Review: Killer is Dead flatlines

I don't know if Killer is Dead is supposed to be funny or serious. Suda51 has always had a dark, twisted sense of humor, so I'm used to the over-the-top sequences and highly stylized visuals, but for as ridiculous as Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw felt, I at least knew what I was feeling. When playing Killer is Dead, I was conflicted.

I like to think the ridiculous sequences and campy one-liners are intentional, but the darker, more serious tone of the story has me believing it's just a poorly written script with a lackluster story. Add in some ridiculously sexist side missions that have you stare a busy female up-and-down with "Gigolo Glasses" and you can see why the confusion exists. What type of game does Killer is Dead want to be? Does it want to be funny? Does it want to be taken seriously? It doesn't do either particularly well, and the result is a game with no real direction.

Killer is Dead takes place in the not-too-distant future where biomechanical augmentations are readily available, travel to the moon is possible, and monsters/demons run rampant, seeking control over others. It's certainly an intriguing world, but one with little definition or backstory to help set you up. Instead, you are thrown into it as Mondo Zappa, the new member of as assassination organization known as the Bryan Executor firm; they'll kill anyone for a price. The story is told through a series of contract missions, or Episodes.

Wielding a deadly katana in his right hand and an artificial left arm with interchangeable weapons makes Mondo the perfect "executioner," even donning a James Bond-esque suit and tie. As professional as he may appear, Mondo is dealing with his own mysterious internal struggle. As you travel the world carrying out assassination contracts, Mondo's own story begins to unfold, filling in the mystery and plot holes from early on. Unfortunately, the game's crescendos fall flat as the jumbled plot, bland storytelling, and one-dimensional characters fail to evoke any sort of emotion aside from disgust at the blatant sexism (which I'll get into later).

Killer is dead combat

Gameplay is by far the game's selling point, but even then it's lackluster when compared to the likes of Devil May Cry or other fleshed-out combo-centric games. Killer is Dead is your standard hack n' slash with a focus on working up combos through a careful balance of attacking and dodging/blocking enemy attacks. Unfortunately, the majority of your encounters are against enemies that can eat right through your block so you'll be relying mostly on your dodge. Bosses definitely present more of a challenge, oftentimes attacking with what feels like impossible-to-dodge attacks, but upon second or third playthrough you should be able to recognize their patterns more easily.

As you progress through the game, you'll earn coins to upgrade Mondo's skills and abilities. Save for a few must-have moves, the majority of upgrades are pretty useless. Toward the latter half of the game is when the combat really picks up as you start to encounter stronger "Wires," — the demon-like creatures that make up the majority of combat. While their appearance is a bit too similar, the Wires actually do offer some strategic diversity in the combat as they'll often have different strengths and weaknesses.

Although combat is entertaining, there's another portion of the gameplay that I was completely disgusted with — Gigolo Missions. These side "missions" appear as you progress through the story and serve as a way to enhance your sub-weapons. Unfortunately, the "gameplay" during these Gigolo Missions not only clashes with the standard hack n' slash of standard missions — more confusion as the to the tone of the game — but they also contain some of the most sexist, pointless gameplay I've seen in a game.

Your goal during these "missions" is to increase Mondo's "Guts" meter by getting an eyeful of their body when they aren't looking and pretending to maintain eye contact when they are watching. Filling the meter will give Mondo the courage to make a move (give them presents) and have sex with the women. Oh, and completing these will earn you a Trophy described as having "made Natalia your prisoner in body and soul.”

Gigolo Mission

The worst part is these Gigolo Missions aren't even necessary, but exist seemingly as a way for you to spend your hard-earned cash on presents for these women. Why not just do away with this childish, offensive gameplay and have you flat out buy the upgrades? Why the unnecessary perverted gameplay? I don't mind the tropes of having to rescue a female in need, but objectifying women is a sad, crude attempt at humor. This sort of mindset about women may be acceptable in certain cultures, but, quite frankly, it disgusted me — especially while playing with my fiancée in the room. Needless to say, the Gigolo Missions left a sour taste in my mouth.

As a typical action game, Killer is Dead will last you anywhere from 6-12 hours. This, of course, is depending on how often you die, the difficulty you're playing on, and how many side missions you choose to do. There's also a considerable amount of replay value for those of you who strive for high scores or suffering through the new "Very Hard" mode.

Visually, Killer is Dead, doesn't push the envelope, but it does have a nice stylized look to it. The noir-like feel and dark tones are accentuated with motion blurs, bright neon colors, and tons of blood. Environments in this cyberpunk world are memorable and appealing, complimenting the game's overall story.

Killer is Dead is not my favorite game from the mastermind Suda51, but it kept me engaged. And I suppose that's the goal right? That, or to make you feel like a total creep, which is exactly what Gigolo Missions do. If you're a fan of generic hack n' slash combat, you'll feel right at home with Killer is Dead, but don't expect too much substance.

[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]