some upgrade points. Some people will jump around claiming it has some sort or satirical message behind it, but the mode just isn’t interesting enough for me to care. The only issue I have with it is that it’s the only way you can unlock the extra gun modes and while you’re never required to have anything other than the default gun arm, it would’ve been nice to acquire them during the story instead of having to waste my time with this dull minigame. As if it wasn’t annoying enough already, the game will remind you during missions (or even during other gigolo missions) to go do whichever gigolo mission is currently available.

So besides that you’ll also have some sub-missions and a challenge mode to play around with. Sub-missions are short missions that have a solid amount of variety such as having to ride a motorcycle through a city to run over enemies while dodging spike traps or cars and another where you have to light all the lanterns before your health depletes so that you can remove the curse from a Japanese doll. I found the ones that gave you something drastically different to do from the main missions to be the most interesting. As you play through the story missions you’ll find Ms. Scarlett hidden throughout the environment in some quite clever ways and once you find her you’ll unlock a new challenge mission in her arena. These range from your typical “achieve a 50 hit combo” to more creative ones. There’s a decent amount of both types of missions so you could easily pull a few more hours out of the somewhat short story mode.

The Final Word
If you’re familiar with Grasshopper’s work in the past then you know exactly what kind of game you’re getting in Killer is Dead and it’s also going to determine whether you enjoy it or not. It’s hard to recommend this game to anyone other than those enamored with Suda’s stylized games, but it’s still a competent enough action game if you look past the glaring issues.

- MonsterVine Rating: 2.5 out of 5 – Mediocre