Review | 4/6/2016 at 1:38 PM

Kill to Collect Co-Op Review

Crank up your Casio keyboards

There’s more depth to Kill to Collect than one would assume at first glance. While its style is an excellent nod to all of the 80s anime, cartoons, and films from which it drew inspiration, all of that merely serves as window dressing to its greatest strength: its gameplay.

Set in the distant future after some catastrophic event, Kill to Collect puts you in the boots of a bounty hunter just trying to earn a living in the last known city on Earth, Geoshelter Alpha. This is just enough of a setup to set the title in a world that is reminiscent of any number of dystopic films, anime, and novels from the late 20th century. The various areas you explore in Geoshelter Alpha are industrial and cold; the enemies wear leather jackets and sport window-shade glasses; and the soundtrack is the perfect mix of synth melodies and electronic beats. The only thing missing are the VHS scan lines. Unfortunately, all of this is just a backdrop for a game with one goal in mind: track down and kill bounty heads.

The campaign's 13 levels feel a little geared more towards familiarizing you with the gameplay than telling any kind of story. As you progress through each level, you’ll either be gathering information about a bounty, or going after them directly. Regardless of which you’re doing, each level plays more or less the same: fight your way through a series of procedurally generated floors, and then take on the bounty head (or a horde of enemies).

Each floor is divided up into individual rooms that pit you against a set number of foes. Defeat all the enemies, open the door to the next room, clear that one out, and so on. There’s a certain Smash TV feeling to the whole affair, which is further enhanced by special challenge rooms that net you food stamps upon completion and enemies that occasionally drop tech credits or other special items. On average, you’ll spend about 15 to 20 minutes on a level.

Those stamps and credits are used at the shop area found at the end of every floor. Here, you can buy food (which serve as character upgrades), consumable items (such as medkits, secondary weapons, and temporary buffs), and replenish any health you lost along the way. The upgrades, which can increase your hunter’s total health pool, shorten the cooldown time on special skills, increase damage, and more, last until you complete the bounty or everyone in your group dies. If you make it all the way to the end of a level and kill the bounty, you’ll earn some credits. This special currency is accumulated across all game modes (Campaign, Challenges, and Free Play) and unlock new character skins, cosmetic titles, and gear loadouts, which you can set before partaking in a hunt.

I didn’t realize it until I started playing, but what I really wanted Kill to Collect to be was a story-driven cyberpunk adventure set in the neon-lit future I grew up seeing in the media of my youth. The more I played, though, the more that that wishful thinking chipped away and I started to appreciate the game as it is. In our interview with Pieces Interactive CEO David Rosén, he stated that of their main goals with the game was to have “short intense sessions of challenging fun [with friends.]”

They succeeded.

Every time you enter a new room, there’s a brief “threat assessment” moment where scope out the enemies and prioritize who to kill first. While all of the hunters can only attack at close-range, the same does not hold true for all foes. Some try to get close and swing at you, others dash away to shoot at you from a distance, and some will even try to shoot you with a grappling hook and pull you close. Determining which enemy to engage first depends almost entirely on what friends he has with him, but regardless of what you do, you won’t be spending the whole fight mashing the attack button.

There’s an ebb and flow to Kill to Collect’s combat that reminds me of Dark Souls. Most attacks in the game have a little wind up to them, so if an enemy is about to attack you, you have a brief second to dodge away before you’re hit. If you’re attacking an enemy, you’re committed to that attack until it hits. It even takes your hunter a little time to turn around; this is not like a twin-stick shooter where you point the stick in a direction and you’re instantly facing that way. All of this accumulates into Kill to Collect’s combat being more strategic and less “twitchy” than other titles. You’ll have to choose when to get in and attack a foe, and when to dodge away and get some distance. Dying almost always feels like the result of something you did as opposed to the game getting in a cheap shot. It has a surprising amount of depth that will continue to provide players with a challenge no matter how long they’ve played.

Each of the four playable bounty hunters feel unique while at the same time feeling equal; no one hunter feels better or stronger than the other. Ivan Ironfist, for example, does the least amount of damage with his primary attack, but he attacks faster than all the other hunters and is able to warp behind enemies. His special ability also sets foes up to take more damage the next time they are damaged. Ivan is best used as a kind of “hit-and-run” hunter; warping in to get a couple hits in before warping away again.

Contrast that kind of play style to Shocking Shelley, who has a slower attack speed, does more damage, and uses her electric staff and turrets to stun enemies so she can stay in the fray longer. Neither of these hunters is inherently “better” than the other. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, which is part of what makes the co-op experience work so well. Pairing up these two hunters allows players to try out new tactics. For instance, Shelley could stun a group of enemies so Ivan can warp in and hit them with his special, which would allow Shelley to do more damage to them when she attacks. These kinds of strategies will be needed, too, the number of enemies you face increases with the number of players, ensuring the game remains challenging for all.

Should that challenge prove to be too much for a player, then he or she has a limited amount of time in which they can be revived by a teammate. As the enemies won’t stop their assault to let that happen, the revive timer may expire, in which case the player will have to wait until the rest of the team reaches the end of the floor or completes a challenge room in order to be revived.

From a broad view, Kill to Collect may sound like any number of roguelike action titles. Its visual style and soundtrack are noteworthy, but they’re rarely utilized for anything more than set dressing. Playing the game, though, reveals something more. While it may not be the cyberpunk adventure I had initially envisioned or hoped for, Kill to Collect is an engaging, skill-based action title with a satisfying co-op experience.