June 17, 2024
Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Video Game is the latest asymmetrical horror, but is it invading the genre? The Finger Guns review:

The asymmetrical horror genre is showing no signs of slowing down when turning cult IPs into the new 1v4, 3v5 – you get the picture – slasher hide-and-escape game. Friday the 13th: The Game, despite its tumultuous time in and out of development, has almost as much of a cult following as the franchise it’s set in. However, you could argue that since then we’ve not quite seen the same schlocky success for its peers. Other games in the genre have either lost their player base or content updates within the year of their release; will Killer Klowns share the same fate? Or successfully turn the world into cotton candy?

After a sizeable chunk of hours put into it, it’s still hard to say, but I can try and explain.

I am no spring chicken when it comes to asymmetrical horrors, Dead by Daylight – until recently – has had me in its grasp for about four years. A game I have put over a thousand hours into, despite my best judgment. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, Predator, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, some of which share the same developer as Killer Klowns (Illfonic), have all been a decent-to-fun time, but never something that quite sunk its teeth into me.

I go into these games mostly solo, which of course isn’t the optimal way, but usually the only way most people have to play; until they potentially find a crew while playing. Even with the lower price point that all these games usually release at, it’s still difficult to wrangle four of your friends to escape the clutches of the Deadites or even kill Jason. So with context out of the way, let’s get into my solo experience with Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Video Game.

Sweet Like Cotton Candy

If you’ve got this far, you know that Killer Klowns is an asymmetrical horror based on the cult classic film from 1988. An instant head-turner for anyone familiar with the franchise or asymmetrical games. This isn’t something we’ve seen an abundance of sequels of, nor has it introduced the world to soon-to-be Hollywood stars, or spawned any crossovers with fellow serial killing villains. No, Killer Klowns is a grotesque, absurd, punk-infused fever dream that simultaneously knows what it is, whilst aiming for more, with some brilliant practical effects and an even more whacky almost deadpan style.

The game has taken the basic plot from the movie and chucked it into a 3v7 formula. Spanning across a handful of levels that fans of the film will be familiar with, 3 Klowns are set out to start the beginning of the Klownapocalypse or failing that, killing all 7 of the humans. The humans can’t prevent the Klownapocalypse but instead have 4 different means of escaping. If you’ve played Friday the 13th: The Game, you’ll feel right at home here. It uses a lot of the same gameplay elements that create a bulk of what you do as a human.

Human players will spawn in a random part of the map and will have to scavenge for healing items, weapons to combat the Klowns and collect key items that are used for your escape. For example, the boat will need fuel and a sparkplug to repair and drive off. However, the fuel items can also be used for the bunker or the portal machine requires 2 sparkplugs, making it all about the RNG of you finding items and knowing where to go. All the whilst you’re trying to either run or hide from being a burning sundae.

Killer Kl-ouch

On the other side of alien’s invasion, the Klowns present an interesting new way to being the big bad in asymmetry. The Klownapocalypse is initiated when you’ve powered up all the terminals on the map. Each terminal requires four cotton candy bulbs to fire it up. These are casually lying around the map, but also one of the ways to get rid of the pesky humans. Your main weapon can build up a human’s meter, which when full creates a bulb containing the player, putting them in a dying state.

Once hooked up to the terminal, other players can rescue them by peeling them out of their cotton candy cocoon. But if they die in there, it’s a permanent fixture, which not only makes the Klowns one step closer to the end game but creates Lackeys that wander around the terminal as an act of defence. In the midst of all the collating of cocoons, you can hinder humans’ escape by blasting cotton candy on escape routes to slow them down, hunting players down when they’re alone or defending the terminals. It feels the most varied aspect of the overall gameplay, as well as the most distinctive when compared to others in the genre.

You can play both roles by yourself with some varying degrees of success, but Killer Klowns more than ever rewards coordination. I can’t hate how easily it is to be overwhelmed if you’re one Klown up against even two competent humans, as the players are just playing how it’s intended. However, if there’s no communication on your end and you’ve got The Warriors turning up with bats and shotguns, you can easily come away feeling defeated.

Another Door?!

To the same effect, I’ve jumped into a quickplay, spawning in as a human mid-match, in front of a Klown, without any resources and killed within 30 seconds. There is a revive machine for humans that can be used once, but if you’re unlucky enough to have loaded in after its use then it’s Game Over. I definitely appreciate the fast loading times and how easy it is to get into a game, but I’d much rather wait a little longer for a more even experience.

In an attempt to offset the downtime from being dead when playing as a human, there is a neat mechanic where you’ll play pixel art carnival-themed minigames, netting you an item to give to an alive player. Some of them are innocuous like a small healing item, but others could be their means of escape because it’s a key item. If you’re feeling greedy and there’s a chance of respawning, you can also keep them for yourself to aid your next life.

All of this is sound in theory, but in the practicality of all the hours I’ve played, I’ve probably seen its use in a couple of games. Mostly to keep the human alive a little longer with a hamburger or energy drink. I like that it also gives the dead person something to do whilst waiting for the next match, but more often than not the player you’re spectating has a full inventory and the item you win won’t help at all, so I ended up not bothering most of the time.

Another DOOR?!?!

It’s still early doors for the game’s official full release and the matches feel awkwardly balanced. Those who are still trying to learn the game will absolutely struggle, like myself, on either side of the team. Klowns have a bunch of abilities to choose from for their loadouts. You won’t be able to use them immediately as they start with a timed cooldown to unlock. However, when they are unlocked, the cooldowns are too fast. Some of them are fine as they are like teleporting across the map, but ones that buff the Klown’s healing and increase their damage can be used in the match far too often.

On the other side, I’ve found myself going almost whole matches without finding a means to escape. During some of the quick time events when ripping off cotton candy from a machine or repairing it, my button prompts don’t register in time with the game, alerting Klowns to my position. Killer Klowns for sure has the acquired taste that Friday 13th had as the gameplay is just overall clunky, cumbersome and a little bit buggy at this stage.

The game looks great at the surface level. The Klowns have a fantastic design that really comes to life here, whilst the humans don’t have the same attention to detail. You can edit the human characters to change their appearance to your liking, some of which have that perfect 80s punk-style but it’s all locked behind high levels. The levels are a great representation of the locations of the film, with fantastic lighting but when bushes are brick walls and navigation is tedious, it can’t shake off the jank entirely.

Klown And Out

Whilst Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Video Game has made a concerted effort to get players into a match quickly and easily. Whether that’s by the broad use of crossplay or using bots, there needs to be some stipulations in place to ensure everyone gets into a match that won’t utterly blitz you immediately. This game, more than other asymmetrical horrors, has had the most uneven experience across the board. The problem is pervasive across whichever side you play with, to the point where I can’t quite give a definitive answer on how I’d want it to be fixed, or maybe I’m just absolutely terrible at the game.

Either way, I had considerably more miserable games than ones where I had genuine fun and felt like I was on an even playing field. You would think the Klowns might be overpowered, but the humans and the players behind them have had a distinct level of deviousness that can really drag down the experience. If they’re not bullying the Klowns, they’re escaping within seconds and leaving with key items and immediately lowering the chance for escape.

With time, balancing, and hopefully a nicer pool of players (I’m not holding out hope) this will be just another fine asymmetrical horror. Killer Klowns does have a distinct flavour that sets itself apart and has actually proven how games can approach the genre differently, but it’s still quite a ways out for being a game that I’ll put those hours into. Despite having a ton of lore collectibiles to find, the franchise itself doesn’t have a lot to go on for future updates or many incentives to play outside of the gameplay but I can see the vision, I just don’t love it at this state.

With an interesting take on the core gameplay of asymmetrical horror and a clear love for the franchise, Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Video Game is dreadfully unbalanced and unforgiving for solo players. Whilst the game has great art direction, the animation and overall movement feels dated. If you like the franchise or indeed Illfonic’s asymmetric outings you can probably dig this, but otherwise it’s not all too memorable.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Video Game is available now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam.

Developer: Illfonic, Teravision Games
Publisher: Illfonic

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

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