Grasshopper Manufacture's Suda51 has a reputation. Through games like Killer 7 and No More Heroes, the developer made a name for himself as a creator of stylish, zany, and frequently violent experiences. Suda's latest game, Killer is Dead for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, launched in North America today to a spread of reviews as unusual as the developer's signature style.
The highest score on Metacritic as of this writing is a 9 out of 10 for the Japanese release of the game from Eurogamer Germany's Björn Balg, while the lowest clocks in at a mere 4 out of 10, that grade given by Jon Blyth of the UK's Official Xbox Magazine. Interestingly enough, the scores break down cleanly based on the language in which they were penned. The 12 English language reviews on Metacritic top out at 70 percent, while the seven non-English reviews (Spanish, Italian, and German) go no lower than 80 percent.
"I've not felt wronged by a game to this degree in a long time. Hatred just about captures the emotion."
Despite the scores, many of the strengths and weaknesses detailed by the reviewers are the same. Balg praised the game's combat and over-the-top style, but still acknowledged problems with the camera and some clunky mechanics, while Blyth calls the game's combat a robust, rewarding system worthy of being called "not awful." Given the rest of the scatchingly negative review, that reads like over-the-top praise.
"I've not felt wronged by a game to this degree in a long time," Blyth wrote. "Hatred just about captures the emotion. Killer is Dead has the kernel of an acceptable game, swathed in unlikable characters, a Benny Hill attitude to women, alienating self-regard and some obnoxious gameplay decisions. It's impossible to recommend."
The game's treatment of women was a common point of discussion in the reviews, though it wasn't always handled the same way. In his 4.5 out of 10 review, Polygon's Arthus Gies took exception to the game's "Gigolo Mode" in which players attempt to bed women at a bar by leering at their anatomy without being caught and giving them gifts.
"Killer Is Dead is deeply misogynistic," Gies said. "Even stepping outside of the overwhelming ick-factor of the gigolo aspects, every female character in the game exists to be rescued, killed, gawked at or f**ked for an in-game item."
To be fair, Gies took exception to nearly everything else in the game as well.
"While Killer is Dead may not push the current generation of consoles visually, I'm a huge fan of the style itself."
"It's difficult to understate how shoddily assembled every piece of Killer Is Dead feels, with the exception of a soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka that is evocative and slick and also completely out of place," Gies said. "The game is a litany of every crappy video game issue of the last several years (or even a decade or two): The camera is horrendous, 'sticking' on enemies and blocking the view of the game at the worst possible time; the screen tears in multiple places almost all the time, including the frequent moments when Mondo is running from one place to another with no fanfare or challenge to impede him."
Not every reviewer shared those issues. In his 7 out of 10 review, Destructoid's Chris Carter didn't mention any technical issues with the game at all. While Carter said the game lacked the distinctive stamp of a Suda project, he clearly enjoyed much of its distinctive presentation.
"While Killer is Dead may not push the current generation of consoles visually, I'm a huge fan of the style itself," Carter said. "There's an almost ghastly, mystical element to the art design, often times accented with motion blurs, buckets of blood, and smooth, neon colors. While the characters themselves aren't usually interesting, their designs are unique and memorable."
Carter also had kind words for the game's combat system, calling it fun, if not necessarily deep and technical. As for the touchy subject of sexism, Carter described what happens in the game's Gigolo Mode, but refrained from making much of a qualitative assessment of them, other than to say they were too easy.
"Killer is Dead is intriguing - despite a mounting pile of evidence showing that it should be terrible."
Game Informer's Joe Juba gave Killer is Dead a 6 out of 10, suggesting it lived up to Suda's reputation as a developer who creates games that are stylish and cool, but frequently marred by missteps.
"Killer is Dead is intriguing - despite a mounting pile of evidence showing that it should be terrible," Juba said. "The characters and story are so outlandish and bizarre that they are fascinating - but the nonsense and clunky mechanics never coalesce into a satisfying experience. It lures you in with the promise of something unique, then botches the execution."
And on the subject of Gigolo Mode, Juba seemed slightly hesitant to pass judgment on it, but ultimately disapproving.
"Everyone has different thresholds for what they consider offensive, but the whole gigolo thing is just embarrassing," Juba said. "The women aren't even characters - they're just awkward, wooden sexbots that repeat inane phrases as you ogle them."
Regardless of what they scored Killer is Dead, reviewers were largely in agreement on the game's relative strengths and weaknesses. The combat is simple, but solid. Yamaoka's score is well done, and the game employs an anything-goes approach to characters and story events that is anything but normal. However, critics also dinged the game for technical issues, a story that lacks coherence, and its problematic treatment of women.