If Halo Splinter Cell and Vice City have taught us anything, it's that porting a game from console to PC can be a huge success. Even though Splinter Cell and Vice City were hardly changed from their frontroom cousins, they won out because beneath the high-res textures and mouse-friendly controls, they're excellent games.
Halo is the anomaly; it was a PC game originally, but its case proves that unless you take the time to add some PC extras - especially when developing a shooter - you aren't going to convince anyone. Fortunately, the inclusion of some great online multiplayer options helped its cause no end.
Pulling Into Port
Following this rather obvious theory through, kill.switch sticks to the tried-and-tested principle furrowed by most console ports. The PC version was only announced last November-when the PS2 and Xbox versions were readied for release - and it's taken just a few months to transpose the game from TV to PC. Despite the competence of the legendary Bitmaps, in such a short time frame and without the authority to add the necessary PC bunting, the game's fate was sealed from the get-go: on its native platform, kill.switch is a good game, which means it can be no more than this on PC.
The story running though the missions is predictable, but what makes kill.switch worthwhile is a feature termed Offensive Cover'. In essence, all this means is that by pressing the crouch' key in close proximity to an upright surface, your character will hunker down to offer the smallest possible profile to the enemy. You can still move, slowly, but the best thing is that you can blindfire' around corners or pop your head out to let off a more accurate shot. It works similarly to the crouch/peek feature indigenous to most first-person shooters, but in third-person it works far, far, far better. The icing on the cake is that you can roll and dive between cover, loose off a hail of lead, nonchalantly lob a flashbang grenade over the top and dive forward to the next collection of boxes.
In response, Al goons dive for crates, run from grenades, go crazy when blinded and pretty much ape your movements. However, they lack your training and rather than survive, their duty is to fall in large numbers -which they do regularly. These situations are very enjoyable and despite the arcade feel, the combat is quite tactical as you dart for cover, watch for enemy soldiers trying to outflank your position and charge ahead to the next objective. It's a very good thing the combat is so enjoyable, because that's pretty much all there is.
More Please, Lots
There are no vehicles to drive, no squads to fight alongside, the locales and the arsenal of weapons are over-familiar, and the game itself is over in a matter of hours. But in spite of all this, kill.switch possesses an addictive quality married with a tight, focused design. It keeps you fitfully engaged despite the imposed limitations of the console for which it was originally commissioned - but it could have been so much more. With a decent selection of multiplayer options it could have countered Counter-Strike (geddit?), and with squads of allies it would certainly stack up to Ghost Recon. Were there to be a sequel geared towards the strengths of the PC, we'd welcome it with open arms. For now, what we have is an enjoyable diversion that will keep you occupied for a few fun-filled hours - and at a mere $9.99, that's pretty damn good value in our opinion.
Come On Then - I'll Take You All On!
There's so much potential in kill.switch, it's untrue. The ducking and diving action lends itself so perfectly to online combat it beggars belief that Namco didn't consider developing it for PC. The ballistics and properties of the weapons may not be realistic, but the principles of this style of combat certainly are: covering fire, outflanking manoeuvres, staggered break-and-enter advances... In fact it's hard to comprehend why even a basic co-operative mode wasn't attempted, especially in light of the fact that the single-player game is so short.
For the record, it took me six hours to complete the game -so releasing it for a tenner is definitely a good move.
Download Kill Switch
No matter how cool the resulting scar or how great the respect earned from one's peers, no-one wants to take a bullet. Getting shot hurts - a lot. And it has a nasty habit of killing you in the process.
Not that we'd know of course, as we at PC are cowards to a man. If ever a shoot-out erupted in our vicinity, we'd be the first ones hiding under the sink, whimpering like freshly spayed puppies and praying to every god under the sun.
Given this rather, er, overactive sense of self-preservation, the antics of Maxwell Payne and his ilk can often seem a little irresponsible. There he is, outnumbered, outgunned and fighting for survival and he just waltzes from place to place, shooting whatever moves and absorbing countless bullets in the process. OK, so Maxy Baby can slow down time and leap around like a sugar-loaded preschooler, but even so there's got to be a more sensible way of approaching things.
Duck And Cover
And thus we come to kill.switch. Developed by arcade-action stalwarts Namco, kill.switch is a third-person shooter that's all about self-preservation. Rather than rushing around blindly and choking down painkillers to cope with the excruciating bullet wounds, kill.switch sees you hugging walls, crouching behind cars, shooting round corners and doing pretty much anything to avoid exposing your precious, delicate flesh. It's what the developers call the Offensive Cover System, but to us it's just plain common sense.
"Kill.switch focuses on using cover," says the game's producer Jerome Sicart. "All the environments are built around the concept of utilising the environment to your advantage. Popping out from cover and exposing yourself to fire might work in other games, but it just isn't realistic. In real life, you're more likely to fire from behind cover with little to no exposure of yourself at all."
To facilitate this idea, kill.switch employs a simple 'take cover' key, which allows you to cower behind any decentsized object in the game, from pillars and walls to burnt-out cars, crates and random bits of debris. If you're near a wall you'll hug up next to it in stealthaction style; if it's a crate you'll crouch behind it, conforming to its shape as best as possible.
"While taking cover," continues Sicart, "you have the option of either revealing a small part of yourself for aimed shots, or you can perform what we call 'Blindfire'. As the name suggests, this lets you fire blind, spraying shots in the vague direction of the weapon sight. It's not very accurate, but sometimes it's your only option."
In practice, this simple game mechanic makes for a nice shift in tempo from your usual shoot 'em up fare. We've spent some time with the first build of the PC version (now in the capable hands of the Bitmap Brothers), and it's already shaping up to be an enjoyable blast.
Finding cover in the environments is usually a simple matter, but finding the best bit of cover - the spot that protects you from all angles and allows you a decent line of fire at the enemies - isn't always so straightforward. To complicate matters, enemies can use cover in exactly the same manner as you, as well as using blindfire and even calling in air support when pinned down, which can cause all sorts of bother.
If you stay in one place too long, your antagonists will eventually creep forward and overwhelm you, so you have to be quick about things as well. Essentially you need to stay on the move, taking cover wherever possible, leaning out, sniping a bit, then laying down some suppressing fire before dashing to the next doorway/market stall/conveniently placed tea chest and diving into its shadows. Best of all, it captures perfectly that classic Hollywood scene where the cop or SWAT guy moves from room to room, swinging his gun through doorways and yelling 'Clear!' when all the angles are covered.
Namco is also rather chuffed about the plot it's devised for kill.switch (though considering the company's previous narrative achievements include Tekken 3 and Ms Pac-Man Maze Madness, this is hardly surprising). At a glance it's the usual Hollywood guff, as you take the role of Bishop, a highly trained covert op deep behind enemy lines, sent on a globehopping tour of popular global flashpoints such as North Korea, the Middle East and an oil rig in the Caspian Sea. However, the twist is that-you're not here to save the world. Quite the contrary in fact, as your task is essentially to aggravate the locals and trigger a carefully engineered war. This might involve assassinating a high-level general, blowing up an oil rig or leaving a gift-wrapped turd in Kim Jong-Il's letterbox. (Well, maybe not the last one.) In any case, the dubious morality is sure to make for a more interesting and colourful game.
However, without wishing to piss on Namco's parade, it should probably be noted that kill.switch began its life as a console game. And while infinitely better suited to the PC than the recent Dead To Rights, kill.switch is never going to match the sophistication of a pure PC shooter. But with a few neat tricks up its sleeve and a genuinely novel gameplay dynamic, it should be a solid addition to the genre. Review next issue.
Making The Switch
Killswitch Is Doing Its Darnedest To Be A Proper Pc Game
Kill.switch may be all too obviously consoley in design, but the Bitmap Brothers are making every effort to bring it up to true PC spec. For a start, they've added Dolby digital sound, upped the resolution and are now working to improve the graphics across the board. Needless to say, the control system will be optimised to mouse and keyboard, though this is a far greater task than simply mapping keypad controls to a new interface. The more responsive mouse control will bring a range of game balancing issues with it, and the Bitmaps are currently tearing their hair out trying to resolve these. The PC version may feature more enemies than other versions, tougher enemies, or simply a more cautious, intelligent breed of foe. A bit of pitch and yaw is being considered for sniper weapons, as well as more punishing stealth elements. Let's hope the results are tangible come March.
If I didn't know better (or if I hadn't spent last month playing Time Crisis 3), I'd say Kill.Switch was actually a fresh stab at reinventing the Time Crisis franchise. Like TC, Switch has you peeking out from behind crates to kill hordes of faceless soldiers ad nauseam. And likewise, its handful of linear missions zip by in just a few hours (once you factor in frequent use of the unlimited continues). No light gun here, though--all action occurs via third-person perspective a la MGS2, Syphon Filter; and Splinter Cell; Kill.Switch shamelessly lifts scenes from all three games. But Switch keeps its action fun and accessible, which actually scored points with me. Walking on eggshells in Splinter Cell turned me into a paranoid, neurotic mess, so I'm happy to have a nobull, arcadey shooter I can just bust through and enjoy for its most basic qualities. A couple of technical glitches got me killed by invincible bad guys sandwiched in the walls, but I still walked away from this one more glad than mad.
Here's an ode to the hard-boiled matinee shot on a shoestring budget--the videogame equivalent of Chuck Norris hopped up on cordite, massacring his way through a hack plot. Kill.Switctts gameplay is as gripping as it is onedimensional--you're pinned down, with never more than one too-slender concrete pillar between you and tragedy, praying someone's rifle runs dry before they advance on your position. Really, there's not much more to this guilty pleasure than that, but it delivers the goods with gung-ho gusto.
Playing Kill.Switch gave me a killer flashback to the 1994 glory days of Doom, when I would routinely strafe around corners while walking down the street. Cover is everything here--you enter a room, hide behind a television, shoot two or three enemies who have comical accents, enter the next room, and repeat several dozen times. It's hardly original (not to mention short and sometimes ugly), but Namco's got both the control and the difficulty level just right. The result: If you think "stealth-action" is secret code for "failing missions over and over," then Kill.Switch will be intensely refreshing.
I've never been so divided on a game before. Kill.switch has some amazing features, and yet is so abysmal in so many regards. Unlike my normal reviews, you're getting my conclusion up front. Rent this game. Beat it. Love it. Hate it. In order to save room for the good stuff, let's get the crap out of the way. Music. Crap. Voice acting. Crap. Storyline. Iffy crap. Camera controls. Kinda crap. Length. Absolute crap. I may be a seasoned player, but this game only took three hours to beat on normal, and another three hours to beat on hard. As far as giving you $50 worth of game, that, my readers, is a crying shame.
Still, I'm not writing this review to trash this title, but to praise it. For what things it does right, it does them right wonderfully. The video is somewhat uninspired and dull early on, but right off you notice something different, with interesting level design and plenty of objects, walls, and pillars to hide behind. Enemy AI is absolutely stunning, as you can watch an opponent pin you down with gunfire, only that his comrades can move to a different location in order to flank you. This isn't that noticeable on normal, but on hard you'll see the enemies working together, trying their damndest to kill you. Without a doubt, I haven't seen opponents ever act this intelligent.
On the gameplay front, the cover aspect of the game is by far it's best feature. Easy to use and quick to master, unlike other games featuring cover based abilities, kill.switch's cover system lets you take shelter behind every rock, wall, box, stack of tires, sofa, couch, pillar' well, you get the idea. Furthermore, a simple flick of the analog stick, and you're leaning out from behind cover, capping enemies left and right. If you don't want to expose yourself to that much fire, just hit the fire button, and your character sticks his gun out and blindfires. Given that the enemies tend to stay behind cover when you do this, one could say that this game does a decent job of simulating suppressing fire, something games like this have needed for a long time.
Like I said, I love this game, and I hate this game. It needs to be a lot longer, and cared for with a great deal more polish. As it stands, though, it's still a great rental, and with its easy play style, I think you'll like it as much as I did.