Critical Consensus: Sexism dings Killer is Dead

Suda51's latest draws wide range of scores, cheers for style, jeers for technical mishaps, misogyny

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."

Jon Blyth

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."


One way or another, Killer is Dead's Gigolo Mode raises eyebrows.

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."

Chris Carter

"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."

Joe Juba

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.


Killer is Dead is at its best in combat.

"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.

Latest comments (14)

Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
I haven't played the game but I do feel a point has to be made on objectification in games from a point of game design that is often overlooked. Almost every character, race, group, species in videogames exist to serve a function first. This doesn't apply so much for narrative heavy genre games or some more modern games where narrative and gameplay are informing each other rather than fighting each other for the stage (The Last of Us comes to mind); the innkeeper in an RPG rarely has a life, family or dreams; he's a contextual device that allows the player gain access to heal themselves. No one weeps for them. You won't see innkeepers up in arms over their one-dimensional portrayal as mere drones who only exist to service the player (the manifestation patriarchy) for 100 Gil like some cheap whore (though it would be hilarious if they did...).

With that in mind, how fair is it really to look at women, and women exclusively, through a lens of how human they are to the exclusion of not only all male characters but also all characters of different backgrounds period? Before asking 'what role are women serving in this game' we should be asking 'who role does this game assign to characters? Is it a narrative one? A gameplay function? A mixture of both? And if so, what kind of mixture is it?'. Without asking these questions we run dangerously close to viewing everything from the lens of the modern variety of feminism.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
Jebus Crisp. It sounds as if some reviewers are juveniles who've never seen an underground comic, maybe a bawdy comedy or even read a book of naughty limericks. There's a certain level of mental immaturity or plain ol' puritanism in some critics that's coming to the forefront more and more that's going to suck the soul even more out of games if this goes on.

I think this sort of treatment of creators as people who need to follow a strict set of set of rules in regards to morality or whatever in a clear FICTIONAL work that's not supposed to be dissected in so many ways (is it a fun game to play? Did it make the PART of you not looking over your shoulder for a female colleague/wife/sister/whatever laugh at any point? Do you respect Suda or any other game creator to play their games as separate entitles with their own entertainment goals and NOT throw them under the misogynist microscope?). But whatever... I hope the game does well aside from the hits it's taking on some sites...
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Justin Shuard J - E translator 3 years ago
I think it more boils down to cultural differences than anything else. In Japan and Europe sexual imagery isn't as frowned upon as it is in the U.S., but the reverse tends to be true for violent imagery. I find it a shame that game journos who cry sexism at this are the same ones hoop hollering at the graphic depiction of violence when The Last of Us was first revealed.

Suda51 makes a particular brand pulpy/grindhouse type games that is never going to appeal to everyone. If your feeling wronged to the point of hatred that shouldn't automatically be a mark against the game, but rather it should indicate to you that it might be a better idea to ask someone else to review it.
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Show all comments (14)
Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany3 years ago
"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."

Did Gies play the game? I think he forgot a few detail like... I don't know... the fact that Mondo's behavior makes him the disgusting guy here (hence the word "gigolo" for the minigame instead of another one like "playboy", for example?

I find funny how his own subconscious sexism caused him to misunderstand the whole thing.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany3 years ago
"Jebus Crisp. It sounds as if some reviewers are juveniles who've never seen an underground comic"

Pretty much what I had in my mind now. Sexism is something that must be fought against always. But Some people (including men) seem to be unable (or too biased) to differentiate between sexism and "I'm a man and I like the sight of a woman's body"
Unless you are homosexual (in which case, the only thing that changes is what kind of body causes it) you are programed for that.

I fear some people is taking SOME POV too far away.
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Adam Campbell Producer, Hopster3 years ago
Whilst I certainly don't believe 'cultural differences' means we shouldn't look at and criticise attitudes towards gender, sex or violence amongst other things, however...

...I do agree that a mix of cultural factors and more importantly the style of game, the story and design have an important part to play in how they are portrayed here.

The same can be said for movies that contain 'deeply misogynistic' characters and so on. All things should be considered in such a review.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 3 years ago
@Adam I get the impression from Suda 51's games that cultural differences and point of view aren't factors here. Suda 51 is an eccentric whose games are not, I feel, representative of Japanese videogame development as a whole (which at the moment is geared mostly towards high school students).

I think your point on point of view is also interesting. We often take credit for the achievements of our digital avatar; we didn't gun down those hundreds of baddies or scale those cliffs; Nathan Drake did. We still say 'I' though. It isn't that strange that we identify with characters (or assume a game is attempting to get us to identify with them) when you consider characters existed in games as a way to act as a players avatar first and foremost. I think that old paradigm is in the middle of change and we are going to see fewer games that are told from 'behind the shoulder' (narratively, in terms of character identification and even gameplay).

Edit: Now I think about it I think there is a certain culture of modern feminism that cherry picks the point of view for when and where it suits them. Take a look at Tomb Raider '13 'rape' controversy for example. That game uses the traditional format of placing the player in the shoes of, and getting them to empathise and identify with the protagonist in that game. Yet that particular game was selectively singled out as if the game was played from the perspective of the bandits. When you think about it, going from traditional game narration style to assuming a non-traditional style simply to build an argument around that scene is a fantastical leap of logic.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 28th August 2013 10:47am

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Adam Campbell Producer, Hopster3 years ago

Don't get me wrong, I'm not strictly saying that the content is down to culture, just that it could be a factor when considering the content and approach of some productions.

Here, I cited the specific style, story etc as more important factors. Suda51's games are controversial, edgy, out there, have strong sexual/violent themes and unlikable characters.

Thinking about the reaction in some reviews, I don't necessarily believe we should get upset every time any character - woman, man, <insert race> is portrayed in a way, that shall we say can be 'uncomfortable' for some people, as this is simply the nature of certain media telling a certain story in a certain way.

I'll give an example, I think there should be more black characters and I feel a number of them should be intelligent, law abiding and so on. That also means, I would prefer if not all black people in lead roles were gangsters or some other role that could be seen as negative or stereotypical....

...That said, it doesn't offend me to see black people in games, who are gansters and who are involved in drugs and violence, because in a diverse world, these people and these themes do exist, particularly in the context offered i.e. GTA. Sexualised women and violent misogynistic characters also exist in the world, should we feel offended when these themes show up in games and films?

I realise that could potentially fit into your point about nit-picking.

I don't think I made a specific comment on point of view only that we should consider the nature of the game and story itself when reviewing them.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 28th August 2013 11:53am

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I think the treatment of this game does raise a few issues.

Movies, TV and books have lead characters that have personal flaws such as being misogynistic or racist etc.

By effectively panning a game because a lead character exhibits these personal flaws rather than it seems that the game is bad (it actually seemed to review ok apart from the sexism parts) does that mean games are effectively barred from telling those stories or playing out those scenarios with those characters. Would it matter if it was done better or is it just off limits full stop and does that mean eventually will you only be able to play the good guys and not the bad guys?

With a medium where you actually play the role of the protagonist interactively, is it too damaging for adults to play the "bad" guys?

Personally I don't know and I'm only speaking of the wider issue rather than this one game but they're perhaps the more important questions to ask.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Owens on 28th August 2013 12:37pm

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 3 years ago
Suda51 has his own style for making games, like Quentin Tarentino has his own style in movies. I personally like Suda51's style. It may come of as mysoginistic, but then again the same can be said about the film industry and its porn. I also think feminist woman shouldnt be playing video games, and if they have a complaint, they should just band together and make there own feminist oriented games. They complain about woman with huge boobs running around half naked, so they should make a game with a guy with a huge dong running around half naked. It should make them happy and it wont offend me. Point is I know alot of girl gamers. And they are usually ok with all this. But we have all sorts a games, catered to all sorts a people, like cooking mama, scribblenauts, Mario, Call of Duty, Saints Row, Mass Effect, Zelda. So if a person has a problem with Suda51 ones style or tone, they should play another game. Just like people who have a problem with pornogrophy, they dont have to watch it... and what I dislike is that certain groups of people use a game like this to make a statement about, games in general... and this is just one game that if you dont like you dont have to play. Back in the day there was this game, I never played it cause I thought it was super gay... it was Cho Aniki... however despite being super gay, it was actually quite funny... but its not like anybody bent one of my arms to play it. And its not like I was offended by it. I mention this game cause feminist people or people against, man stuff can go check it out. I personally like boobs, chicks and to see them half naked. Is their a problem? But I also like playing games like Mario Kart and Zelda and Yoshi's island and supermeat boy.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 28th August 2013 4:22pm

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Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 3 years ago
The tone of the reviews suggest that in the post "Donglegate" world (and the subsequent focus on feminine representation and treatment) that it's trendy to be sensitive to sexism.

I can only hope the next trend makes it cool to be less racist and homophobic, the next hurdle the games industry needs to surmount.
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Ralph Tricoche Studying MA, CUNY3 years ago
This is very simple. This is a Suda 51 game. All his games are like this. You can praise No More Heroes for the exact same thing done in Killer is Dead. Or Bayonetta for that matter (although its not a S51 game).
Lets just calm down and talk about the game for the things that are important. Is it fun, are the mechanics there? Will you have a good time playing it. Things like that. Not our personal feelings about the material.
I mean didn't lots of reviewers also like Catherine?
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada3 years ago
It surprises me that reviewers are getting upset about the content of the game, much less surprised. It's a Suda 51 game, through and through, from the sounds of it. That's not my thing, and I think it is offensive, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be made, and judging the game on it's PC-correctness instead of how good of a game it is, is unfortunate.
. Take a look at Tomb Raider '13 'rape' controversy for example. That game uses the traditional format of placing the player in the shoes of, and getting them to empathise and identify with the protagonist in that game. Yet that particular game was selectively singled out as if the game was played from the perspective of the bandits.
Traditional format? Have you actually played the game? You're stuck observing near-rape cutscenes and some profoundly uncomfortable violent/accident scenes, not just then but throughout the game. The game shows a lot more consequences to pain and discomfort than most games do, and it's (imo justifiably) lauded for that. At the same time, it's showing a tough woman going through this stuff, instead of a tough dude, which is why it got attention. There's nothing traditional about it, and it's pretty disturbing to many folks.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online3 years ago
Each of us here is able to read and post in this thread because two people decided to have sex - and not because they decided to shoot each other in the head.
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