Third person shooters have long been one of the mainstays of console gaming. With blockbuster hits such as Metal Gear Solid and Syphon Filter, quasi-military shoot-em-ups have been thrilling gamers for quite some time. Now Namco, a Japanese based company known more for their classic approach to games, which include the timeless Pac-Man, is stepping into the red-blooded macho-man genre with their newest one-man-army title kill.switch.
Set in the near future, kill.switch places you, a lone soldier, in the midst of dangerous combat. To survive, you'll have to make the most of your surrounding environment, and this is where kill.switch's unique premise comes into play. When up against incredible odds, you'll be forced to duck and cover behind various objects in the area, using them to protect you from the barrage of enemy fire. Objects you'll hide behind vary from automobiles to pillars to a stack of tires. Whenever hiding behind these obstacles, you're fairly safe, unless you manage to let your enemy flank you and come up from behind, in which case it's game over. To prevent the enemy from obtaining this type of advantage, you can make use of a technique known as "blind fire", which allows you to, you guessed it, fire blindly from behind cover. This isn't supposed to be used to take out the enemy, but rather keep them at bay, hiding themselves, until you can break cover and pick them off one at a time. However, in the playable demo, blind fire works all too well. Often times, even when ducking behind a doorway or car, you can hit your enemies with ridiculous accuracy, with shots you should never be able to pull off. This is because, for some reason, you're able to target some enemies even when supposedly firing blindly, or "spraying and praying". This usually happens when targeting enemies who've taken the high ground in the second story of buildings, which really makes no sense, because if you can hit them without "breaking cover", logic would dictate you'd be pretty easy pickings yourself. Hopefully this is just a small kink that will be worked out before the game's release.
Either way, that minor problem shouldn't indicate that kill.switch is a walk in the park. You're still going to rely on covering fire to drive your enemy back until you can advance on them. The easiest way to do this is to take cover, then use the R1 button to lay down some covering fire. Once you've driven the enemy back, you can pop out using the L1 button to target more accurately, then duck back before the enemy advances again. Alternatively, you could wait for your enemy to approach a bit, and then toss a grenade from behind cover, ruining their uniform and their day.
No matter what your tactics are, you'll have the best and most realistic weapons with which to achieve your goal. kill.switch lets you get your gun off with real world pieces such as AK-47's, M4 assault rifles, and SAWs (squad automatic weapon). Gunfire in the game is quite realistic, as you not only hear the report of the shot, but the action of the machines as they cast off spent shells, which is certainly a nice touch.
Less realistic is the way the health system in the game works. When you've taken damage, some of your health will recover when out of harm's way, though not all of it. The flip side is that running out in the open is a very quick ticket to violent death, as you can't just walk down the street Rambo-style for more than about 3 seconds. This makes for a nice balance, since you'll have to decide when to get ballsy and when to let discretion be the better part of your valor. This process is made even more difficult by the incredibly intelligent enemy AI in the game, which will use all the cunning tricks that you do- they'll use cover, blind fire, and attempt to flank you. Much unlike games such as Syphon Filter, enemies don't just blindly run at you with Roman gusto, waiting to be gunned down. They'll be just as sneaky as you, which makes every kill that much more satisfying, because you earned it.
Graphically, kill.switch isn't the most impressive of games, but it certainly looks nice. Set in mostly urban environments with that near-future apocalyptic look, you'll find yourself in deserted cities littered with the decay of civilization. The one level I played through featured my character making his way through what can only be described as a modern day ghost town. There were modern buildings and other objects, but the entire area was deserted, save the bad guys, and the streets were filled with dust that billowed up and around, blinding me for short periods of time. These types of settings really make for a nice combination of modern day warfare with a wild-west attitude, and since this isn't something we see a lot, if at all, in this genre, it is certainly nice to see.
The character models were also well drawn, but don't expect anything as extraordinary as Metal Gear Solid 2. The characters move fluidly enough, and have fairly good detail, but they also have that blankness to them that has plagued character models since the days of the NES. The weapons, however, are much better done, easily recognizable for what they are, and the way they work when firing off a few rounds is quite realistic. Even with a good grip, you'll see your weapon ride up just a bit when you let out a stream of bullets.
The only real problem encountered in the playable demo was the somewhat hinky controls. Aiming your weapon accurately took a bit more effort than it should have, as the analog sticks had a somewhat jerky response. Of course, in a game where accuracy is paramount, such a problematic control scheme makes it rather difficult to achieve your objective- the total elimination of your enemy. However, given that this was an unfinished build of the game, it is easy to expect that these problems will be ironed out before the game ships later this fall.
These days it is getting harder to find military shooters with something unique to offer. While kill.switch may seem like a one trick horse, relying on the cover system, it blends action and stealth together well enough that the fun factor should make it worth a look for any serious action gamer. Kill.switch is currently set to release later this fall on both the Playstation2 and Xbox, and we'll have more coverage of this game as soon as possible.
9/30/2003 Ryan Hartmann