kill.switch Review

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Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco

Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation 2 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox

kill.switch follows the efforts of a highly trained and heavily armed military operative as he copes with violent situations that flare up around the globe. Bishop is that operative, and he has no allies in the field, save the sheltering cover of the terrain.

Carrie Gouskos

In kill.switch, you take on the role of Bishop, an artificially enhanced soldier on a mission. It isn't clear what the mission is, but fortunately, as the story develops, the mission (or lack thereof) proves to be one of the most compelling aspects of the game. The plot is revealed through Bishop's conversations with various narrating characters who order him to complete tasks at odds with one another, such as simultaneously stealing a nuclear weapon and disarming that weapon. While most of the game's elements are typical fare for a third-person action/adventure game, the story is intriguing in that the protagonist is not completely good or evil, and other characters engage in a power struggle to influence Bishop. The intrigue comes from discovering how Bishop reconciles events, both good and bad, with his own hopes and history.

An Action Game, With Ducking!

The gameplay of kill.switch is similar to nearly every action game you've played, adding only a unique duck and cover system. To the probable dismay of the designers, you can play very fast, running through with little regard for strategy. But the key to playing kill.switch as intended is to combine the arcade shoot-em-up style with the ability to strategically duck and position yourself behind objects placed throughout the levels. Almost everything can be used by Bishop as cover, and the point of the game is to do just that – hide and carefully plan your line of attack against the onslaught of enemies. The levels may not be unique, interesting, or full of variety, but each one is designed with duck and cover tactics in mind. You can forgive the lack of style for the sake of functionality. This isn't to say the game is unattractive – it's neither impressive nor dismal. The look is functional and parts of the environment are interactive, but not enough to distinguish the game. For the most part, the collision detection works, and this is more important to the gameplay than a few extra polygons thrown in or fancier textures.

Thankfully, while ducking behind any object, the aiming reticule can be lined up precisely, so that you need only peek out for a second and squeeze off a short burst to successfully pick off each enemy. This is one of the ways in which kill.switch is not very realistic, but serves fun over tedium. In fact, kill.switch almost never feels unfair. kill.switch plays a lot like Namco's 2002 hit Dead to Rights in all of the good ways without any of the frustration. There is fluid control, the weapons are comfortable and arcade-like, and unlike Dead to Rights, kill.switch offers completely free-form aiming. This system works better than most, but has its share of inconsistencies. Some hits land that don't seem to be aligned with the character, and you might find yourself unloading an entire clip into one guy just to take him down. These issues are infrequent enough that they don't ruin the gameplay experience.

The main gripe having to do with collision problems is that from time to time, Bishop will get hit with a bullet from out of seemingly nowhere. While there is an onscreen indicator to reveal the direction from which an attack came, Bishop might have a large object between him and all of the level's enemies and yet an occasional bullet will still hit him. This either indicates that enemy gunfire has an occasional annoying collision error or that quantum mechanics have come into play to emphasize the randomness of life. If you can ignore these minor issues and forgive the game for being about as unique as sliced bread, the you have a competent and fun action game.

Thank Goodness For Grenades

The enemy sound effects nicely add to the ambiance. Throughout the game you can hear various chants of attack as well as the satisfying cry of "Grenade!" as you lob explosives at your enemies. The sounds and dialog make the environment seem a lot more dynamic than it actually is, which for the purposes of a straight-up action game works very well. Of course, it's not perfect. Some sentences are heard too often and sometimes commands are heard when there is only one enemy left, but for the most part the sounds pleasantly add to the atmosphere.

There are quite a few weapon choices, which mostly helps you avoid running out of ammo, but different situations can call for different tactics (and thus different guns). The grenade not only gives you the satisfaction of sending the enemies flying for cover, but also helps change up the attack strategy. Grenades come in the form of flash grenades, explosive grenades and sticky grenades which affix themselves to the wall and blow up a few seconds later. The grenades are all useful because they offer both mass damage and cause distractions while you dispose of enemies in another area.

Now for the bad news. kill.switch is unbelievably short. It's short like The Bouncer and Devil May Cry 2 are short. That's the kind of short that makes paying the full price for a game absolutely out of the question. The first four levels take about forty-five minutes apiece, and the last (yes the last) level is the fifth level, which clocks in a little longer at about an hour and a half. All told, you can easily beat the game in under five hours if you're playing in normal mode. Unfortunately, the obvious hints in the game at more twists in the tale must be leaving the plot open for a sequel, because there is no other option than to play the game over again. This isn't the worst option, because kill.switch is a fun action game, but usually a game needs an extra feature or two to make another playthrough worthwhile.

You Can Take Cover – You Just Don't Need To

One of the reasons the game is so short is because it is so easy to bypass the duck and cover system in any level save the last. This may not have been the intent, but it is certainly the way the game seems to play out. The intended 50/50 distribution of duck-and-cover action and run-and-gun sequences that you use in the last level just isn't required for the first four levels. For this reason, the last level seems especially tedious given that you've been able to just sweep through every previous level with little care for how threatening the enemies really are. If you find the first few levels to be simple, you may want to start over on hard mode just to get a more fulfilling experience.

It really seems that in kill.switch, Namco has a strong grasp of the action genre. Unfortunately, the short length and relative easiness of the game detracts from the overall experience. If you're looking for a mindless arcade-style shooter that won't take up too much of your time, look no further than kill.switch.

"They call you a super soldier? Some people are easily impressed."

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 17, 2004 1:17 PM.

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