Reviewed: January 12, 2004
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Kill Switch is one of those games that has received very little public hype even though the media press mailings have been flooding our inbox for months prior to its release. Namcoís latest high-tech action shooter borrows on elements from several genres and even a few specific titles like Splinter Cell and is probably the biggest Namco surprise since Dead to Rights .
Even though Kill Switch emulates several existing military shooters it does offer some exclusive new gameplay features including Offensive Cover and Blindfire tactics. Making use of conventional warfare tactics, you will be required to utilize the surrounding environments to progress through more than 15 levels filled with enemies controlled by some very sophisticated AI that uses the very same tactics available to you.
There is even a decent story included to chain the missions together complete with cinematic flashback sequences and a suspenseful plot that will have you invested in this game from beginning to end.
Kill Switch is a traditional third-person action shooter that gives you various objectives then dumps you into one of more than a dozen detailed environments populated with countless enemy soldiers. You pretty much have to kill everything that moves to progress through the level and accomplish your goals. While the goals may vary the gameplay between these goals often gets very repetitious, even with the new tactical elements.
Offensive Cover is the new buzzword and it basically means you get to hide around corners or behind boxes or furniture then pop out and unleash a quick volley of bullets before taking cover. Itís a very cool concept in theory but the designers seem to have designed the entire game around this single element. Almost every encounter in the game is designed around you hiding behind something then systematically shooting down the opposing forces one man at a time.
To make things harder and quite realistic, the enemies also make use of any available cover, also peeking out to take pot shots at you. To combat this advanced AI you have what is called Blindfire, the second buzzword and a feature that has been a long time coming. Blindfire is basically you sticking your gun around the corner or over the top of a sofa or box and firing in the general direction of the enemy without looking. While you arenít likely to kill very many soldiers this way it does ďencourageĒ the enemy to dive for cover. Then you can pop out and shoot them as they reappear.
Kill Switch is hard, very hard. Enemy fire does realistic damage and you can find your health meter emptied with a few lucky shots. Med kits are few and far between and even though your health does recoup at a very slow rate, your best survival tactic is slow methodical gameplay where you simply donít take any damage in the first place.
A lot of the difficulty is due to the impressive AI, perhaps the most impressive AI of any tactical shooter to date, even those serious games that start with Tom Clancy. The AI mimics human behavior in an almost uncanny way. I havenít got my butt kicked this good in a non-online game ever. The enemy has the capacity to not only locate your position by the direction of your fire but also plan elaborate strategies to pin you down with fire while other soldiers try to flank your position. If you are fast and stealthy enough you can actually use this behavior to your advantage by baiting them into a one-man ambush.
Your arsenal includes an impressive collection of firearms including machineguns, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, and shotguns. There are eight weapons in all ranging from multipurpose weapons to special guns for special situations. Stealth plays a significant part in your bag of tactical tricks and the silenced HK5-SD 9mm will quickly become your new best friend. All weapons have a melee butt-attack and you can zoom most weapons to some degree in a realistic first-person aiming mode. The icing on the cake is a nice selection of explosives and grenades.
Kill Switch offers some surprising graphics. The character models are detailed and move with lifelike realism. I do have to complain about the lack of variety in the enemy soldiers, there are only about five unique character models. Your character has some impressive textures and the weapons and equipment are realistically rendered on your character. You run, walk, creep, duck, and stick to a wall with fluid movements that are almost as slick as Sam Fisher from Splinter CellÖalmost.
The levels are quite convincing with realistic architecture and decayed environments that show real-time damage from combat. There are plenty of atmospheric effects like rain and dust and the lighting and particle effects are outstanding. The Xbox version definitely offers the best visual experience with HDTV support for 16:9 TVís and progressive scan.
A game like this really begs for killer surround sound but we are left with standard Dolby surround that while not as spatial as a true 5.1 mix does manage to offer a surprisingly decent gameplay experience. The various weapons all have unique and pleasing sounds that are crisp and powerful.
There are plenty of cutscenes and in-game speech and all of the voice work is excellent. Youíll hear plenty of chatter among the enemy that really adds to the frenzied combat experience and might actually give away their position.
The soundtrack is just as good as the rest of the sound package and could easily be mistaken for a film score. Not only are the individual tracks very professional, the themes vary in style and are cued to the gameplay so the tempo and theme changes to match the onscreen action adding just the right emotional impact.
Even though Kill Switch offers more than 15 missions most of these are relatively short and the entire game is over in less than 8 hours on the normal skill level. If you kick this up to the harder level the game gets downright brutal and will obviously take longer, but only because you will die more often.
Even so, you will probably want to play through Kill Switch at least twice just to experience the tactical challenge of being outnumbered 12 to one in some very precarious situations. This game offers an adrenaline rush unlike any other game in the same genre.
While Iíve been looking forward to this title for several months Iím guessing this latest Namco release is going to take a lot of unsuspecting gamers by surprise. Kill Switch is likely the best-kept secret of the holiday season and hopefully word of mouth will help sell this outstanding shooter.
Even though the gameplay is a bit lacking in length and diversity you canít help but admit the game is just plain fun to play, and the level of difficulty will provide a challenge for jaded veterans of the genre. If you donít get it for any other reason, you owe it to yourself to play Kill Switch just to see the next generation of enemy AI in action.