Grand Theft Auto V Review

So this is it. The big one. “THE BIG ONE!” (People who’ve completed it will get that)- the biggest game of the year, the latest in one of if not the biggest video game series on the planet, and to many; the console generation-defining masterpiece that “The Last of Us” was supposed to be. (Not everyone would include that bit about TLOU but the other bit stands). It’s GTA V, people. Need I say more? No? Right, on with the review.

Firstly, one thing to mention is the controversy over the game’s torture mission, in which one of the three protagonists tortures someone for information apparently pertaining to national security (it’s been set up by a complete dickhead of a corrupt FBI Agent though, so it’s sketchy at best). The torture is handled with four surprisingly interactive mini-games, and the whole thing is pretty full-on. One problem some people have raised is that you can’t skip or avoid this section- it’s a main mission and you have to do it to progress. Others have criticised the content itself for obvious reasons. Now, they’re not wrong there, but I do feel that seeing as this is Rockstar, it’s there for a reason and not just for the sake of it. Personally I had no problem with the section, but if that sort of thing is too much for you, bear that in mind if you haven’t bought the game yet. All five of you.

In a departure from previous games in the series, GTA V has three playable protagonists that you can switch to at will for the most part, and uses this as a key device for telling the plot. They are Michael, a bank robber who has retired after a job gone wrong and now spends his days in the game’s equivalent of Beverly Hills drinking Whiskey, watching films and hating his life, Franklin, a car repo man who wants to move up in the world and make something of himself but is held back by his gangsta roots, and Trevor. Trevor is a lot of things, one of which is the best new character I’ve seen in a game in years- up there with the likes of Elizabeth, Booker Dewitt and Lee Everett. He’s introduced after Michael and Franklin have met, joined forces and robbed a jewelers together, and he’s worth the wait. After the job that made Michael retire he’s taken to living in a trailer part out in the desert where he sells Crystal Meth and guns and is waging a war with The Lost MC- the biker gang from GTA IV’s first DLC pack. Upon realising Michael is alive he sets off to track him down, but not before wiping out the vast majority of The Lost (most of them being killed in his very first mission) and a rival meth cooking family because a distributor chose them over him. On the face of it he’s “The Crazy One”- something Rockstar included to placate those who thought GTA IV was too serious. On closer inspection however, he’s easily the most interesting part of the game to the point where he puts everyone else in the shade. He’s a towering inferno of parental neglect, abandonment issues, despair over betrayal and grief all wrapped up with meth addiction, psychosis, heavy drinking and a massive violent streak. The story is for the most part solid, but the three different perspectives can sometimes make the game feel muddled and unfocused. It’s basically split up into a few missions each for the three characters, then a big story mission that involves all three, or a heist (these are one of the game’s staple elements; more on those later). It’s not always that way though, and as I said for the most part it’s fine. Of the three endings available the “good” ending doesn’t offer much in the way of closure, but it’s everything that leads up to it that’s important.  The whole story feels quite dark and depressing at times, particularly the other two endings. I myself like a good, dark story so this works for me. There are fewer side characters and mission-givers this time, and the ones that are here aren’t very memorable. One thing to note is that whereas previous games in the series had an open world with missions that were built around areas in the world, this one feels more like a story-focused game that is also open world. Somewhat like “L.A Noire”, but much less oppressive (There’s a lot more to do).

Two of the most important new additions are the character switching system and the heists. The switching handles just as well as I’d hoped, besides a few small issues. Apart from a couple of times in the story where certain characters are lying low or otherwise unavailable, you can switch between the three at will when outside of missions. Let enough time pass and the characters will be engaging in their own personal activities when you get to them. Michael might be watching TV, stuck in traffic or lounging around on the boardwalk. Franklin might be leaving a cannabis shop, working out or finishing up with a basketball game. Trevor, well Trevor might wake up drunk in his underpants next to several dead bodies, he might have tied someone up under the boardwalk for being rude to him or indeed he may be escaping from the police. These are the small problems- it only happened a couple of times to me, but if you switch to Trevor while he’s being chased by the police you cannot switch back until you’ve lost them (1. The police are a lot tougher now, more on that in a minute and 2. No one can switch if they have a wanted level). It’s not a big problem but it’s a nuisance when it happens. The Heists pepper the story and are a stand-out. After deciding the method of the heist (usually a choice between stealthy and loud) and picking your crew (the better they are the more money they get) you then have to go and procure (steal) all/most of the necessary equipment yourself and then execute the job. They’re varied and interesting, and they can and do go wrong if you pick the wrong people.

Gameplay wise it’s good. Combat has been improved and feels quite like “Max Payne 3” without the Bullet Time (well for the most part anyway. You can’t dive, at least) – the cover system is good, shooting is tight and responsive the level design is usually intuitive enough to allow smooth movement in gun fights. Not always though- sometimes the “Red Dead Redemption” movement and physics make your character smash into a door frame while trying to go through it. Each character has a special move (Michael can slow down time while shooting, Franklin can slow down time while driving and Trevor can deal out more damage while being able to take more himself) and each one has a series of skills from swimming and shooting to strength and flying that can be improved, “San Andreas” style, although it’s not as deep as it was there. Driving is largely good, with decent handling and durable cars, and checkpoints have been improved- they are very forgiving now, which is good because the health meter has decreased since GTA IV. The one thing that has been drastically changed since the last game is the police A.I, and generally how they react to crimes. Attack someone in the street or steal a car and it’s very likely someone is going to call the police. They react quickly to a wanted level, are far more aggressive when driving and will pursue you relentlessly on foot. They have smart, dynamic search patterns when you’re out of sight, and if you’re in their sight and continue to run away, that’ll be counted as resisting arrest and will get you a two star wanted level (it only goes up to five stars this time). Oh, and they LOVE to shoot you for the slightest thing. It definitely presents more of a challenge, but it gets annoying when you’re on a mission and you do something small and end up with police officers trying to gun you down. It also means any attempts you make at the random destruction and slaughter of previous games will be met with severe consequences. Want to go on a rampage? Well it’s a lot harder now. The game looks terrific with great character models, scenery and animations, and the map (which is apparently larger than “Red Dead Redemption”, “GTA IV” and “GTA: San Andreas” combined) is a recreation of modern California- specifically Los Angeles. It has an expansive desert, woodlands and a boardwalk with carnival. It’s great, but it would have been nice to see a return to “Las Venturas”- GTA: SA’s version of Las Vegas. It’s not essential, but it would have been nice is all.

Overall, GTA V is a good game. Gameplay is tight whether on foot or in a car, missions are varied and interesting and Trevor is a great character. The story is largely decent but can feel unfocused at times due to the three interwoven stories and the characters that aren’t Trevor aren’t particularly interesting when compared to those in previous games. The world is expansive and well designed- it’s a great example of a well-designed sandbox. Is it some Earth-shattering, generation-defining masterpiece? No, it isn’t. Much like “The Last of Us”  it’s a good game in it’s own right though, and well worth a look.  Oh, and it has Trevor in it. He’s worth the price of admission alone.

“It sounds like someone strangling a clarinet player…

…and I speak from experience.”

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

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Ride to Hell: Retribution Review

I’ve been reviewing video games since 2011, and playing them since my earliest memories. Through the good and the bad, through every bad design choice and despicable business decision, I love video games with a burning passion. Although I can be more demanding and critical than a lot of other reviewers, I do try to be fair to the games I review, and if a largely bad game has good points I’ll point them out. In a recent attempt to add some variety to my reviews I’ve been picking up games I probably won’t enjoy, so as to review some bad games once in a while (this year I’ve done “Aliens: Colonial Marines” and “The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct”), which is painful but necessary, I feel. Why am I telling you all this? Well it’s to provide you with some context for this next statement: In all my years of playing video games and my reasonable experience in reviewing them, I have never played a game so thoroughly, aggressively terrible as “Ride to Hell: Retribution”. It is the worst game I have ever played by a country mile. Sure I’ve played a lot of bad games, but never one that seems to do everything so poorly. It’s almost impressive, in a way that makes me very depressed and rather angry.

Harsh words, but entirely deserved. Now infamous for its content, “Ride to Hell” stars Jake Conway, a Vietnam vet who has returned to his home town only to have his brother be unceremoniously murdered by biker gang “The Devil’s Hand”. Jake swears vengeance on the gang and heads out to track down each of its key members, murdering, murdering and murdering his way through swathes of identikit bikers.  The story is awful. It starts badly enough- a shot of Jake riding on his bike with random, context-less cuts to a turret section, a QTE fist fight and him shooting someone – and just goes downhill from there. Like everything else in the game the story is a juvenile, cretinous display of faux-masculinity as meat-headed Jake goes around killing everyone in his path and having sex with every woman he meets (oh I’ve got a lot to say about that later). Jake himself is an utter psychopath who murders each member of the gang in a number of violent ways regardless of whether or not they’ve helped him out, kills civilians that get in his way and guns down enough cops to give Tommy Vercetti pause for thought. He is a completely disgusting human being with no justification, backstory or context for his actions, yet we are supposed to take him seriously and root for him. That very description can be used for the story as a whole. It’s context-free violence and sex set to rock music, and they whole thing comes off as an embarrassing farse that only sugar-fueled twelve year olds could take seriously. It’s utter trash in every sense of the word.

Gameplay? Just as bad. It’s split up into three main types: Motorbike riding, melee combat and gun fights. All of it is terrible. The Bike handling and physics are appalling- hit an obstacle too hard and the game will reset and put you back on the road regardless of whether or not you were still driving straight, and hit enough obstacles and the game will reset, only for you to uncontrollably drive off to the side and explode for no reason. It’s like the game can’t animate an appropriate death scene so they had to make a new one involving explosions. Random explosions are the name of the game here- most bike sections are filled with them and none of them make any damn sense. The melee combat is all controlled with button mashing which starts repetitive and doesn’t change for the length of the game. Hammer one button to attack, another to break blocks and a third button to counter in a crap version of the “Batman: Arkham” combat system. It’s arguably the best gameplay mechanic in that it’s merely tedious and not appalling. The shooting, on the other hand, is all kinds of awful. It’s cover-based with cover that most of the time just doesn’t work, enemies are bullet sponges to a frankly bizarre degree- a stetson hat or trucker cap can protect them from headshots and several enemies could take four shotgun shells from pointblank range and survive. Oh, and there are enemies with hockey masks that can take twenty shots to the face and not die because reasons. The shooting makes up the bulk of the gameplay and it’s arguably the worst thing about it. It certainly doesn’t help that the A.I is terrible- they either stand still shooting their own cover or charge at you relentlessly. You know- like people in gunfights don’t.

Two more things I want to go into (this is not as much depth as I want to go into though- if I wrote down everything I hate about this game we’d be here all day): the graphics and the game’s view of women. Firstly, the graphics go for a sort of semi-cel shaded “Brutal Legend” type thing that might not look so bad if the textures weren’t constantly popping in. I’m serious- pretty much every cutscene starts with everything un-textured and blurry before all the textures pop in. Secondly, and more pressingly, is the game’s misogyny. At several points in the game Jake encounters women being harassed by men.  Upon beating the men up/killing them the game cuts to an incredibly awkward, fully-clothed sex scene with said woman to cheesy 70s porn music. These are women who were rather close to being beaten, raped or both. To quote Shae from “Game of Thrones”: ” A girl who is almost raped doesn’t invite another man into her bed two hours later.” Never mind two hours, these women are having sex with Jake straight away, and this happens with EVERY WOMAN HE MEETS BAR ONE. Women in this game don’t have personalities of any kind- they are just objects for Jake to have sex with. I’ll put up with a lot in games, but that is genuinely disgusting.

I’ll stop here, but trust me when I say that there is so much more I could say about “Ride to Hell: Retribution”. It looks bad, it sounds bad, it plays horribly, the story is an insulting look at masculinity that twelve year olds would find silly, the depiction of women in the game is genuinely insulting and utterly unforgivable and overall, it’s a bad, bad game. It has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever- the worst game I have ever played. Developers Eutechnyx want to make the game into a franchise and expect that although some will hate it, a lot of people will love the game.

To Eutechnyx I say: You’re either lying to save face or delusional. Your game is insulting and everyone involved with it should be ashamed.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, in regards to not saying everything I wanted to, I thought I’d do something as a one off: include the notes I made for the game which, although not always elaborated on, give a decent look at my thoughts during my playthrough:

Notes 1Notes 2Notes 3

Papers, Please Review

Firstly; a quick note on my review schedule: as I previously mentioned, I had planned to review “Outlast” and “Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs” this month, but upon installing and starting “Outlast” I discovered it wasn’t going to work on my laptop. Well I started up “Machine For Pigs” this morning and although it’s fine graphically the frame rate is atrocious, no matter how many graphic options I turn off or down. I am – to put it lightly – irritated and disappointed. I’ve been looking forward to both of these games for some time, being a big survival horror fan. If I can’t get a new graphics card before November I will at least be able to review “Outlast” when it is released on PS4 around that time, so expect a review of it around then. As for “Amnesia”, I can’t say. I’ll do what I can, but at the moment that isn’t much. In the mean time I’ll be reviewing GTA V and I want to give “Don’t Starve” a look at some point, too. For now, let’s take a look at what is easily the most original game I’ve played this year: “Papers, Please”.

Developed by one man by the name of Lucas Pope and now available on Steam, “Papers, Please” has you working the border in the fictional communist country  of “Arstotzka” during the cold war. You walk to work each day, open up your booth and inspect the paperwork of each new arrival- checking for discrepancies against an ever-growing list of rules and ultimately deciding whether or not they can pass into the country. Any mistakes you make with cause a citation to appear, which from the third one on start costing you money. At the end of each day you have to divide your salary up between rent, food, heat and sometimes medicine for your four family members. Your basic task is to keep working and keep your family alive, fed and warm, with various things making that harder.

Said things range from suicide bombers slipping through the border and rules changing due to the political climate to moral dilemmas such as a couple with only one entry permit between them and a woman who will be forced into prostitution if you don’t have her potential pimp detained. As the days go on your booth and powers grow in number alongside the number of different papers you have to check and what’s going on in the world as relayed by the morning paper you see each day.

Strangely, a game in which you sit at a desk checking people’s entry papers is compelling, absorbing and genuinely fun. The graphics are incredibly basic, with pictorial representations of each immigrant popping up in a window while you scour their rough-looking documents. Anyone outside the booth looks the same except for guards, and all dialogue is represented through a garbled foreign language, except for your character, who communicates entirely through croaking the word “Papers.” The graphics and sparse use of sound effects (combined with the catchy and slightly oppressive sounding main theme) work to create a real sense of charm for the game, and let the focus be placed entirely on the gameplay, which is unlike anything else I’ve played this year, and in general the only thing I can compare it to is “L.A Noire”, which doesn’t do it justice. Working against the tight time limit to process as many immigrants as you can (you’re awarded five credits per head), deciding on the fly whether or not to let people without the right papers in on a moral basis and running the risk of them being a suicide bomber is genuinely tense and is involving from the second you start the game.

There are problems, but they’re nothing major. Highlighting discrepancies can be annoying in that the game sometimes doesn’t present information clearly. A few times I was given citations for the person having an incorrect height despite having nothing to contrast their height against, and if the duration of stay they tell you is different from the one on paper you can only turn them away, at least I couldn’t find any way to pick them up on it. The game can also end abruptly for various reasons that contribute towards twenty different endings without much warning, although you can reload your game from the day of your choice so it can be counteracted.

Overall, “Papers, Please” is something unique, original and very absorbing. It pulls off its world and characters wonderfully, and as well as the basic gameplay being great it continues to change and adapt with each in-game day. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but those of you who find the concept interesting enough to check the game out will find something truly worth experiencing.

Glory to Arstotzka.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

Splinter Cell Blacklist Review

I love stealth. That and survival horror are my two preferred game genres, and if a game that isn’t all about stealth has  good stealth elements all the same (“The Last of Us” and “Metro Last Light” spring to mind) then that definitely works in a game’s favour for me. Having said that, I could never really get into “Splinter Cell” as a series. I’ve played all of the main continuity ones and enjoyed well enough for the most part, but I never really grasped the far slower gameplay that seemed to take ages to complete and was rather unforgiving if you messed it up. The one game I did well with was 2010’s “Splinter Cell: Conviction”, which sought to remove the notion that stealth had to be slow and instead focused on fast-moving stealth helped along by brutal melee takedowns, a great cover system and the “mark and execute” feature- basically tag a set number of enemies and when they’re in range press a button and the game will kill them all for you (this does seem like cheating in retrospect but it’s not a terrible idea). “Blacklist” is a direct sequel that takes the same fast paced gameplay of “Conviction” but sets it in far more interesting ,varied and open environments, offers three different and equally viable play-styles, and generally feels less confined.

Story wise, it’s a mixed bag. Morris from “24” (his real name is Carlo Rota but to me he’s Morris from 24) destroys a military base in Guam and then releases a list of dates pertaining to weekly attacks by terrorist group “The Engineers” on American soil, with names like “American Consumption” and “American Freedom”. Black ops agent Sam Fisher (head of the newly founded Fourth Echelon) assembles a team to fight back against The Engineers, and is granted “The Fifth Freedom” by the US President- basically the ability to go completely outside the law and do whatever it takes to protect the country. As a set-up, it’s pretty strong. However, it only works as a set-up; the story is severely lacking in depth, and ends up being an excuse for Sam and co to go to the game’s various environments. The implications of The Fifth Freedom, what it means to be granted it, what negative effects it could have and the sheer scope of its power go unexplored, save for one bit right near the end of the game. Main antagonist Sadiq never has his motives or backstory explained either- he’s just “The Bad Guy”. What starts well enough feels rushed by the end, and overall the story is light and sparse, which is disappointing given some of the themes it works with.  Oh, and the final cutscene of the game very abruptly cuts off with no real resolution. I’m not sure if that was on purpose but it’s very jarring. The characters are, for the most part, decent. The only two mainstays are Sam and Grímsdóttir, who are pretty much the same as they ever were (more on Sam in a minute though). Newcomers Charlie Cole and Isaac Briggs as the cocky tech guy and only other 4E field agent respectively work well in their roles but have no real arc or depth, and “Conviction” antagonist Andriy Kobin returns as a genuinely likable comic relief of sorts.

In regards to Sam, there’s one thing that’s been troubling people since it was announced- the removal of Michael Ironside. The actor has provided Fisher’s voice in every game so far, but for this game was replaced with Eric Johnson on the grounds that Johnson would be better suited to the motion capture aspects of the game, as he would be able to pull off the demanding physical requirements of the character. On the one hand, Johnson does a good job of the voice- he sounds calm and controlled with a good line in deadpan humor. On the other, I’ve seen footage of the game’s combat consultant Kevin Secours in a mo-cap suit doing a lot of Fisher’s motions. I understand they wanted to capture Eric Johnson’s face as he delivers the lines, but why not have Ironside act out the dialogue and Secours do the physical moves a la “Metal Gear Solid V”? Hell, make Sam look like Ironside in the same way “Max Payne 3” saw voice actor James McCaffrey also provide the face. It’s not a disaster, but I feel it didn’t have to be changed.

Fortunately the gameplay makes up for the story. As I said it follows the same basic style of “Conviction”- the cover system is pretty much the same, mark and execute and melee takedowns return, and the game still keeps a fast pace. There are two main things that make the game so much more fun to play than the previous installment though: level design and the three different play-styles. Whereas levels in “Conviction” were often linear and confined, the ones in “Blacklist” are far more open, with various routes and rewards for exploring and finding hidden paths that might not seem obvious. The types of level are also nice and varied, with things like a train yard, a rainy, dilapidated mill and even Guantanamo Bay making appearances. As for the play-styles, they are Ghost, Panther and Assault: respectively knocking enemies out or avoiding them altogether, quietly killing enemies with silenced guns and Sam’s new Karambit (a beastly curved and serrated knife) and going in all guns blazing. Apart from a few points in the game where being seen or attacking anyone will result in mission failure, you’re free to use whichever style you want, as well as a mixture. For the most part the game lets you decide what the situation calls for, and rather than penalise you for anything it instead rewards you points in each area. Having used all three, I found Panther suited me best, though I would often end up with a few Ghost points and even the odd Assault point during certain scripted set-pieces. The game lets you customise all of Sam’s gear and load out, and when on a mission it never feels like there’s a “Stealth path” and an “Assault path”; there’s just a big, open area full of people and you have to get by them using whatever method you think is best. Sam’s range of movements is fluid, dynamic and extensive and each play-style genuinely feels viable, although personally I found Assault didn’t suit me at all, no matter how possible it was to complete a level that way.

Overall, “Splinter Cell Blacklist” is a good time. The story has a good set-up but squanders a lot of that potential with a lack of depth and exploration of “The Fifth Freedom”, but the gameplay is where it excels- natural, fun stealth mechanics with a character that’s fun to control in a good variety of open, interesting environments. Many games offer choices when it comes to gameplay, but “Blacklist” really gets them right. Definitely worth a look.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert

So I was going to play Outlast…

…but I can’t get it to work. It unlocked on steam earlier this evening and I only just loaded it up to find that it’s incredibly laggy and sound effects are looping, even on very low settings. I’m trying to get it to work but the most immediate solution seems to be buying a new graphics card, which I can’t afford right now (My graphics card is nothing to scoff at either- I can run “Max Payne 3” on high settings among various other games, but it does have trouble with both “Spec Ops: The Line” and “Batman: Arkham City” so I don’t know.) I hope to rectify this issue as soon as I can both so I can get my review written and because I’ve been looking forward to this since it was first announced. In the meantime I’ll be reviewing “Splinter Cell: Blacklist”, “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” and of course “Grand Theft Auto V”. I’m also considering getting “Ride to Hell: Retribution” this month. I’m definitely going to review it at some point but after “Aliens” and “Survival Instinct” I need some time to recover before I willingly subject myself to it.

“Outlast” is from new developer Red Barrels- founded by three major Ubisoft players. Much like “Amnesia”, it’s a survival horror game revolving around a lack of combat or any real self-defense mechanics- instead using stealth to negotiate enemies, which in this case are inmates who retain their intelligence, not monsters with the sole purpose of chasing anything protagonist shaped. Some will attack you, some won’t, and some will lure you into a false sense of security before attempting to kill you. You’re an investigative reporter whose only light source is a night vision equipped video camera, and your basic objective is to uncover whatever the hell happened in the asylum. I myself want to know what’s going on with the rough-arse looking surgeon above. Christ.

Again, I’ll try and get the game working as soon as I can, but there will be other regular reviews in the mean time. I am really looking forward to playing the game, and hope to do so soon.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Review… KILLER IS DEAD.

I love Suda 51 games. Well I did until “Lollipop Chainsaw”, anyway (My review for which is here: http://www.whatson.uk.com/blog/2012/07/lollipop-chainsaw-review/ and I also placed it in my worst games of 2012 list in the number 2 slot)- “Killer 7”, both “No More Heroes” games and “Shadows of the Damned” are all worth a look for different reasons, particularly “Killer 7”, which needs to be played if only to see it for yourself. When “…chainsaw” hit, I thought it was a pretty clear sign that Suda (thought of as an “Auteur” game director known for his utterly bizarre works) had fallen into a niche and was happy to put out games with dull, boring content as long as they were quirky. I initially avoided “Killer is Dead”, but eventually decided to give Suda another chance- after all, his other games were good. The reviews for the game I’ve seen at time of writing describe it as being a confusing, misogynistic mess with unrefined combat, and I do agree with them in some ways. This could well have been a return to form for Suda, but as it stands it’s merely a step in the right direction. He’s getting back on track, but he has a few hurdles to clear.

Apparently the concluding part in a loose “Assassins” trilogy along with “Killer 7” and “No More Heroes”, “Killer is Dead” is something of a cross between the two. You are Mondo Zappa- an “Executioner” (basically a state-sponsored hitman) who takes jobs in a similar way to a Private Eye- people turn up at his office, present a target to him and his bosses, and he then goes to kill them. There’s an interwoven narrative about some tragic incident in Mondo’s backstory, but it’s pretty poorly handled- nothing’s really explained very well, and it turns out to be really important and culminates in an anti-climactic boss fight that rips off “Asura’s Wrath”. Seriously- two people have a fight on the moon to a remixed version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony, 4th Movement”. It’s not nearly as cool as it was in “Asura’s Wrath” though. For Suda, this is a pretty restrained plot. There are no references to 8-bit video games, no dick jokes, no shady political intrigue. That last one is a shame because I like the idea of a sharp-suited, state-sanctioned assassin- the detached nature of his personality juxtaposing all the murder. He even wears glasses that at anything other than close proximity hide his eyes. They could have done more with it, is what I’m saying. Mondo’s pretty cool in a less aggressive “Dan Smith” kind of way- polite, detached and taking all of his contracts seriously, but he doesn’t have a great deal of depth. His assistant Mika is all over the place, cheerily shouting and bouncing around like a child with A.D.D (which I genuinely wouldn’t rule out- not after Juliet Starling’s younger sister), which quickly gets very annoying. I have no idea if she’s being played for laughs, but I wouldn’t put it past them. His partner/boss Vivienne barely shows up and is bland when she does, and the head of the firm “Bryan” has his moments (including a particularly strange conversation with Mondo about how “Railways are a MAN’s passion.”) but doesn’t add much to the overall plot. The game often assumes you’ve filled in the gaps already and that you know what’s going on, which most likely isn’t the case given that things aren’t very well explained. Whereas “Killer 7” was confusing in that there were so many different things going on and so many styles, ideas and references all mixed in together, “Killer is Dead” is confusing at times because the narrative is sparse and abstract. It’s not a bad plot overall, but I wanted more depth, particularly in Mondo’s backstory; the grand reveal for which was weak and out of left field. The game also has a few instances of fourth wall breaking, which comes across as forced and pointless- it’s not being used for anything really, it’s just Mondo saying “I can’t join up with you- this is an action game and not fighting you would disappoint the player”. That kind of thing.

The gameplay is also a mixed bag, but definitely enjoyable. Mondo’s main weapon is a katana- one button controls this with surprisingly few moves (think “No More Heroes”), another button makes Mondo punch with his robot arm (he has a robot arm) which is a block breaker, and said arm can also be used as a gun. The move set is very sparse, but killing enemies with a mixture of Katana, robo-punch and arm cannon is rather satisfying. Like “No More Heroes”, it revolves around you making your way through an area killing goons before finally arriving at the boss. Said bosses aren’t particularly interesting or dynamic, and beating them takes little skill- dodge their attacks and wail on them with the katana. There are a couple of interesting bosses (one being a tall swordsman with a tattoo of a tiger on his back that comes to life and attacks you), but they lack the variety of “No More Heroes” colourful roster. The game’s also too easy on normal difficulty- there’s a skill you can buy that enables you to use blood (used as both ammunition for the arm gun and to power one-hit kill attacks on most normal enemies) to regain health, and once you level it up fully you can regain all your health with a very small amount of blood, which is in plentiful supply. Strangely, the majority of pickups you find are actually ones that upgrade your maximum health and blood, rather than ones that refill it. You can also have up to ten revives in the form of Mika appearing when Mondo dies and hammering at his chest while you tap the square button. Sometimes this doesn’t work though, and I’m not sure why. It may well be the developers attempting to counteract the game being too easy. If that’s the case it’s very poor design indeed. There are certainly better hack and slash games on the market (“DmC Devil may Cry” for example) but I definitely had fun with this one.

Of course there’s one other major thing I have to talk about- the crippling elephant in the room that takes the game from “a return to form” down to “back on the right track but with hurdles to clear” and hits it in the head a few times with a wrench just to make sure. That is of course “Gigolo Mode”. This is a set of optional missions in which Mondo sits next to a series of attractive women and attempts to endear himself to them by staring at their chest and crotch when they’re not looking, and either looking away or staring at their faces when they are. You can also use X-Ray glasses to look at their underwear (again without them knowing) and you have to give them presents when a meter is full (which you fill by staring at them) in order to make them like you enough to sleep with you I guess (it’s never explicitly said). Succeeding gets you different functions for your gun arm. I am not making any of this shit up. There is genuinely a mini-game where you endear yourself to women by staring at their boobs. Everyone involved with the game deserves every last piece of flak they take for this- it’s creepy, weird and just generally wrong. It’s not the childish and idiotic approach to sex that “Ride to Hell: Retribution” has (trust me, I’ll be getting around to that one soon) or the horrible, misogynistic approach to women in general of “Duke Nukem Forever”, but it’s still really bad. I genuinely have no idea how this managed to be in the final product. You’d think someone, at least one person, would look at it and say “look, that’s a bit much.” Gigolo mode really brings the game down, and I hate the fact that it’s in there.

Overall, “Killer is Dead” is a sign that Suda’s back on the right track, albeit shakily. The story, combat and tone are all better than “Lollipop Chainsaw”, the graphics are excellent (a lot of dark, muted cel-shading) and it’s just a better game overall. Having said that, the story on its own merits isn’t great and the combat’s repetitive, but if you like Suda 51 and/or hack and slash in general, this might be worth your time. Having said that, I have nothing but scorn for Gigolo mode, which drags the game down, and no matter what merits the game has it should forever more have Gigolo mode hanging there like an asterisk- “Oh, “Killer is Dead”. Isn’t that the game where you stare at women’s chests without them looking?”.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Oh, in regards to the title: before starting a mission Mondo will take off his glasses, run his hand through his hair and say “The Job: KILLER IS DEAD.” (hence the title of the review). I’ve narrowed this down to two meanings: “Killer is dead” as in: consider it done, and “My ultimate goal and endgame for this job is that the killer I’m after will be dead”. He also says it just before killing each boss character.