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I think I remember seeing commercials for Kill Switch back when it released. I remember seeing a lot of action and the protagonist shooting back at a helicopter from cover. I can’t find a video of it but I’m pretty sure it was this game. Regardless, I do remember when Kill Switch was advertised and I remember being very interested in it. Developed and published by Namco, Kill Switch was released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in October, 2003. Gears of War may have popularized the cover system but it wasn’t the first game to utilize it. Kill Switch placed a big emphasis on cover and even its tagline reads “Take Cover. Take Aim. Take Over.” From what I understand, Cliff Bleszinski, a lead developer at Epic Games, has even stated Kill Switch’s cover system was influential in designing Gears of War. Apparently Kill Switch’s cover mechanics are similar to Namco’s own Time Crisis games. But those are light gun games so it’s not quite the same. Even WinBack, a game released in 1999, included a cover system of sorts but I’ve never played it. Regardless, neither Time Crisis or WinBack featured a cover system as its core mechanic which made Kill Switch somewhat unique back in its day.
The story in Kill Switch is terrible. I think the premise is interesting but it’s not executed well at all. The characters lack depth, the voice acting is atrocious, and the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Even after beating the game, I still wasn’t clear as to what the hell just happened story-wise so I had to look up a summary. You play as Nick Bishop and he’s some kind of super-soldier controlled via direct neural connection by somebody known as “Controller”. The Controller has you completing a series of missions that are meant to cause a war. There’s another antagonist known as Archer who wants to profit from the technology used to control Bishop. The whole thing is ridiculous. Throughout the story, Bishop’s fragmented memories of a woman seep through and there’s somewhat of a twist later on in the story but it’s predictable and the forced emotional elements are laughably bad. I think the game is trying to convey this feeling of a futuristic and high tech world but it just isn’t happening. It feels more like a stylized military shooter than anything else. I also want to mention that this game is extremely short. I think I beat it in about four hours.
Kill Switch consists of two difficulty modes – Normal and Hard. The game includes five chapters, each with multiple missions broken up by checkpoints that also double as save points. If you die, you must restart the mission from the beginning which can be a little frustrating late in the game. After completing all of the missions, you unlock the mission select menu but the only replay value this game has is derived from how much you enjoyed the gameplay. Mission objectives have you running from point A to B to either activate something or kill someone. You will have to find keys, or key cards, to gain access to new areas within the environment but for the most part the missions are linear so you don’t really have to look hard. The environments are somewhat open but there’s nothing to collect other than health and ammo so there’s no real reason to explore. The missions take place in a variety of locations including the Middle East, Caspian Sea, North Korea, Temple Ruins, and Archer Base. The varied locations are actually somewhat of a highlight here and keep the environments interesting from beginning to end. You’ll traverse through warehouses, facilities, caves, an oil rig, and other somewhat realistic locations. The Temple Ruins chapter is the standout because its setting felt random but was still a nice departure from the other typical locations. This chapter also introduces trip wires which are easily avoidable and are the only real environmental hazards in the game.
Bishop can jog, crouch, and let’s say dive and roll. You take cover by hugging walls and obstacles. The cover mechanics actually work well here. They feel a bit dated by today’s standards but in 2003, they worked really well. Going in and out of cover is easy and I didn’t fumble around with the controls. You can shoot while jogging or standing still but you’re recoil is better controlled when crouching or when shooting from behind cover. Bishop can lean out from cover to shoot enemies, he can also blind fire from cover, and he can even perform a melee attack if up close and personal with an enemy. You can aim through the scope or down your sights with any weapon but if you’re standing you’re aim will revert to third-person when you start moving. You must be crouching to aim down sights and move at the same time. In some ways, this game employs a form of iron sights with this aiming system and it being a third-person shooter released in 2003 makes it somewhat interesting. Funnily enough, from what I’ve read, Kill Switch released a day before the original Call of Duty. There is no armor but your health can be restored fully from the health packs found scattered around the environments. If you’re not behind cover during combat, chances are you’re going to die quickly. This game is all about cover and taking cover will save your life. If you’re exposed, you’re going to get shot. Taking cover and scoping out ahead of you before running head first into new areas is always the safest approach, especially late in the game. I think this game employs some kind of very light stealth mechanics. For example, you can crouch and walk behind walls and enemies won’t hear you. The same goes for using silenced weapons. You can pick off enemies one at a time but the moment you’re spotted, everybody is on your ass. I wouldn’t call this a stealth game but it seems like very specific areas allow you to sneak.
I actually love the arsenal here. Just the variety of guns. You’ve got an M4, complete with a grenade launcher, an AK-47, AKU, HK5, M249, M1, M203 shotgun. and even grenades like frag grenades, flash grenades, and sticky grenades. You can even man turrets which can overheat. Ammo can be found in the environments and also from fallen enemies. Each mission always has one weapon that you’re going to have tons of ammo for because all the enemies are using and dropping that weapon when killed. The weapons do feel satisfying to shoot, it’s just a shame there’s no gore effects. Enemies will stagger and limp around when injured. All of the enemies are made up of typical looking soldiers and their appearances match the environments their in. It seems that all of the enemies can be killed rather easily and headshots will put them down immediately. The enemy AI is alright, nothing special. Enemies run around, they’ll take cover, shoot from cover, man turrets, and even throw grenades, all typical stuff for this kind of game. However, they’re stupidity will be apparent when they run out into your gunfire or just stand around as if they don’t notice you when you’re in clear sight. The challenge comes from staying behind cover and not getting surrounded. There are several points where you get ambushed as in you approach an area and all of a sudden enemies are coming from everywhere and that’s usually when I would die. If you don’t know they’re coming you can be killed easily from an onslaught of bullets. They clearly just spawn in when you reach a certain point so in some ways, it’s a matter of trial and error. But for the most part, the difficulty is fair. There’s only one real boss fight and he’s just a bullet sponge. Just take cover, pop out and shoot, and rinse and repeat until he’s dead.
I don’t think Kill Switch aged well in terms of visuals and it definitely wasn’t a visual powerhouse back in the day either. There’s a lack of color, the game looks somewhat washed out, and the character models look a bit basic for lack of a better word. Many of the environments look bland, lack detail, and contain objects obviously meant to be used as cover, especially the Middle East missions. It just doesn’t look natural at times. The death animations are scripted and I think actual gore effects would have really made the combat more enjoyable. I do like how weapon muzzle flashes light up dark areas, specifically in the Temple Ruins missions. As for the audio, the music consists of rock and electronic tracks. Some songs are more memorable than others and the music score does gives off some cinematic vibes here and there. Most of the weapons sound pretty good, others not so much, like the M4 for example which just sounds “off”. But for the most part, they all sound powerful. When talking about the technical aspects, the game ran fine. I did notice the frame rate dip when things got really hectic but I didn’t notice any real glitches or bugs. I would say the overall presentation is decent. It looks bland, sounds pretty good, and runs pretty smoothly.
I think I would have enjoyed Kill Switch more back when it released. It really hasn’t aged well in many respects and lacks replay value. It’s a very short game, it’s not exactly eye-catching, and it’s only redeeming quality is the cover system. But I did enjoy it for the most part. I’ll admit, without the cover system, this would just be a very generic shooter. Still, the cover system works well and I remember the concept intriguing me back in the day. Many games up to this point just had you running and gunning, taking bullets to the face, and moving behind walls and structures to avoid getting shot. That was the cover system. Kill Switch implemented a system where you need to utilize cover to survive and the idea of shooting from cover and blind firing was all my teenage brain needed to get excited back then. There’s been far superior games since then that implement the cover system much better but this game has always been on my list to try and now I can say I finally did. And I enjoyed it.
Ultimately, Kill Switch is good but not great. It definitely needs more polish, more replay value, and just more content in general. The five chapters that are here do offer plenty of action-packed gameplay but the experience will be over before you know it. The two difficulty modes do offer some replay value but there’s no stat tracking, cheat mode, extra difficulties, extra modes, or anything to give you a reason to come back unless you really fall in love with the gameplay. I definitely would have enjoyed Kill Switch a lot more had I obtained a copy back when it released but I didn’t. You can find this for pretty cheap now but even so, I would only recommend it if you think any of this looks interesting. Otherwise, give it a pass. What is here is fun but the lack of content is really what brings it down. With that said, there’s far better action games for the Xbox and PS2 that released during that era.