Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Killhouse Games
Publisher: Killhouse Games
When one thinks of puzzles and conundrums things like crosswords, point and click adventure games and actual puzzles come to mind. You probably wouldn’t associate it with blood, gore, guns and criminals being taken out, but that’s exactly what Door Kickers is: a top-down game in which you plan in detail how to take down the targets, rescue the hostage and save the day. Every level is a puzzle, and the blood and guns just a happy side effect.
Commanding your squad of professionals is done via a smooth, easy to understand interface. By pausing the game with a tap of space or by clicking the button located at the bottom of the screen you’re free to examine the layout of the building, working out the exact lines of sight and how best your troops need to move through the area. By clicking on a soldier you can then quite literally draw his route through the environment, designating when he should reload, throw flashbangs or perform other actions. At a door you can choose between simply kicking it down, placing breaching charges or perhaps taking a peek through a small camera to ensure you know exactly where to aim, aided by the fact that you can choose the orientation of a soldier at any given point, though the friendly AI is decent at understanding where it’s meant to be looking. Once you’ve planned out a route you can simply hit the play button and watch the carnage unfold, but at any time you can hit the pause button again and adjust your tactics on the fly, important when enemies suddenly come charging through doors because they heard the commotion. This means you can either micromanage the action, pausing every few seconds to adjust your plan based on how the enemy have reacted, or take a less hands-on approach, attempting to perform as much of the mission as you can with minimal interruption.
Death and failure are inevitable and frequent. A squad member may die because you forget to order a reload before bursting into a room or because you didn’t cover a the area properly. Entire teams can be decimated because you wasted breaching charges earlier or didn’t bring the right equipment for the job. You’ll be gunned down by a foe from behind due to a corridor you didn’t cover, or mowed down as you charge into a room without seriously considering the enemy presence. Your first run through a level is merely testing the water, and subsequent attempts let you tweak the plan piece by piece. Maybe you’ll scrape through with a one star rating or even a two, but the drive to create the perfect, smooth plan is strong. You’ll die and die and die and die again, but keep coming back for more. Importantly, however, losing is never a frustration; you’ll always immediately understand why you failed and vow not to repeat the mistake.
The game has a brilliant “just one more go” appeal aided by the levels being just a few minutes long. You can play in bursts or sink hours into the game. That urge to continue playing will pay off in the form of new gear for your troops. It can be a grind to unlock new stuff; missions offer up a possible three stars, and new items can be pretty expensive. A simple new gun can cost you ten stars or well over 20. However, the flip-side is that acquiring new options feels quite satisfying because it requires genuine effort and time. This is a challenging game, and the reward for beating it is new ways in which to play and tangible benefits.
All of this further feeds into how you approach a level. Areas with long lines of sight favor assault rifles, but close quarters work is the home of the SMG, while choosing to go with minimal armor can helpful in blitzing through a stronghold before the enemy have much time to react, vitally important in drug busts or bomb defusing missions. It further reinforces the idea that this is a game where every decision you make has genuine consequences on the action.
Sadly there’s no way to sell off equipment, though, which can be aggravating in later missions if you find that the gear you chose to go with just isn’t useful in a given scenario, leaving you to bang your head off a wall. Missions cannot be replayed for more stars, either. The only thing you can do is opt to bypass the problematic mission as you’re free to jump into whatever level you feel like, but you might just find yourself facing the same problem again later.
Whatever happens failure carries no actual penalty when playing single levels. You simply restart the level, selecting which men and gear to take with you at the start. However, there’s also three Campaigns to play through, each of which contains 9 levels apiece. There’s a tiny narrative linking these levels together, but it is the threat of death which steals the show; if a soldier dies in combat he can’t be used again during the campaign. It makes levels far more tense affairs, which is impressive given how butt clenching they already are.
Later on things become more complex. Levels will become harder to navigate with multiple levels and you’ll have more soldiers under your command plus plenty of gear to choose from. Do you take special lockpicks with you and Stealth soldiers in order to stay unknown for as long as possible? Or do you pack in the breaching charges, load up on heavy armor and grab the big guns for some full on assault action? If pulling off a perfect raid on a small killhouse with two men felt good, then it’s nothing in comparison to deftly executing a precise plan involving three or four task forces on a sprawling complex full of foes. Satisfaction is an understatement. This is a game where every completed mission is a reward in itself, and a reason to keep playing. It’s simply outstanding.
It’s during such hectic levels that the UI shows off its one fatal flaw, however. While you can color code each soldiers path through a level, there’s no way of hiding a path that you feel is ready, and thus when controlling multiple the map can become a mult-colored mess of spaghetti. It makes picking out certain points or adjusting things a bit awkward. Also sometimes awkward is getting troops placed exactly in the right spots, especially important when breaching doors..
Not every missions boils down to killing people. Some levels task you with saving hostages, either by eliminating all foes or escorting the scared civilians to safety. These sorts of mission require you to pay special attention unless you want to accidentally put a bullet through a hostage’s brain. There is a flaw, though; generally speaking it was far easier to kill every enemy than escort the hostages out, and indeed most of the layouts seemed to encourage this. Other mission types include drug busts where speed is important as the bad guys will try to destroy the goods. Likewise bomb disposal is a hectic affair where you often have to sacrifice patience and gathering intel for simply bursting in and shooting everything. These mission types bring some very welcome variety to proceedings.
There’s a second progression system at work where your individual squad members, who can all be renamed and customised to a small degree, earn experience which in turn feeds into the Doctrine, a skill tree for your entire unit where you can unlock perks like improved accuracy with handguns. It’s this system which also unlocks different classes for your soldier, such as the absolutely brilliant and frankly vital Stealth class. The pistol-wielding Pointman is quick to draw his weapon and move, making him handy for bursting into the rooms, while the Assaulter carries the assault rifles and shotguns, a wrecking ball of a soldier if combined with heavy armor. Part of me wonders if classes shouldn’t have locked away in a game where having different tactical options is so important, especially when considers how handy the Stealth class is or the ability to wield a shield. However, unlocking classes does stop you becoming slightly overwhelmed by the choices at hand.
There’s around 80+ single missions to get through, plus the three campaigns mentioned earlier. If that’s not enough, though, there’s also a level generator which will spit out new missions for you to play through, although a few more options for it would be most welcome. There’s also an entire editor where you can throw together your own designs.The editor is a bit rough around the edges, but once you get to grips with it you’ll be throwing levels together like a madman. For even more content you can check out the Steam Workshop and see what other players have come up with, including plenty of mods.
That’s quite a bit to get through, then, but strangely despite having technically left Early Access this is still very much a work in progress. There’s an extensive list of features that the developers are talking about adding, such as crouching and peeking underneath cars. Have no fear, though, because what’s here right now feels like a complete game worth purchasing, albeit with a price-tag that may be too high for some. The developers are also incredibly active on forums, chatting away with players and discussing potential new game mechanics.
There’s always problems, however, and as frequently fantastic a Door Kickers is it does have some issues worth mentioning, although most of them are small. It would, for example, be nice to have a way of “attaching” one soldier to another, especially when attempting to utilise a Shield class. Likewise a way of setting a delay on actions would nice for those who don’t want to constantly pause the game in order to move people around. Currently there’s Go Order system in play which lets you que up actions that will be initiated upon your command, allowing for truly awesome SWAT moments, but that requires manual activation. A method of setting actions on a timer would further encourage the idea of creating a seamless, intervention free plan. There was plenty of times where I wanted to have a second group breach and clear a few seconds after the first, but couldn’t do it without having to manually control it. A tutorial would also be nice. At the moment a few short sentences explain some of the basics, but the game completely forgets to tell people about Go Orders or how to use the command which stops soldiers from advancing until the area is clear.
Graphically the game looks nice enough but is lacking personality. It’s a rather vague criticism, admittedly, but Door Kickers is just missing something in its visuals, and even its audio in many regards. Given just how damn good the gameplay is, though, this is barely a problem.
Finally there’s a few missing weapon descriptions and such as well. Nothing major, but strange omissions nonetheless that really shouldn’t have been missed during development.
A small, beautifully designed package Door Kickers is a delightful game and one of the most purely satisfying titles I’ve played this year. As it stands it’s a truly great game but if the developers really can implement the features they are promising then it could potentially be fantastic. At its core it’s a puzzle game, one filled with incredibly rewarding and tense gameplay. Do yourself a favor and go grab a copy from Steam. You’ll love it.
+ Incredibly tense.
+ Fantastic example of seemingly simple but hugely effective game design.
+ Plenty of content.
– Could do with a tutorial.
– A few missing features, like using the camera around corners.
The Verdict: 4.5/5 – Great, bordering on awesome.
Outstanding. Another fantastic example of why indie developers are creating some of the best work around.