Do you enjoy twin-stick shooters or objective modes in multiplayer games? Some readers may answer with a prompt, exuberant yes. I would, but others might take time mulling the question over. That’s fine. Although Kill Strain shares similarities to League of Legends and Dota 2, how much mileage players get from this top-down title will correlate with their tolerance for server discon— Err, I mean domination-based, dual-analog combat.
That MOBA analogy was no mistake, either. Kill Strain lacks creeps, and the sole map doesn’t have lanes so much as it has choke points, yet several genre staples still apply. Every faction comes equipped with its own base. Destroy the enemy’s or vice versa, the game ends. Turrets protect your outpost while teams run off and play soldier, but dismantling hostile artillery puts a stop to that firepower permanently. As you level up during a match, that stunt no longer seems insurmountable.
The rest of Kill Strain is an arguable blunder, even though its premise drew me in. Skirmishes throw three squads into life-or-death engagements. Eight humans (separated into sets of four) face two mutants. With mercenaries siding with or against each other, the asymmetric rivalries should be an effortless endorsement for Kill Strain, but this year’s Dead Star already beat the developers to the punch. In Dead Star, a third cruiser would interrupt the galactic dogfights on occasion, incentivizing teams to stall their brawl and pursue a more substantial bounty. With Kill Strain, at least threesomes are the standard, not a scarce occurrence.
What is a rare occurrence is finishing a match. Server complications tormented Kill Strain after launch, and it’s uncommon for all ten competitors that join a lobby to see the final scoreboard. I assumed my opponents were sick of losing or fed up with their talentless teammates, so they bowed out of the game. I quickly learned that’s not the case. Murdered by somebody’s special ability? Kicked. Going on a killstreak? Dropped. Waiting to respawn? That’s a disconnect.
In three days, I completed nine – nine! – games despite queueing for four times that many (on Friday, I was able to survive another handful). But further issues, like the periodic freezes, sap convictions to continue playing. During a freeze, allies and enemies remain immobile while you wander the map. In this virtual prison, whether or not the timer reaches zero, escaping requires you to shut down Kill Strain and forfeit any financial and challenge progress made.
Is the player population too much for the servers to cope? The sum of people online peaked at 1,800 for me. Developer San Diego Studio released Kill Strain as a PlayStation Plus freebie (it makes a public debut next Tuesday), so the low numbers aren’t exactly encouraging. I almost withheld my analysis of the game’s current state until the studio cured these headaches.
But consider, for a moment, the realization that fans may spend money on Kill Strain right now. Coveting extra characters, gold, and upgrades? Open that wallet. While you cannot lose your microtransactions by leaving in the middle of a match, something that audiences buy with their hard-earned cash is, in essence, worthless when network dilemmas do arise. Sorry, no double experience for little Johnny.
Maybe I’d be more lenient with Kill Strain if there was a single-player mode to tide participants over during downtimes (besides training missions, there’s not), or if its subreddit wasn’t littered with posts that describe ongoing errors from a month ago. If the past predicts future woes, the developers have a rocky road ahead.
As for the present, it hurts to say – yes, in spite of my server-related rant – I did not delight in playing Kill Strain. I love twin-stick shooters, and I loiter in the objective gametypes whenever I revisit Battlefield, Call of Duty, etc. Throw in a top-down perspective and Kill Strain could be a somewhat successful marriage of both concepts, right?
Not when a match kicks off the same as the last two dozen. The humans sprint towards their respective mining stations from camp. Capturing the drilling facility allows it to produce energy canisters that heroes then ferry to a central processing plant, which hastens your team’s mech production. When breaching a base’s fortifications, robotic armor has its benefits. But with only one depot to go around, the team that fails to control the drop zone risks a thrashing.
The mutants are the wild cards. Coating the ground is the so-called strain, which monsters may spread via their abilities. A messy puddle of viscera, strain harms any humans that step in it, whereas mutants recover health, remain invisible, and gain a speed boost. If those buffs sound overpowering, they’re not. The canisters serve a secondary function. Highly volatile, they clear patches of strain upon exploding. Shooting or detonating pods that secrete the infection denies demons their advantage.
How do you choose whom to attack, then? The well-armed exosuits aid in the battles against malicious humans. Purifying the strain, however, helps prune a path to the mutant nest on the northern edge of the zone. The answer comes down to whom your crew is more interested in assaulting … for the first five minutes. The single decision players make as a human is which faction to pool assets against.
After that, any coherence is lost. The fight shifts into a new phase where the mining station and drop-off point rarely trump your position on the scoreboard. Because San Diego Studio ranks players by individual points, not as a cohesive unit, Kill Strain undermines cooperation with a free-for-all mentality. When you exterminate one base, the match ends. What happens to the surviving factions? Do they shake hands and go home for the day? It’s typical for two teams to dogpile on the third, so the top three competitors might be human, mutants, or a mix of each.
I know several of you respect this change to the status quo. Most of us have suffered through situations where we double or triple the score/kills of our comrades online, yet we still lose the match. Kill Strain tries to remedy that dispiriting feeling, but skirmishes only promote lone wolf attitudes. Who cares if a band of mercenaries just sacked the depot when you could be farming pods for extra points? Disputes ditch the motivation to assist your fellow man or monster.
Perhaps it would be easier to coordinate with friends, but the developers prevent people from pairing up with one another. I’ve logged 20 hours with Kill Strain, and I never encountered the options to invade a colleague’s game or search for one alongside them. For readers versed in League of Legends or Dota 2, imagine the joy of playing with total strangers forever.
Kill Strain also forces contestants to select their human and mutant hero before matchmaking begins, at which point you’re assigned to a random team. Want to test out the monster you’ve recently unlocked? Tough shit, you’re stuck on mankind’s side this round. Evolve accounted for this oversight already, letting users choose a preferred class before placing them in a lobby. If someone loved playing the support position in combat or rampaging as the creature, he or she could favorite those roles. How did San Diego Studio not take notice?