Selecting characters pre-matchmaking also leads to habitual imbalances; you don’t know what warriors your companions will be fielding. In back-to-back instances, my group faced a whole regiment of Siphons. A spunky, pink-haired sociopath, Siphon utilizes her icy attacks to repel opponents, like an area-of-effect frost blast that leaves behind serrated shards. Her skills inflict notable damage, but Siphon’s health is her Achilles heel. When another teammate and I picked Diesel (a brawny pyromaniac), we obliterated the Siphon squads by ourselves.
In those moments, I felt hints of shame as our supremacy grew. Characters rank up during the match, amplifying their abilities and awarding them more life points. The upgrade process also occurs automatically – no pulling up intrusive menus à la Battleborn to single out the buffs you want. That, I’m fond of. Let me focus on the action at hand without worrying how fast I need to navigate pause screens.
Abilities do not change, either. Diesel maintains his flame charge, incendiary blast, and molten barrage from brawl to brawl. Mastering a champion in Dota 2 involves weeks of practice. In a couple matches of Kill Strain, however, players grasp a character’s capabilities and where they belong on the battlefield. With an all-for-one mindset, the developers set a low barrier to entry.
Although I fell back on my average twin-stick shooter skills for most feuds, I could not trust the character abilities to operate as intended. It’s merely a matter of waiting for stamina meters to replenish before summoning shields or tossing grenades, but every now and then, the powers don’t work. Kill Strain often delayed Diesel’s searing dash and slam well after conflicts called for them. Another server gaffe perhaps?
You probably noticed that I blabber about Diesel a lot, too. I can’t speak to the balance of each hero since players amass silver (the alternative currency being gold) for completing a match or daily missions, nothing more. Every disconnect results in you waving your wealth goodbye, and with roughly 30 to my name, I refuse to dwell on the I money lost.
Would I love to test out swordsman Hiro or the walking fortress named Rook? Hell yeah! Do I want to empty my bank account to obtain them? I’ll let you answer that. You earn 120 silver per match on average. With Hiro and Rook setting fans back 9,000, one must finish a few dozen games apiece (the medals and challenges enhance your earnings slightly) before adding those combatants to their arsenal. That’s excessive.
One of the mutants also sells for 9,000 silver, and I’m not sure it’s worth it. Monsters begin the battle at a precarious disadvantage. Kill Strain tasks two creatures with spreading the strain at first, so a direct showdown among mutants and mercenaries leads to disaster.
That said, the mutants are not helpless. Their leaps and ground pounds stun their prey, making ambushes a top priority. You need points because monsters possess a game-changing ability. Whereas humans may call down mechs to do their bidding, the brutes can transform men and women into one of their own.
I loved seeing an infection mechanic in a shooter besides Halo. Corrupting others works on a cooldown, but as you sacrifice people, they join your brood for good. Suddenly, the blue team lacks their fourth member, or perhaps yellow lacks two. When the freedom to turn somebody becomes available, it’s the humans’ time to hide. Two monsters become four become eight.
There is one limitation, of course: you must drag untainted humans into the strain to transform them. Players remain vulnerable during the process, and enemies bleed out within seconds of being incapacitated. Even so, few things surpass the panic that arises when a buddy abruptly morphs and mauls you. That old alliance is no more. All hail our new alien overlords!
The endgame weighs in the monsters’ favor. If players cannot destroy one of the three camps before the timer runs out, the mutants triumph by default, no matter how cautious they act. As such, in the span of a day, the metagame became an all-out assault on the mutant nest. Some folks at San Diego Studio decided the lair should reside between both human dens, leaving it susceptible to combined fire from two flanks early on. Not the brightest move.
Although monsters may spread the virus anywhere, the pods they drop will wither in two shots from hostile meatbags, and their base lacks formidable countermeasures to keep intruders out. The strain pods infesting the map at the start can weather a shellacking if you attempt to clear them alone, but once someone eradicates them, they vanish.
Identical rules apply to the turrets, minus the fact that their cannons also pulverize mechs. The hive’s main defense is a spire of rock that rockets upward beneath the earth, an attack that Kill Strain telegraphs well before it happens. In my experience, matches devolved into contests to annihilate the alien menace. Mechs remain immune to the strain, so most of mankind’s victories have been forgone conclusions.
On the bright side, the loadouts avoid the pay-to-win adage. Masteries enhance the strength of your abilities. For Diesel, I could reinforce the damage his flamethrower does over time, reduce the energy cost for his flame dash, or lower the cooldown of his leaping incendiary blast. The masteries unlock in tiers, and to purchase the next, players cannot spend gold (the real-money currency). Only dedication and troves of silver ensure fighters become the best they can be.
You could throw gold or silver at augments instead, which I warmed up to as I swapped buffs around. Augments are all situation-based, divided into categories like health or mobility. Lose a turret? You take decreased damage for 45 seconds. Capture an objective? You get a brief 15 percent boost to your run speed. Each enhancement has a specific condition that must be met before it kicks in, and they run the gamut in rarity.
You collect augments through the in-game booster packs, but they possess a limited duration, ranging from an instant activation to two-minute lengths. Similar to masteries, augments are a permanent addition to one’s inventory, too, and players can equip more as their individual level rises. For every hour I devoted to Kill Strain, the greater the likelihood I had of shaping a Diesel suited to my needs.
Is it worth enduring the likely server predicaments or middling firefights for such opportunities? You should be the judge of that, as I’ve had my fill of Kill Strain. When a base falls, the match acknowledges the person that struck the climactic blow; the lesser nine you might as well label Loser 1, Loser 2, Loser 3, and so on. Yeah, Kill Strain, I’m sure players will appreciate that.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
Kill Strain may find its following as a free-to-play game, but I expect more polish, more stability from shooters we’re asked to play for long periods of time. I can’t accept the odd matchmaking decisions, nor the way Kill Strain undermines teamwork by encouraging lone wolf playstyles.