kill.switch
Game Info
Platform(s)
Xbox, PS2
Publisher
Namco
Developer
Namco Hometek
Genre
Action/Shooter
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Strong Language, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Cover and blindfire elements are strong
• Enemy A.I. is top-notch
• Great visual and audio ambiance makes combat feel intense

The Bad

• Objectives could be less mundane
• Short and the story could be deeper
• May be frustrating due to the difficulty

 
Grade
B

In a genre that's filled with me-toos and imitators, a game has to have a solid hook to draw players attention. In kill.switch, the hook is the dire need for players to find cover and use it to their advantage, often firing blindly at enemies from behind it. While told in small snippets between and during missions, the storyline is actually quite interesting and refreshing. Players seemingly take on the role of a cybernetically-enhanced mercenary, but after some time, if you pay attention, you'll realize that you're actually playing the role of the man behind the mercenary. And, you aren't a hero. In fact, you're trying to start a war. While it is a nice twist, it's a shame that the player isn't given more of the story to really draw them into the game.

At its core, kill.switch is set up like a standard action/shooter with players being able to control the main character with the two control sticks (much like in Max Payne). Along with the ability to swap weapons with the D-Pad and Black Button, players can toss grenades, hit enemies with their equipped weapon (always good when they get too close) and even dive for cover. The cover aspect (and subsequent firing from behind cover) is a core element that becomes essential to players from the get-go. Once behind cover, players hold down the Left Trigger to either crouch or lean up against a wall. From this vantage point, they can either blindly aim their weapon or even lean out to pick off enemies. Aiming with the Right Stick while behind cover helps to keep from wasting too much ammo. It won't take players too long to figure out how to move through the game, working from one area of cover to another.

During the heat of a gunfight, you'll find yourself taking damage, but luckily, you can heal some back if you seek cover before getting killed. Along the way, you'll be fortunate enough to find ammo and health packs. Players can pick up the weapons and ammo off of dead enemies, which allows a range of weapons to swap through, including the AK47, M4, HK5-SD, AKUG, M1 12-gauge, and even the MCRT-300 sniper rifle (though you have to be careful when using this). Grenades include standard, flash and the sticky variety, all of which have wonderful uses on the battlefield, even if just to get enemies to dive from cover and out into the open.

Enemy AI is pretty sharp and actually a joy to behold. At times, your enemies will use the same tactics you would - hiding behind cover and peeking out for a shot. Lob a grenade their way and they'll jump to avoid the blast. They even pick up on where you're at and focus their fire on your position. Don't be too surprised that the enemy AI can be brutally challenging, especially on the hard difficulty setting. If you try to rush through a level, enemies will be sure to pick you apart before too long. Because of the quality AI and the cover-based structure of combat, players are treated to what I can only imagine street-based guerilla combat feels like. Moving through bullet-riddled buildings to streets littered with gun emplacements gives a wonderful feeling of intense combat.

Levels are laid out in a series of stages in which you have to survive to reach the end. Only at the end of each stage will you be given the ability to save. Considering the steep challenge, especially in certain areas, don't be too shocked about having to redo a stage multiple times before getting through. This in itself can lead to some frustration for those lacking in patience.

Despite the fact that the graphic engine behind kill.switch is built with Renderware (Grand Theft Auto 3 and Wining Eleven 6), it manages to more than make the best of what's available. Character models show some nice detail and have some good animations, although at times I have to wonder why everyone runs, reacts and moves the same way. It's a shame that there isn't a larger variety of enemy models, though, as you feel like you're killing the same handful of people over and over again. Levels are large in size and have a great deal of environmental detail. With some nice ambient effects and some well-executed lighting, kill.switch's levels feel real and do a great job at drawing in the core of the gameplay. One of the nicest elements is seeing the aftermath of a battle in which spent shell casings and bulletholes litter the surrounding area. I do wish that enemy bodies didn't magically disappear, but at least they leave their weapons and ammo for you to use.

I have to give credit to Namco Hometek for paying attention to the little things. If you toss a Flash grenade and it goes off too close to you, the screen goes white and you become very disoriented (I especially liked the high-pitched ringing in your proverbial ears). Also, when you get low on health, the screen acts like you have a bad video feed.

The audio portion of kill.switch is good enough to keep in line with the intense on-screen action. Gunfire and explosions sound just like they should and the commentary from your enemies is always worth listening to, if just to get a bead on what they plan on doing. The music portion may be the biggest point of contention as it's composed of high-octane techno that just sounds way too loud in the default setting. Once you get into the game, you'll want to turn the music down so you can hear the surrounding effects better.

Where kill.switch seems to falter is in a series of related elements - first and foremost, the game's level objectives are pretty plain. Just about every level boils down to moving from point A to point B, killing every enemy in your way. On occasion, you'll be given other objectives, but most of these are pretty mundane, like setting C4, finding a switch or locating a keycard. I wish that more depth had been given to the mission structure, but considering the quality of the cover-based combat, mundane mission objectives can be forgiven.

If you're looking for some pretty intense fire-fights, give kill.switch a try - I'm pretty sure you'll be pleased with what you find. This title proves to be a diamond in the rough that's sure to be missed by most gamers as there's next to no hype surrounding it. Hopefully, Namco Hometek will be able to make a sequel to improve on the few aspects that I think keep this from being a higher-profile title.

- - Kinderfeld

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