Developer: SIE San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Format: PS4 (reviewed)
Released: July 12/19, 2016
It’s not everyday a first-party exclusive on PlayStation 4 slips under the radar, managing to pull off a stealthy release. Sony San Diego’s free-to-play MOBA, mixed with twin stick shooter, Kill Strain has done just that. Having been long in development and undergone much beta testing, Kill Strain is here. While the final build occasionally shows traits of unrefined design with sluggish progression and an occasional choppy performance, Kill Strain still provided enough enjoyment to make my brief venture into its competitive multiplayer scene feel worthwhile.
Making a free-to-play model feel effective and respectful of players’ time is always a tedious undertaking, one that comes with a myriad of potential problems. Knowing Kill Strain leaned on this model concerned me prior to jumping in, but after spending time with Sony’s San Diego’s twin-stick shooter, deeply layered with MOBA attributes, my reservation was settled. Kill Strain isn’t a great game, but the free-to play model it employs refrains from acting as the overbearing killer it had the makings to be. Certainly coming with its fair share of annoyances, the payment model is far from perfect, casting ample irritation on otherwise promising aspects. The way microtransactions are worked into the game could use a lot of work, yet they’re still better than many of the poor examples ruining the “free-to-play” term for everyone else. However, when in the heat of the moment, Kill Strain excels past the mounting vexation that threatens to ruin the experience, offering an enjoyable vision of a twin-stick MOBA comprised of nuances and frustrations, alike.Admittedly, MOBAs have never been my thing. I’ve always failed to see their continual pull, yet express a level of deep respect for their success and growing popularity. Kill Strain’s top-down, 5v2v5 competitive structure caught my eye thanks to its spin on the more traditional MOBA platform. Chiefly, Kill Strain isn’t point-and-click, rather adopting a twin-stick playstyle that lends a unique breadth of mechanical variety not seen in other popular examples of the genre. Do to this design, I found myself wrapped up in the conflict at hand much more quickly than, say, trying to understand the intricacies of Dota. The learning curve Kill Strain is built upon is relatively simple, making for an easy to grasp first impression. While helpful when originally getting acquainted with the core concepts, Kill Strain’s initially applaudable simplicities eventually hurt the project in the long run. There is a notable lack of compelling motive to continue, instilling a sense of boredom and repetition to all matches past a certain point. Kill Strain excels when it comes to the short game, but stumbles just about everywhere else.
ACCESSIBILITY IS KEY IN MAKING KILL STRAIN DIGESTIBLE, MATCH TO MATCH
Kill Strain’s match framework, however, comes with promise. Three teams deploy in front of their bases where they’re then tasked to destroy their adversaries’ respective headquarters. Comprised of two human teams with five players–referred to as mercs–and one mutant team made up initially of only two combatants, the ensuing action is frantic and layered. Additionally, the two core members of the mutant team possess the ability to turn freshly killed human players into mutants, growing the size and threat of their presence in battle. When everything comes together and operates in Kill Strain’s favor, it offered some of the more enjoyable moments I’ve had with the MOBA genre, yet. It’s a flawed and unevenly paced experience, but there is something to Kill Strain that had me hooked for a second.
Unfortunately, that revelation is short-lived. The way new mercs and mutants are unlocked with in-game currency–which can be purchased via microtransactions–proves to be increasingly troublesome the more you play. Leveling takes time, and the awards gleaned from full matches are small in comparison to the in-game asking price for almost everything in the game’s store. Knowing this whole system can be forgone if willing to pay real money is off-putting, and Kill Strain does little to subvert these common problems with the model. Technical caveats are also to be found, with the likes of infrequent, though impactful frame rate drops and unreliable server stability. Eventually, these annoyances mounted into frustration, pushing me away from wanting to continue onto the next match.
Furthermore, the project’s personality is never really given the opportunity to shine through, creating a bleak void of blandness. There’s a genuinely intriguing story to be extracted from Kill Strain’s lore, but aside from the introductory cinematic and descriptive bios, little substance is found within the actual title, itself. While gameplay is the obvious priority here, even it begins to wear thin, boiling down Kill Strain into an experience that impresses upon first look, yet proceeds to wane in quality the longer you linger.Conclusion: Kill Strain is ultimately nothing to write home about, bogged down by run-of-the-mill technical hindrances and slow, exploitable progression. That said, even for all its weaknesses, Sony’s San Diego’s unique hybrid-like take on the MOBA formula provided me with some of the more memorable moments I’ve had with the genre in recent memory. From a gameplay perspective, the twin-stick shooting feels solid, mechanically differentiating the game from its peers. This kind of accessibility plays an enormous hand in giving Kill Strain an easy to grasp concept, allowing the game to shift its focus to refining gameplay aspects rather than thoroughly explaining what’s going on. Yet, even with its sprinkles of nuances, Kill Strain struggled to keep my attention beyond its opening hours. Matches overstay their welcome–no matter what side you’re playing–lobbies are unreliable, and the core progression in place to encourage replayability is tainted by the free-to-play model. Underneath these frustrations is a fresh experience clawing to break free and forge new ground for its respective genre, though as it stands now, victory is out of reach for Kill Strain.
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