In Killer is Dead, Suda tells a formulaic, episodic tale which can be likened to a TV drama.
Suda51, the man behind Lollipop Chainsaw and No More Heroes, takes us to the personal tale of Mondo Zappa, a government agent tasked with the ruthless execution of villains who lurk in the shadows of society. His weapon of choice is, naturally, a sword, but he has a bionic arm that acts as a secondary weapon, such as a gun, when the need arises. His story is told in 13 episodes, much like a season of television, in a dark yet colorful style akin to Japanese animation. Each episode is self contained with a distinct beginning and end, but they also contribute to the overarching story of the game.
Killer is Dead takes a japanese animation stylized approach to graphics, from the cut scenes to the boss fights. You’ll never have that moment of shattered illusion, because it never tries to be realistic, rather it just seems to enjoy the liberty allowed by its style. What I saw in the demo kept the scenery in the background, with an absolute focus on the action. It didn’t seem to try to get artsy, instead relying on the brutal, stylized violence to keep your attention.
Gameplay in the level we saw, titled “The Tiger That Faded Into Darkness,” was a fast-paced, hack-and-slash adventure through Kyoto. The regular enemies looked amazing, with a variety of models to keep things interesting, and everything from standard attacks to special moves having distinctive animations and styles. Albeit fairly typical ninja and samurai in description, the massive serrated blades the ninja kept at hand did a great job of differentiating them from your run-of-the-mill assassin.
The action looked intense, with standard attack, block, dodge, and guard break tied to your button presses. A precise dodge is rewarded with an execution move, which one-shots your enemy in a fun thousand-slash animation. Killing enemies and absorbing their blood charges up your Adrenaline Rush ability, which will one-shot any standard foe in dramatic fashion. Additionally, as you slash away at the bad guys, you build your combo meter, which gives you access to new, more powerful combo moves. Getting hit or taking damage will reset your combo meter, so learning to dodge and block skillfully will help you progress through the levels more quickly. Then there was the boss.
The boss himself was an outrageous yakuza riding a giant tiger, but the fight itself started off a little dull. There was a chase sequence where you’re simply slashing at the boss from your motorcycle, with precious little variety in the action. Once you dismount, however, the fight takes a completely different turn. I counted at least four distinct special moves from the boss, each being quite visually impressive in a way that can only be attributed to the wonderfully stylized graphics. Punctuating the special moves, the boss blocked your attacks, countered with his own standard moves, and generally put up quite a fight. It was an impressive scene to say the least.
If you like heavily stylized hack-and-slash adventures, then Killer is Dead might be right up your alley. It looks like a frenzy of button mashing interspersed with artful blocks and dodges, but it does ultimately look like a good time.
Killer is Dead, developed by Suda’s Grasshopper Manufacture and published by XSeed in North America, will be available on PS3 and Xbox 360 this summer.