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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (437)

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Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5
ActRaiser Renaissance 4/5
The Outer Worlds 3.5/5
Cris Tales 3/5
Warframe 3.5/5
Immortals: Fenyx Rising 4.5/5
Boot Hill Bounties 4/5
Pathfinder: Kingmaker 2/5
Borderlands 3 4/5
Horizon: Zero Dawn 3.5/5
World of Final Fantasy 4/5
ReCore 3/5
I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5

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Door Kickers: Action Squad   PC (Steam) 

Gimme Summa Dat Sweet Police Brutality    4.5/5 stars

“Door Kickers: Action Squad” (“DKAS”) is a spinoff of the tactical-breaching-themed ‘Door Kickers’ IP owned by KillHouse Games. “DKAS,” however, as a spinoff, was developed at the request of KillHouse by an untested third-party contractor studio called PixelShard. Released in 2018 on Steam, “DKAS” has since been ported to every major digital platform and mobile. I first became aware of “DKAS” while searching for new games with couch coop a few years ago, and picked it up as part of a Build Your Own Bundle sale for next to nothing. While I had no expectations of the game, its developer, or its publisher going in, as both KillHouse and Pixelshard are decidedly Indie-tier outfits located in Romania, “DKAS” proved to be a shockingly fresh, fun cooperative experience without a hint of the Eurojank commonly associated with Eastern Bloc studios.

Presentation
“DKAS” is a 2D sidescrolling game that features delightfully detailed chunky-pixel visuals. While the resolution for the characters and environments may be low and the graphics settings limited (and even self-deprecatingly humorous), that doesn’t make “DKAS” an eyesore by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, the chunky-pixel visuals are all well-animated and easily distinguishable, which puts “DKAS” and its intentionally lo-fi looks quite a ways ahead of other modern 2D games with visuals so busy and cluttered it can be difficult to tell what’s going on. Outside of the core gameplay, the menu system features big, detailed pixel art representations of things like character portraits and each and every piece of equipment available to the player’s SWAT team, which are a testament to the obvious skill brought to the table by the art team at PixelShard.

Audio is likewise great and well-executed, but decidedly less lo-fi. The game is not fully voiced, but each character has a handful of quips, which are well performed and fit the game’s tongue-in-cheek tone to a T. The audio isn’t the type of chiptunes one would expect based on the game’s visuals, but instead features a lot of synth that hearkens back to the ‘80s, complete with a sound-alike of the “Beverly Hills Cop” theme song.

Technically, “DKAS” is one of those simple games that needs to “just work”… and it does. It natively supports Xinput out of the box, and Chris and I had no problems mix-and-matching different generations of Xbox controller simultaneously. Controls are tight, load times are nonexistent, and the game is stable. Really, the only negative thing I can say about “DKAS” is that it does have a DLC, that I would like to buy, but it never goes on sale, and the regular price is more than double what I paid for the base game during a bundle sale!

Story
Another way in which “DKAS” revels in its retro inspirations is in storytelling… Or rather, the lack thereof. Taking place only in Nowhere, USA, “DKAS” isn’t a game that tries to spin a complex narrative or built intricate lore. Instead, it just presents a handful of chapters, each of which encompasses an overarching theme, with a number of missions within each chapter that send the player’s SWAT team into a small number of dangerous situations, ranging from a rash of hostage-taking scenarios, bomb threats (that aren’t mere threats), and gang headquarters where the order of the day is indiscriminately taking out the trash.

Thus “DKAS” relies much more on the ‘excuse narrative’ of older Action games, with nary a cinematic to be seen. Indeed, the story, such as it is, could have been bolstered by the presence of an intro and outro for each chapter, but, sadly, that aspect of the game was overlooked.

“DKAS” does have its own unique sense of dark humor, and the stable of playable characters do exhibit a fair bit of personality. I played as the Off-Duty Guy, primarily, and I really took a shine to his general level of jaded snarkiness… and the fact that he goes into SWAT situations wearing boxer shorts, while munching incredibly stale Twinkies from his Prepper Stash.

Those with the inclination to deconstruct the game based not only on what it overtly says (very little), but also what it implies can probably have a bit more fun with the entire thing. The modern media’s focus on police brutality really has no traction, here, as the player’s door-kicking SWAT team gets the job done, whatever the job is. Rescuing the universally blonde and female hostages? Super important! Accidentally killing the Latino junkies who hang around in gang turf but will surrender if given a chance? No problem! Indiscriminately mowing down an entire gang full of Diverse criminals ranging from Billy-Bobs with shotguns and red baseball caps to Black dudes with SMGS? That’s the whole objective, man!

Personally, I enjoyed “DKAS” depiction of a world in which the police are given free rein to take out the trash with extreme prejudice. Of course, I’m also the guy who foams at the mouth when news anchors use the word “alleged” when talking about a criminal who was quite literally caught in the act.

“DKAS” isn’t a particularly long game. There are 7 chapters, but one of them is just a rehash of other missions with extra ‘challenges’ imposed. Chris and I played through the 6 normal chapters, and found that each one took about 2 hours, giving us a good 12 hours of cooperative entertainment. People who buy the DLC and hunt all the Achievements can expect around 20 hours.

Gameplay
“DKAS” is a 2D sidescrolling Platformer/Shooter that puts the player (and up to one additional cooperative partner, either via same-screen coop or online networked coop) in the shoes of one of a number of SWAT team members, each with access to special equipment and capabilities. These SWAT team members are tasked with clearing a number of mission areas – which typically get larger and more complex as the player advances through the chapters – in which they must rescue hostages, eliminate hostiles, defuse bombs, arrest criminal masterminds, or some combination of those 4 activities.

The title of the game comes from the fact that there are many locked doors scattered across the mission areas, and there’s no way to know what’s on the other side without kicking them down. The layout of each mission area is visible, but the contents of each individual room are obscured by Fog of War. Thus one of the game’s primary Action mechanics is trigger discipline, forcing players to quickly take stock of whatever is revealed in a freshly-opened room and dealing with it appropriately. Is if a room full of criminals? Guns blazing! Is it a room full of hostages? Hold fire! Is it a room with some criminals and some hostages mixed together? Aim careful sniper shots over the hostages’ heads to eliminate the threat without harming the civvies. Successfully killing a criminal, rescuing a hostage, and a handful of optional activities, grants points that fill up a backup meter at the top of the screen. With enough points, the SWAT team can requisition fresh body armor, first aid kits, extra lives, and even sniper support from unseen sharpshooters, providing some additional tactical options for dealing with particularly tricky room layouts.

Each mission is performance rated, as is the trend started by modern mobile games, on a 3-star basis. Losing a single hostage will cost a star, as will getting killed and using a 1-up to get back in the action. Thus, “DKAS” encourages players to simply restart the mission if anything goes wrong, and slide through the entire game with no deaths and no hostages lost. These stars aren’t just for show – the ‘just for show’ part is, of course, the online speedrunning leaderboard – but can be spent to unlock additional weapons, armor, and tactical gear for the stable of SWAT members.

Each SWAT member also gains experience and levels up, offering a number of perks from a fairly basic skill tree, with two branches dedicated to the individual team member and two branches that benefit the entire team (respeccing is free and encouraged). Chris and I stuck with Off-Duty Guy and the Breacher for the entire game, as we found that their particular kits really complemented each other, with Off-Duty Guy bringing sniping, temporary invincibility, and quicker door-kicking to the party and Breacher bringing the room-clearing power of buckshot and slugs. There is definitely some replay value in “DKAS” for players who want to level the entire team and unlock all of the tactical gear, but we fairly quickly found a groove that suited us and stuck with it.

Overall
I had absolutely no expectations for “Door Kickers: Action Squad” going into it. It was a random online recommendation for a cheap, cooperative Indie game by a developer I’d never heard of. After playing it, though, I really can’t recommend this little game enough! As a coop experience for 2 players, “DKAS” is positively sublime, as it encourages team strategy, coordination, and creative thinking, all within a comprehensible sidescrolling structure that’s easy to pick-up-and-play. I hope KillHouse requests a sequel to this game from PixelShard, with expanded narrative and gameplay, since they’ve already nailed the basics.

Presentation: 5/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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