I really like Killer is Dead. I want to like it more, but I’m increasingly unsure if I should. Unfortunately, the awful Gigolo missions are a big part of planting the seed of distrust in my mind.
Hah! I bet you thought you’d avoided a tirade on why Killer is Dead’s Gigolo missions are the worst thing since Reaganomics when Chris Carter only mentioned them in passing in his review. Allow me to Killer is Shed some light on the problem.
To recap: in Killer is Dead’s Gigolo missions you go on “dates” with various women, ogle them until you have enough guts to give them gifts, and then give them gifts until you win and you two have sex.
It’s creepy (the women's measurements are on the mission screen), but it’s also mechanically broken, vapid, and irredeemably boring.
I’m no prude. I like sexy things. This is masturbatory vapidity. The women you are “seducing” repeat the same lines of random dialogue slavishly as they sway in their seats. You stare at their tits while they aren’t looking. That’s it. It’s really, really boring. You’re invited to repeat the missions multiple times for slightly steamier softcore sex scenes and more in-game rewards. When you get the glasses that let you see their lingerie (and tell you what gifts they want), it’s a godsend not because you can see their lacey fashionwear, but because it lets Mondo’s “guts” fill quicker and lets you finish the missions faster.
If I didn’t get a code for the glasses -- though they are otherwise acquired later in the game -- I wouldn’t have put up with the missions, which would have meant missing out on the alternate weapons for Mondo’s crazy gun arm. The Gigolo missions are not engaging. Not even a little bit. There are amateur erotic Flash games with more complex systems and backs of shampoo bottles more erotic and arousing.
The problem, beyond the sexism, is that something so plainly banal and vacuous made it into the game at all. Killer is Dead is supposed to be weird and crazy, right? It’s a Suda51 game! (He is the writer and executive director, but not the actual game director.) The Gigolo missions start making me see other parts of the game in a different light. A fitting successor to Killer7 this is not.
I was a bit disappointed that Lollipop Chainsaw wasn’t really weird. I liked it okay. It had some heart, some solid writing, but it wasn’t weird. Things have gotten less surreal since Killer7 and Killer is Dead, touted as a spiritual successor, feels torn between two paths.
Sometimes it is delightfully bizarre, as with David, the self-styled ruler of the moon whose rippling muscles, pert butt cheeks, and golden codpiece still linger in my mind. Sometimes it feels a much more manufactured, “Internet weird” or “mainstream weird;” maybe "teenager on Tumblr weird." It’s a bit hard to class, so to use an example from the game, sometimes it’s, “LOL WTF TALKING UNICORN!” weird, which feels soulless and pointless. Which is ironic, because it’s a unicorn.
While running about in Killer7’s surrealist setting you would occasionally stumble upon ghosts Travis and Iwazaru who would both aid you in puzzle solving and offer up puzzling, thought provoking, batshit insane lines of dialogue. In Killer is Dead’s stages, you can find the hidden Scarlett, a buxom nurse that looks colorfully out of place like an aesthetic holdover from Lollipop Chainsaw. She expresses surprise that you found her, unlocks a challenge mission, and leaves. She is not a character. She is an unlock. A very videogame-y thing dressed up as a sexy nurse because reasons.
Banality like this starts to expose the biggest flaw of Killer is Dead, which is that its story and characters are all half told. There are kernels of interesting things at play, but the disjointed episodic nature struggles to come together in a satisfying way. It’s not that the ludicrous plot is unexplained and thus unsatisfying. It’s that the story tries to tie everything together with a blatantly telegraphed twist through dream sequences, which is rather emblematic of the mediocre narrative.
I mean, one of the first missions takes place in an Alice in Wonderland world. Talk about passé and overdone! It’s ordinariness hiding behind a façade of quirkiness and insanity. Neither its plot nor it characters help.
Whereas the manic, red-cheeked schoolgirl that lives with Mondo and helps him out could’ve been an endearing companion, she’s instead an empty trope novelty that takes on uninteresting plot significance late in the game. Good art and good voice acting are kind of just wasted. Bryan, Mondo’s boss, is never as cool or as interesting as a half cyborg with an infectious laugh wearing a Hawaiian shirt should be. Again, it’s style over substance, albeit a nice style.
When you start to see token “weirdness,” like a random talking unicorn/dues ex machina, with no depth or mystery to perpetuate it, the allure fades quickly. The Gigolo missions are the start of things unraveling and you realize it’s just choppy, bad storytelling at play here with poorly written, empty characters featuring little more depth than the women in the Gigolo missions. Suddenly, the level wherein you have to fight a train (awesome!) takes on a different hue. Mondo and Bryan going back and forth about how trains, mechanics, and engineering are “a man’s passion” and “no place” for women loses any sense of quizzical irony that the scene could be read with. Instead, it reads like uncomfortable sexism delivered straight-faced.
You can’t exactly divorce the Gigolo missions from everything else; you can’t just say, “oh, the game is great if you ignore the facile and creepy perv-em-up side missions" because they're so egregious that they start to inform on the rest of the game. It’s a little like Final Fantasy developers upping Lightning’s bust size, matter-of-factly discussing the new jiggle physics, and explaining the best method to view jiggling side boob. These things bleed into the overall tenor of a project.
Killer is Dead is not near Killer7 levels of autership and surrealism. Whatever vestige of that is left has had a trashier and boringly ordinary “guilty-pleasure” experience medically stapled onto it. I like Killer is Dead a lot. I think it’s a good action game that I’m still having fun playing. It still has some great moments (particularly in its boss fights) and some oddities (like walking on the moon in a designer suit and space helmet). It’s just that there is little beyond its gorgeous visuals and one of the year’s best musical score. That’s perfectly okay. I just wanted a little more.