Review: Killer is Dead is a sexist, garbled mess
At a Glance
Killer is Dead, the latest title from developer Goichi Suda (aka Suda51), is a problematic game.
That’s a lie. Well, not a lie. An understatement.
“Problematic” sounds like such a gentle euphemism in light of Killer is Dead's gross misogyny. This game might as well have a giant pair of balls on the front cover, under a sign with "boys only" scrawled in the shaky handwriting of a 13-year-old.
Listen, developers, you’ve had your chance. You know that the way women are portrayed in games is a sore subject these days. You know. No more excuses.
The most charitable thing you could say about Killer is Dead? It’s tone-deaf. It is now my go-to example of how not to treat female characters in your game. It is the worst schlock I’ve seen in a long time, and I can’t say I’m the most politically correct guy. Not even close, really.
In short, I feel ashamed to play this game.
What it is
Killer is Dead is an action game that supposedly takes cues from James Bond. You play as Mondo, a contract killer with a bionic arm and a katana who’s sent to kill people for reasons the game fails to explain.
The "plot" is confined to short scenes before and after each mission, and boy are they completely inscrutable. The game failed to answer many of my most pressing questions, including: Who are these people I’m murdering? Why are they important? What is this group I’m part of? Why does the moon turn pink all the time? What the hell is going on?
And, most important, why does my guy say “The mission? Killer is Dead,” before (or sometimes after, and sometimes during) every mission? What does that even mean? By the end of the game it didn’t even sound like words anymore. Just a random collection of syllables. Ki-la-riss-ded. Ki-la-riss-ded. Ki-la-riss-ded.
Okay, no surprise. A game with Suda 51’s name on it is impenetrable, to the point where it’s almost a parody of itself. Cross that feature off the list, I guess.
Let’s get down to brass dicks here, because the main story is fine. It’s stupid, it’s boring, it’s indecipherable, but whatever—it’s a story.
Enter Gigolo Mode. Between main story missions you’re allowed to pick up sidequests. Some of these are basic challenges, like “go back to the level you already played and kill a bunch of fodder enemies.”
Then, there are the Mondo Girl missions, where you bring women out on dates and ogle them.
Killer is Dead has turned the fabled “male gaze” into an actual game mechanic. In order to build up the courage to give women presents to get them to awkwardly grant you sexual favors (and unlock new weapons), you have to ogle their breasts and lap and then eventually you get a new pair of glasses that lets you see through their clothes and creep on their underwear and—I can’t believe a game like this even exists.
There is no way to play this game and not feel like a dirty, crusty, leering old man. “Hey, sweetheart, how about I give you this piece of gum and then we go make the beast with two backs out in my van? Don’t you like my sweet cyborg arm? Just keep saying the same dumb platitudes over and over again, conveniently looking away so I can stare at your panties through your dress.”
Before your eyes fall out of your head and you pull a muscle screaming “But Hayden, it’s a video game,” or “it's satire,” well, save your voice. I hear you, loud and clear. Games aren’t always serious business. I enjoy many things that are beyond the pale, or on the shadier side of that gray line. I love The Fast and the Furious movies. Some may say that's hypocrisy. I say it's drawing a line. A man's gotta have a code.
Not only that, I actually fought to get Killer Is Dead on our reviews docket, though I had absolutely zero knowledge of what the game would be. It almost got cut from our reviews calendar and I said, “Suda51? Nah, we have to review his games. That guy did Killer7!”
I didn't know about Gigolo Mode. I went in blind.
I do not enjoy Killer is Dead. It is the line I refuse to cross. It is trashy. It is gross. It is pandering. I do not think it goes far enough to be satire. Good satire is clever. Good satire is challenging. This is neither.
I would feel ashamed if my parents (or anybody who’s relatively unfamiliar with games) saw me playing Killer is Dead and thought it was representative of my hobby. End of story.
And you know what, I’d feel bad if Killer is Dead was actually fun to play. That level of cognitive dissonance would probably crack my skull in half. How could I review a game that was so utterly tone-deaf on one end but also so much fun to play? I couldn’t! It would be impossible!
Luckily, Killer is Dead is not fun to play.
When you take a break from leering at women and trying to parse the dumb-as-dirt plot, you have to actually play through the game’s poor hack-n-slash combat. One button attacks with your sword. Another button punches people with your arm to break their defense. A third button blocks. Triggers use your gun (or other, fairly useless unlockable weapons).
On the Xbox 360, the winning combo looks something like this: X (basic attack)-X-X-X-X-X-X-Y (to break defense)-B (to dash)-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X—oh, they’re already dead and I stopped paying attention.
Every enemy is a damage sponge, so you’re stuck hitting the attack button over and over again, occasionally pausing to dash behind them. You unlock additional moves by spending experience points, but none of these moves really matter since you’re (for the most part) still hitting the same button.
Killer Is Dead never gets particularly difficult, though I had a propensity to zone out at critical moments and let bosses get cheap hits on me, and the art style is locked in a constant struggle with the camera to see which of the two can make it harder to understand what the hell you’re looking at.
Sometimes, you get a flash of Suda51's creativity—the environments, in particular, come out shining far brighter than the rest of the game. It's not enough, though.
Suda 51, in an interview with Edge, said he's “not that concerned” with how people will receive Gigolo Mode and, by extension, Killer Is Dead.
That's a fairly damning indictment of this industry.