Videogames have long been clamouring for celebrities, faces to put behind the videogames in order to allow fandom to follow. Shigeru Miyamoto is arguably the defining example of a person who stands above their creations as a seal of quality, but there are others who mean much to gamers on a global scale. Many are commonly celebrated as an auteur, with the likes of Hideo Kojima and Cliff Blezsinski considered the videogame equivalent of Oliver Stone and Michael Bay. SUDA51, then, in unquestionably the Stanley Kubrick that videogames need; tearing apart standardised design and forcing it to reflect back on itself in a way that no other can.
SUDA51’s latest is unquestionably obscure, and intentionally so. Killer is Dead wastes no time getting the player into the action. After selecting the option to start a new game and your difficulty setting, ‘Chapter One’ is swiftly introduced by seconds of erratic cuts between disparate moving images before the scene settles on our intentionally unlikable hero, Mondo Zappa. Just one word is uttered by before the player is thrown into the firing line, “Executioner”, and Killer is Dead states that it has ideas about how modern interactive entertainment should be delivered: ideas that break from the norm of what you’ve been playing on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for more than half a decade.
Zappa is brazen, fearless, and damn good at his job: which just so happens to be killing people. He’s killing the bad guys, of course, but Killer is Dead intentionally blurs the line between the morality of Zappa’s prey and that of his own on more than one occasion. This is scum killing scum in the most violent and horrific manner possible. This is an interactive anime experience in the same fashion that you dreamed of when watching DevilMan or Cyber City Oedo 808 as a child. Normality is a line which only the blind walk.
A government sanctioned assassin, Zappa is a new signing in an underworld agency that is authorised to hunt monsters, demons and a bad men, and execute them. The agency then cover up any mess you may make at the cost of your client; the Men in Black of a twisted world, you might think, but Killer is Dead is decidedly more baroque than anything Will Smith would consider putting his name to. Just as with Killer 7 and No More Heroes, Killer is Dead is every bit the classic SUDA51 experience fans have been hoping for: demanding, inventive and excessively violent.
Killer is Dead plays much like a traditional third person action videogame. It has a linear path for progress and a combat system that never reaches the depths of DmC: Devil May Cry but does afford the player a pleasing degree of customisation when it comes to upgrading abilities and weapons. Each mission ends with a time card that tallies up damage and other points of your score as if it were a bill, playing hand-in-hand with the idea that you are a virtual bounty hunter. For the most part, this is the Killer is Dead experience – walk a preset line, engage enemies in combat – but just as with the best SUDA51 productions there’s plenty of changes to the pacing that make this a compelling rollercoaster ride.
As you progress through the videogame you’ll regularly encounter Scarlet, a nurse who is all too keen to provide you with blood that increases your abilities in combat and also offer you side missions; challenges selectable from the mission screen that test your dexterity to a great extent than anything in the core campaign. This is in addition, of course, to the much discusses Gigolo missions.
Gigolo missions are basically an extended path to offering bonuses in the campaign missions such as new weapons, but they are executed in as creepy a manner as possible. Players have to shower girls with gifts in the hope of receiving a positive response, and when they do it’s time to use the gigolo glasses that offer x-ray vision. It’s seedy and wholly unnecessary, but yet perfectly in-keeping with Zappa’s character. At the beginning of Killer is Dead he comes across as an enlightened soul working for the good of mankind, but as the videogame progresses you learn that’s it’s really his most basic desires that drive him: money and sex. Every opportunity Zappa is given to edge towards that farthest reaches of being a ‘good guy’ he takes, walking a thin line between hero and savage.
The visual quality of Killer is Dead is immediately recognisable as a product of SUDA51 given that it follows the same pattern as many of the previous his team has developed. The characterisation is flawless – whether you like the character or not is another matter – and the environments closely resemble the densely imaginative locales of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. Despite the quality of the technical production however, this is also where Killer is Dead’s biggest issues reside. The frame rate will occasional drop drastically with no real explanation as to why – the trigger can be as simple as panning the camera, even without any enemies on-screen – and the camera is remarkably poor throughout. It’s a shame that a videogame centred on combat would erect a barrier in the most irritating of places, and yet it’s a problem that is still all too common.
SUDA51 is known for creating inspiring videogames and Killer is Dead is no different. It stands apart from the crowd in the delivery of its characters and action, despite the latter very closely following established convention. Killer is Dead is a remarkably unique experience that should be experienced by anyone who considers themselves a true fan of videogames as a medium, and yet it could be said that the likes of DmC: Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance are vastly more accessible. Killer is Dead, then, is exactly what we’ve come to expect from SUDA51: a videogame designed for the core demographic and arbitrarily ignorant of all else who may choose to step into his world.