Game Over Online ~ kill.switch

GameOver Game Reviews - kill.switch (c) Namco, Reviewed by - Thomas Wilde

Game & Publisher kill.switch (c) Namco
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Wednesday, January 28th, 2004 at 01:51 PM


Divider Left By: Thomas Wilde Divider Right

I'm left somewhat torn on kill.switch. On the one hand, it's a fast-paced, well-designed, moderately challenging third-person shooter, and it's not like it's possible to have too many of those. I'm not actually going to send Namco e-mail saying, "Excuse me, but I've already had enough fun this month shooting terrorists. I'm over quota. You'll have to take this one back."

On the other, it's just a fast-paced, well-designed, decently challenging third-person shooter with okay graphics and a good soundtrack. It has no weird quirks, no perks, no "hook," and in a way, that is its hook.

You don't sneak around in kill.switch, eliminating your enemies with silenced weapons or knives; your weapons are the same automatic rifles, shotguns, and explosives that your opponents have access to; you interact with others only via automatic gunfire; you have no magic powers such as "bullet time." In an industry crowded with games that are falling over each other to deliver something uniquely cinematic or memorable, kill.switch simply doesn't bother.

Instead, you have a lot of ammunition, a lot of grenades, a headlong dive roll to serve as a dodge, and an interactive system for taking cover. By pressing L1, you can duck behind whatever objects happen to be lying around, from machinery to shipping crates to bookshelves to walls, and be almost totally protected from incoming gunfire.

Taking cover does seem to be Namco's thing, doesn't it? You could call kill.switch a third-person, free-look spin on Time Crisis, and it wouldn't be too far from the mark. ("Here at Namco, we stand firm in our belief that ducking is the wave of the future.")

While you're hiding, you can lean out to snap off gunshots from partial concealment; shoot blindly to keep enemy soldiers' heads down; or pitch grenades overhead. Your accuracy goes straight to hell if your character isn't actually looking at what he's doing, and most of your enemies won't actually run away unless they were already behind cover when you started, but the point is that it's there. Besides, shooting a guy can be entertaining, but shooting a guy without bothering to even look is obviously more entertaining.

...I'm going to wind up defending that last statement in front of a grand jury someday.

Anyway, the other innovation at hand within kill.switch is its storyline.

You're the bad guy.

It's a good deal more complicated than that, but Namco's gone out of its way to keep the finer details quiet, so I won't spoil it for you. The vastly abridged version is that your main character's name is Bishop, and, for reasons which are not wholly clear, he is not in control of his own actions. Instead, he's a vehicle, driven remotely via some kind of cybernetic uplink by a man we do not see, and who does not identify himself.

Bishop is a highly trained combat operative, and his job is to travel into foreign countries and cause some trouble. In kill.switch, your mission in a given level is the kind of thing that other games would have you trying to prevent. You steal highly lethal nerve agents, launch missiles, assassinate world leaders, and frame political factions for attacks upon each other, with the intent of deliberately starting a war. You are not a nice person.

(As someone who has an English degree, I'd just like to say this; kill.switch is a game about a man being unknowingly forced to do bad things by an unknowable, other agency who controls his body via electronic remote. There's a sly commentary here on the relationship between player and played, if you but care to look.)

As noted above, you're not trying to do this subtly. kill.switch is a straightforward action game. Stealth isn't an option; Bishop doesn't even think of it; it is as foreign a practice to him as photosynthesis. When they say your objective is to "infiltrate a base," they mean it in the hardcore General Patton way, where you get in undetected because you shot everyone in the face, a lot, and now they can't detect much of anything.

That's okay; you're equipped. You've got an assortment of machine guns, from the classic H&K to a solid yet dependable M4 carbine; you've got an M1 shotgun; there's a sniper rifle, because, well, how could there not be a sniper rifle; and you've got the grenades.

Most of those grenades are the typical explosive kind, but then there are the flashbangs, which contain most of the strategy in the game. Throw one, and anyone who's looking at it when it goes off will be stunned and flashblind, firing randomly if at all. That includes you--the whole screen will flash stark white, and all you can hear afterwards is a muted ringing--so you'll want to toss them around corners or over cover, then go mop up afterwards.

The soldiers you fight are generally smart enough to avoid grenades, and they're just as good at using cover as you are. Further, they've got home court advantage, all the good things in life like rocket snipers, and an irritating ability to hit you from about half a mile away with a machine gun that, in your hands, has the pinpoint accuracy of a weather forecast. It's like being that one general in the Civil War; you swear they couldn't hit an elephant, let alone you, from this distance, and the next thing you know, you're picking steel-jacketed 9mm slugs out of your teeth.

Your enemies can be a problem, although their AI gives the occasional impression of being incomplete; I have survived ambushes at times only because a key member of the opposing force was attempting to walk through a wall. On the other hand, they can also stick a rocket-propelled grenade up your nose from the next time zone over, so they aren't all stupid.

They don't really exploit their available options as well as they could, though; kill.switch is wall-to-wall running gunfight, with an occasional mounted chaingun to break up the pace. You'd think somebody would try to run you over with a jeep or something, after Clever Ambush Plan #617 ("Okay, this time we use six guys!") fails to work, but hey, a good gunfight's a good gunfight.

There are only a few problems that prevent me from recommending kill.switch to any and all action fans; its lack of complexity actually works in its favor, forcing you to think tactically and creatively.

The first is the lack of individual checkpoints within the levels. A given level might be kind of short, in that you can clear it in ten minutes if you know exactly what you're doing and you don't make any mistakes, but they tend to be made up of subsequent ambushes. It'd be nice if the game, like so many other tactical-action shooters, counted the accomplishment of a mission objective as a checkpoint, so you didn't have to go through the whole damn level again if you stick your head up at the wrong time.

The second is that kill.switch is short. Your initial runthrough, assuming you're at all good at these types of games and that you figure out the controls (hint: your accuracy goes up if your character is actually looking at what he's shooting at; blindfire is far more stylish than actually useful), might take you between five and six hours, not counting replays. Those are some fun hours, but I'm not sure if they're worth ten dollars each.

With that said, kill.switch is a good shooter, perched on the boundary between realistic and cinematic. It's got a great story, too; while it may not be too hard to figure out for anyone who's ever been in the same room as a cyberpunk novel, its presentation works well. If it had better AI and longer playtime, it'd deserve a place in any shooter fan's library, but as it is, you can't do much better for a weekend rental.

 

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Rating
85%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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