April 23, 2024
While functional, Killsquad is a bland and uninspired twin-stick shooter that feels ultimately skippable. The Finger Guns review:

Killsquad first appeared all the way back in 2019 on PC. Four years on, the team at Novarama have ported the game onto consoles, with all the guns, swords and wacky character designs you could ever need. Basically, it’s been a hot minute for the game, so has it been worth the wait to get our hands on it via regular old controller?

Probably not, unfortunately.

Despite Killsquad’s colourful appearance and chaotic looking trailers, the actual game feels as hollow as a Kinder Egg that’s had the interior gift surgically removed. As a twin-stick shooter, it needs to be quick, challenging, engaging and ultimately fun, all traits which the game sadly fumbles from the very moment you load into your first contract.

Alas, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Ready to take on the Feds and the… aliens? Hope so, I certainly wasn’t.

Kill This Switch

If you were coming into Killsquad with any semblance of hope for a semi-interesting story or even an intriguing lore, well, I’ve got bad news for you. You play as one of five available mercenaries for hire. Each “character” is as flimsy as those paper bridges you build at corporate work away days, with forgettable dialogue and horrid one-liner quips.

Your boss is called Momma… for some reason. There are aliens abound and various factions (read… two?) who apparently are at logger-heads though I can’t say I was particularly well read about the situation. Most of Killsquad’s story is told through a tiny smattering of one-way dialogue and a smidgen of text information provided when loading into a level.

To call it bland would be an understatement of rather epic proportions. The voice lines are delivered with the gusto of a damp squib and some of the text exposition has typos in it, so there’s that. I found very little to latch onto that actually told me anything about the world. Plus, if I have to hear my character embarrassingly meek out “it’s high noon” ever again it may well be the end of me.

While I applaud any attempt to create a unique gaming universe, this just isn’t the one. Also, I struggle to call it creative when voice lines are ripped verbatim from other games with no attempt to differentiate or even satire it. A crying shame, indeed.

Killsquad review

There They Are… Blast Them!

Admittedly, most twin-stick shooters aren’t exactly gunning for the end of year story awards. Instead, they’re generally focused on high-octane and satisfying gameplay. While Killsquad fares ever so slightly better in this regard compared to its story, that isn’t much of a compliment.

It controls as you might expect – left analogue stick to move, right to aim and fire. Your shoulder and face buttons are mapped to your dodge and specials. Thankfully, Killsquad’s controls are functional and work well, for the most part. Unthankfully, the rest of the gameplay dries up faster than Spongebob out of water.

Whether you’re a melee focused or ranged combatant, the entire gameplay loop will consist of holding the analogue sticks, rotating a couple of specials (forgetting about the awkwardly mapped ones), before walking across chunks of unnecessarily large maps doing next to nothing. Your basic attacks and abilities don’t feel particularly satisfying thanks to a lack of audio and visual feedback and enemies have a habit of becoming rather spongey, making your weapons seem like they’re made of polystyrene.

Some of the effects and colourful explosions look nice at points, but between the enemies that can trigger specials on you without warning, the bosses that erect permanent shields which make ranged characters utterly pointless and foes that can circle strafe around your ability to aim at them, it’s a tough old sell to actually have fun with Killsquad at times.

Killsquad review

Wasted Squad, Wasted Time

You might think my concerns and frustrations would be alleviated playing the game in co-op as opposed to solo. You know, how every game is more fun with friends? Not so, sadly. I partied up with fellow Finger Gunner Josh and we both in unison found ourselves uninterested. When a particularly bothersome mission reset 10 minutes of arduous progress thanks to a frankly stupid objective we called it quits and played something else.

Said mission involved running between designated safe points at intervals to avoid gas clouds – while being accosted by enemies we couldn’t hit as they could fire from further distances than we could. More aggravatingly, you could only move to the next point the game decided, even if the one after that was actually closer or reachable. Boring level design and inane objectives only serve to undermine the game’s limited fun even more.

I experimented with every available character to try out different compositions and abilities and found even less enjoyment. Melee characters can’t attack bosses without getting minced themselves, while Josh’s healing character could barely do a pittance of damage and his healing “ability” involved him just dumping out medkits.

It all works and if you have a team of four, perhaps the synergy between all the classes might mix into something resembling entertainment. We unfortunately just found it distinctly average and with too many small issues that prevent the game hitting any kind of stride and momentum. We also couldn’t really work out if the game scales characters up or down depending on host and guest level, as I’d join Josh’s lower-ranked missions and do the same amount of damage as in my own and vice versa.

Killsquad review

Contract Voided

During contracts, you’ll either find via chests or be rewarded with various resources or credits. Between missions, you can spend credits at the shop to acquire higher level weapons, equipment and usable items. Your level is determined by the average of your gear, with contracts being nigh-on impossible if you aren’t at the requisite level.

Sounds like your typical progression system in an ARPG or twin-stick style game. It does however, run into the problem of if you fall prey to a level that stonewalls you and waste your items, you can run out of credits to improve or upgrade. Meaning, you’ll need to replay older contracts again. I cannot tell you how tedious that process is. Given that maps and enemies are reused after about 5-6 contracts, it’s just repetition on top of repetition. Repetiception.

Upgrading weapons can have effective and satisfying impacts on your weapons and equipment stats, but it doesn’t fundamentally make the game more exciting. There are three tiers of contracts you’ll unlock via branching paths, with each tier making enemies tougher and basically reducing your ability to deal damage.

There’s a decent chunk of content between the available contracts and unlockable colosseum modes which pit you against waves of enemies for powerful rewards. Whether you want to play the content on offer is a whole other matter. One mechanic that is a bit more novel in Killsquad is the levelling up within missions. You start every contract at level one. As you kill enemies, you progress up to level ten, activating your equipped character upgrades at certain intervals.

It creates a slightly fun dynamic of starting off every contract slightly underpowered but then growing through every mission until the boss. It would also incentivise exploring to make sure you defeat low level enemies before moving on, if the exploration was actually worth it. Which it isn’t. It’s a decent idea but it feels a bit short changed owing to Killsquad’s lack of ingenuity and uninteresting level design.

Killsquad review

Bright Yet Lackluster

To its credit, Killsquad does at least have a colourful presentation, some relatively cool character designs and cosmetics and a decent attempt at a more thoughtful upgrade tree for each character. Graphically, the game is undone by some major texture pop-in issues throughout levels and strange oddities like the menu locking up for chunks of time in the post-mission screen.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I hated Killsquad. Far from it. It’s just a pure example of a smaller budget game that wants to capture the feel of a great twin-stick shooter but fumbles so many of the core fundamentals. I’ll always applaud anyone who has a crack at making a decent, functional video game, which this is. It’s just unfortunately uninspired, unengaging and at times, unenjoyable.

I gave it a good go for a few hours before the bullet sponge enemies, the ridiculously unfair enemy mechanics and the bottlenecked progress systems made it too much. I’d recommend it only if you have an untreated addiction to twin-stick shooters or if you have three friends you want to get revenge on as you watch them get owned by an unavoidable enemy attack.

Killsquad’s attempt at a twin-stick shooter unfortunately falls flat in almost every aspect of its design. The competent but bland combat, aesthetically interesting but boring presentation and poorly balanced mechanics lead to a functional but ultimately lifeless video game. It’s not bad, it’s just not a lot of fun to actually play.

Killsquad is available July 20th for PlayStation 4/5 and is available now on PC.

Developer: Novarama

Publisher: Novarama

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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