We've been playing the Xbox version of Namco's very cool, upcoming tactical shooter, which is also scheduled for release on the PS2. Get the details here.
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Though Namco is one of those classical Japanese game companies known for titles like Pac-Man and Soul Calibur, the company is actively developing games in the United States as well. Last year's Dead to Rights, an intense Hong Kong movie-style action game, is one of the most notable recent examples, and the soon-to-be-released tactical shooter, kill.switch, will certainly be the next. At a glance, kill.switch seems to draw inspiration from numerous other popular and successful action games, including Metal Gear Solid and Halo. But the sum of these parts appears to be a game that has its own unique look and feel--as well as its own unique features--that will likely be borrowed by other games that follow it. We recently had a chance to play a near-final version of the Xbox game (it's also headed for the PlayStation 2 and later to the PC) and came away impressed by some of the game's unique features and were intrigued by its unorthodox premise.
Kill.switch is a third-person tactical shooter set in the near-future. The game features real-world weapons, like the M4 and AK-47 assault rifles and the M249 squad automatic weapon, or SAW. Kill.switch also features relatively realistic damage modeling. A shot to the head instantly kills most enemies, while a shot to the leg may send them limping away for cover. Flashbang grenades may also be used to blind and deafen groups of foes--who often cry out in pain and send out sprays of bullets in all directions if they're caught in the vicinity of the blast. The game is predominantly set in urban-style environments, and you need to use the terrain to your advantage. As a solo operative, you're heavily outnumbered and outgunned. Your only hope of surviving is by firing from behind cover and cautiously approaching each new area.
It seems ridiculous to have a military shooter with just a single trooper up against these kinds of odds, but the storyline of kill.switch justifies what's going on. Rather than spoil the game's intriguing story, we'll simply say that kill.switch isn't your average military shooter.
When kill.switch was first announced, most of the early information on the game focused on the main character's ability to use what's called "blind fire" from behind cover. Blind fire, also known as the "spray-and-pray" technique, has been used in many action movies when the heroes or the bad guys poke their weapons around a corner and open fire without actually peeking out for fear of getting shot themselves. Blind fire, as the name suggests, is wildly inaccurate by nature. It's used to suppress enemies by preventing them from advancing or gaining the initiative. That's exactly how it works in kill.switch. No, you don't play as some cowardly soldier who's afraid to stick his head up from behind an obstacle to see if the coast is clear. You play as a cautious, highly trained operative who knows when it's not a good idea to stick his neck out.
Blind fire is used in kill.switch either to keep the enemy at bay or when the odds are so great in your favor that you'll certainly end up hitting something. You can use blind fire when ducking under an object or hiding behind corners. In both cases, the effect is highly convincing. It's also very well done, from a control standpoint. The left trigger is used as a context-sensitive "use cover" button. If you're not close to any object, the trigger makes you crouch. If you're near a wall, you'll press your back up to it and can then sidle up to the corner. If you're near a wrecked car, you'll crouch behind it. Then, while pressing and holding the left trigger, the right trigger can be used for blind fire. If you use the left analog stick to lean out from behind cover, you'll fire much more accurately (but leave yourself more vulnerable, in exchange). Using the same technique, you can chuck grenades from behind cover, giving your enemies a nasty surprise.
In addition to the surprisingly intuitive, yet innovative, blind fire feature, kill.switch's health system is also very cleverly done. Many recent games have borrowed from Halo's innovative health system. The game's main character, the master chief, has a recharging energy shield that allows him to sustain considerable damage, but the shield only recharges when the chief is out of harm's way. This forces Halo players to duck behind cover if things get too hot, but in theory, it also makes the master chief practically invincible since there's no real way to permanently wear down his shields.
In kill.switch, your health recovers if you take damage (for reasons that become clear as you play the game), but only to an extent. Your maximum health diminishes as you take hits, but your current health diminishes much faster--which means you'll die quickly if you're caught out in the open. Still, the diminishing maximum health means you need to take care to avoid unnecessary damage, as you can't just smugly sit there and watch the pain go away. Fortunately, you can find health packs that bring your maximum health levels back up.
The enemy artificial intelligence in kill.switch also deserves mention. Your enemies seem to be, for the most part, quite cunning, and they seem to behave realistically. Enemies use the same techniques as you and will hide behind cover, use suppressive fire, and advance cautiously to flush you out. They even use grenades if you're getting too comfortable in a defensible position. The game's animations are quite sharp, as you'll see when enemies' bodies go flying through the air from grenade blasts or when these same enemies successfully manage to dive out of the way of the blasts--only to get shot in the back as they're trying to get up. Kill.switch is definitely a hard-hitting game. It's filled with some pretty impressive-looking action, like when the main character uses the butt of his rifle to knock a bad guy out cold (and there's no blood to be found anywhere). The game managed to squeak by with a "T for teen" rating from the ESRB.
Kill.switch runs at a smooth frame rate, at least on the Xbox version we've been playing, and it sometimes pits you against something like 10 intelligent foes at once. More than once, these encounters have turned into real games of cat-and-mouse. The game rewards deadly, decisive stealth but not the methodical and boring kind featured in other games. Kill.switch, by all means, is a full-bore action game. And while there's no multiplayer mode, or anything similar, there are multiple difficulty settings (normal and hard). Additionally, the artificial intelligence is such that each time you play through a particular encounter, it's at least slightly different. The result appears to be a game that does a great job with what it set out to do--embroil you in the intensity and danger of urban, close-quarters combat.
Kill.switch is scheduled to simultaneously ship for the Xbox and the PlayStation 2. The game was built from scratch and followed an aggressive development schedule, which was only about a year in length. This is probably why the game doesn't offer any multiplayer modes or other frills. On the other hand, both its graphics and gameplay mechanics seem impressive, and the game also has what seems like an engaging storyline. Development on kill.switch was recently completed, and it is scheduled for release in October.