If there’s one thing we’d change about this generation of gaming, it’s the influences on game design that have come from F2P and mobile games. The sort of baffling complexity that got introduced during the PS4-era that creates such bad first impressions whenever we fire up a new game. Now, yes, we know that makes us sound a bit like ‘old man shouting at clouds’ but Killsquad is a perfect example of it.
Developed by Spanish studio Novorama, back in 2019 (for PC), Killsquad is a top-down twin-stick shooter/slasher/brawler that has been designed with four-player online co-op in mind and feels something like a cross between the dungeon-crawling of Diablo with the sci-fi faffing around of a Destiny. Although, more simply, it’s just a lot like Helldivers, the inexplicably popular PS3/4/Vita game. But, while we’re dropping in comparisons, the game also has a bit of Overwatch in there when it comes to character designs.
Anyway, the game sees you playing as part of a titular Killsquad, a team of bounty hunters who raid planets taking on missions and executing targets. You can pick from a shooter, healer, assassin and brawler as you take on each mission.
These missions play out as skirmishes that run from left to right through each mission with the boss punctuating the level over on the far reaches at the right of the level. You can usually run some distance up or down, to search for loot or collectables, but generally that’s the direction of travel. The levels however are a little bit bland and very repetitive. There’s a degree of randomness to them to which also leads to them lacking a bit of character.
The game uses an ‘aim to shoot’ twin-stick system (which is the best way to do it) and equips you with a couple of special abilities. These can be added to as you progress through the game but, interestingly, extra abilities aren’t available to you at the start of missions. This is because you’ll start each mission as a level one character and will need to level up before your extra abilities unlocks. It’s a bit odd but it’s alright, it pretty much works.
So why were we ranting at the start of this review? Well, that’s because of all the additional faff that games like this throw in. You’ve got your classes, skills, cosmetics, weapons, gadgets, support gadgets, prototype gadgets, talismans, credits, DNA, resources. It’s immediately exhausting. Each weapon has elemental damage and upgrades, your support and prototype gadgets have upgrades too. There’s just so much unnecessary nonsense to think about.
It’s just a lot of additional nonsense. Micro-management toss that just gets between you and the action. And none of it is intuitive either. The skill tree screen is just immediately hard to read and understand and has a system of TEC points and nodes which mean you can unlock loads of skills and upgrades but you can’t actually apply them all at once. And to be honest, most of them are pretty weak and underwhelming.
In fact, that’s a running them. Sure, you’ll pick up (or buy) new weapons and gear and it’ll level you up but the game levels up at the exact same pace, so you never feel strong. At the start of a mission, the game will tell you what elemental damage to aim for and what type to avoid but, honestly, it doesn’t make a huge difference. Everything takes a lot of damage, especially the bullet-sponge bosses, and means that most battles come down to you dealing a bit of damage, dodging around until your cooldowns clear and then rinsing and repeating until whatever is troubling you falls over.
Now, that’s not to say it’s all bad. Beating a tough level with good use of skills and tactics is definitely very rewarding but Killsquad doesn’t follow it up with good loot (there’s loot but it’s never particularly exciting), so it all just feels a bit flat at times.
We’re playing this is two-player co-op mostly and we’ve just finished Outriders which was much better at giving you loot that felt, temporarily at least, like a bit of a boost to your character, rather than these tiny upgrades.
However, Killsquad’s biggest issue comes from its PC roots. It has one of the worst console interfaces ever. It’s okay in actual gameplay (although pretty much every button is used for something) but in the menu screens it’s just awful. From having to use cursors, needing to select everything before you interact on it (this is hard to explain but so often leads to you buying the wrong bit of gear), unintuitive controls that vary from screen to screen and really bad screen optimisation, it’s just all a bit of a mess.
That last point is very telling. The menus screens have a weird distortion to text which comes from it not being designed for a TV display. There’s a slight lack of clarity to the pixels on the text which makes everything look cheap and nasty. Add to that the mission select screen which has some of the tiniest text we’ve seen in a game and it’s just so badly optimised that it makes you feel like this port was a complete afterthought.
Indeed, the visuals are pretty weak throughout with everything being just about good enough to qualify but nothing excelling. From generic character and enemy designs, boring environments that are often nonsensical in terms of their real world design (there are lots of dead ends and bridges to nowhere) and a lot of on-screen mess when you’re battling enemies, this isn’t a great looking game. And when you add in the weak sound effects, it makes the combat feel pretty flat and not as dynamic as it should be. Compare this to Housemarque’s Nex Machina, and it feels like this should be the cheaper game (which it isn’t).
And yet, there we were last night barely surviving missions but making it thanks to a combination of decent tactical play and some heroics from my co-op buddy and it sort felt like Killsquad was pressing the right buttons. Of course, most games are improved by having online co-op and twin-stick shooters are one of our favourite genres, but you have to give the game credit where deserved.
Sure, it’d have been better if the game awarded us with meaningful and exciting loot and if the combat was dynamic and impressive but everything is functional enough and once you get past the initial learning curve, it does all start to make sense (although annoyingly some levels are gated behind collectables but doesn’t tell you what level they are on, so you have to start replaying levels hoping to find them).
Overall, this is okay though. It’s not great, it’s not impressive but it’s a shooter (well it was mainly for me because of the class I picked, the others weren’t as enjoyable) and it works well in co-op. It might not have much worth for single players but if you’re looking for some basic looting and shooting with friends (or cross-platform randoms), this should do a job in the short term.
+ Lots of variety between playable classes
+ Some scope for tactical play
- Bland levels and generic enemies
- Awful menu interface