11/10/2011

KILLING ZONE

Very well! I challenge you to a duel within... the Killing Zone! You know, the Killing Zone! Big square place where we do all the killing, between the Gateway of Ultimate Terror and the laundry room. The place where we had Harry's birthday party, before we killed him? In the Killing Zone? Oh never mind, let's just play Scrabble instead.
No, I haven't lost my mind - it's just a conversation I imagined happening between two of the combatants found in Naxat Soft's 1996 Playstation fighting game Killing Zone! Hang on, that makes me sound even more crazy. Tell you what, just ignore this whole opening bit.

Killing Zone is a fighting game, in the same way that violently rubbing a cheesegrater against your groin is passionate lovemaking - imagine, if you dare, a cross between Soul Calibur, Darkstalkers and vast pit filled with medical waste and early 3D graphics. The front cover proclaims it to be a "Sensational 3D Fighter", and as disgust and frustration are indeed sensations I suppose that's an accurate statement.

I'll get on to why Killing Zone is such a festering sore on the face of the beat-em-up genre soon enough, but first let's see why it makes an appearance here on VGJUNK's Hallowe'en month. As you may have gathered from the frankly stellar boxart, Killing Zone is a monster-themed fighter. There's a skeleton with a deformed pelvis who looks skinny even for someone made of bones, a stoned-looking minotaur and a big green chap who I think is supposed to be a mummy. The mummy is reaching out with his clawed hand, not as a gesture of agression but rather as a warning. "Stop," his actions seem to say, "do not play this game, for dread forces are at work here that a mere mortal such as yourself cannot hope to endure!" Well screw you, you big green freak: I played Hooters Road Trip, so this should be a piece of cake.
So, classic Hallowe'en-type monsters (and, for some reason, a couple from Greek mythology) make up the roster: no gi-clad karate masters or Russian wrestlers here. Let's meet them all, shall we?

The Wolfman, or more accurately, the, erm, man. Okay, so he can transform into a wolf - I saw the computer do it once, I swear - but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to activate it. This will become a common theme with the moves in Killing Zone. I suppose he's the standard-issue "generic fighter" type.

A skeleton! One thing that Killing Zone has over Darkstalkers is the inclusion of a skeleton, a monster who has surely earned his place alongside the vampires, witches and ghosts at Hallowe'en's top table. I love skeletons, but I've always found it hard to be scared of them: what are they going to do to you that someone with a full complement of flesh couldn't? Plus, they always look so cheerful. Still, I love skeletons, and it's a shame he appears in dreck like this, really. The skeleton is of the Jason and the Argonauts type, what with his sword and shield, and his Greek heritage leads me nicely to...

...the Minotaur! He's called Batch, apparently. Batch the Minotaur. I don't know why Naxat decided to mix these monsters from antiquity in with the likes of the Wolfman. I can only assume it's because they happened to have a book of Greek myths nearby when they were in the planning meeting.

Go on, take a guess what "Sherry" here is supposed to be. No idea? Apparently she's a Dark Faerie, a sub-species of faeries marked by having feathers stuck in their heads and what I believe the kids sometimes refer to as a "ghetto booty". She is presumably meant to be the game's token "sexy" character, an effect which is somewhat undermined by the fact she appears to have been assembled from cardboard boxes.

The Mummy from the cover art puts on the rest of his bandages for his in-game appearance, which is good because no-one wants to see what four thousand years of mummification beneath the Egyptian sands will do to a man's penis.

Rounding out the mythological side of things is the Gorgon, and fair play to Naxat for including a playable character who doesn't have any legs. Unluckily for her, at the time KZ was created the gaming technology required to accurately portray a snake-like body didn't exist, so from the waist down she looks like a string of robot sausages.

Finally there's the Giant, who isn't fooling anybody by calling himself the Giant: he's clearly a Frankenstein's Monster, or the Creature. Considering he calls himself "Giant", he's really not that big, but I supposed "Slighty Larger Than Average Reanimated Corpse Man" is a bit of a mouthful. In the Giant's defence, he's certainly easily identifiable as a Frankenstein's Monster.

These monsters must fight, although no in-game reason is given for their desire to beat the (un-)living shit out of their fellow freaks. In fact, you're not given much of anything in game. Nothing fun, anyhow.

As I mentioned, Killing Zone is a bog-standard 3D fighter, most reminiscent of the Soul Calibur series: fights take place in a square zone put aside for killing, you've got two kick buttons, two punch buttons and a block button, and the rounds in these best-of-three fights can be decided either by K.O. or a ring out. So far, so incredibly generic. What sets Killing Zone apart from other fighting games is the fact that it's one of the worst games I've ever had the misfortune of playing.

Now, if you've read VGJUNK before you'll know that I always try to look on the bright side when I'm talking about a game that isn't exactly over-endowed in the quality department. Games go wrong for all kinds of reasons outside the developers' control, usually low budgets and tight deadlines, and while occasionally I'll play a game whose very existence will wound the core of my being in such a way that my soul will forever be a little darker, (Hooters Road Trip and Dragon's Lair are the obvious candidates,) I can usually find at least one or two things that make a game worth playing. In this case it was quite a struggle, but even Killing Zone has a nanometer-thin silver lining. It's positives are that you can play as a skeleton and a Frankenstein's Monster, and the skeleton has a pretty amusing jumping attack that briefly turns him into a giant skull.

And that's it. Everything else about this game is utterly worthless, and I'd like you all to remember that I played it so you don't have to. I've suffered, I truly have, and if you're stupid enough to play this game after reading this then you deserve everything you get.
Let's start, as seems fair, with the gameplay. It's bad, sure, but why? What is it that makes playing KZ an experience only slightly less painful than replacing the game disk with your genitals and slamming the lid closed? Sadly, it's a combination of pretty much every single factor. The controls are gloopily unresponsive. Characters move with all the speed of a particularly overweight glacier, until you dash which seems to make them teleport. The collision detection is a joke, hitboxes seem to exist in an alternate multidimensional reality that only occasionally interacts with our own and the ring-out system sometimes sees you falling right through the bloody floor. While there do appear to be special moves in the game, I couldn't figure out how to do any of them and you can bet your ass there's no help or tutorial modes in this game.

However, I think my favourite thing about the gameplay is the amazing AI, and I'm using "amazing" in the sense that I am honestly amazed that AI this poor could exist in a videogame released after 1979. I don't use the word "literally" lightly, but Pac-Man literally has better AI than Killing Zone. The best example I can give is that if you hit an enemy and back away as far as you can, your opponent simply will not come and attack you, choosing instead to stand on one spot and swat at the air like someone at the mercy of invisible wasps (a poor analogy, because invisible wasps have no mercy). You can win eighty percent of your fights by hitting them once, backing away and waiting for the timer to run out. Truly incredible.

The gameplay is terrible, but what of the graphics? You've seen the screenshots, right? Well, they don't give nearly the right impression as the game looks a lot worse in motion. The main problem is the constant clipping of the polygons, with arms suddenly jutting out of chests like bleedin' Kuato and people performing throws that don't actually connect with your target at any point during the move. The stages are incredibly bland, and the menus are almost non-existent.

In fact, the whole game feels almost nihilistic in it's stubborness to provide anything like entertainment or atmosphere. There's no storyline, no pre- or post-battle banter, no win quotes and no final boss; your "reward" for completing the game is a single screen with the names of all the people involved with the game listed on a plain black screen, like some kind of war memorial. These men are gone, but not before they left an almighty steaming turd on our doorsteps in the form of Killing Zone. The whole thing has the feel of an especially bad Net Yaroze game, possibly one put together by radical French intellectuals as a dark critique on man's inhumanity to man - for you see, we are the monsters!

The presentation is poor to the point of nonexistence, but one thing does stand out: whenever a round starts, a disembodied voice commands you to "reach around".



Perhaps the reason your monster controls so poorly is that they have been stunned by this sudden lecture on sexual ettiquette.

Killing Zone has one thing up it's sleeve that shows a little invention, although as you might have guessed it's incredibly poorly thought out and bafflingly executed. Maybe you noticed the title screen contains an option for "Auto Mode", which sadly isn't a mode where the game automatically deletes itself but rather a Pokemon-style monster training game.

I say it's Pokemon-style, but imagine a playing a version of Pokemon where you have no direct control over anything that happens, ever, and that in this universe all pokemon have their brains surgically replaced with hard-boiled eggs at birth. You begin by selecting a monster, which then takes part in a series of tournaments. The only control you have over it is to give it commands which it then attempts to execute itself (hence "auto mode") but the problem is that your character doesn't interpret them as commands but rather a series of vague suggestions.

Hold the "attack" button and your monster will generally stand in place and flail their arms ineffectually. If you want to see them move backwards but never actually block, hold the "block" button. Pressing "Advance" rather perversely makes them jump straight up in the fucking air. It's a terrible game mode that somehow manages to be even more frustrating than the already-broken manual play, because at least in that mode when you press a button something generally happens, even if it is underwhelming and poorly coded

That's not even the worst thing about it. In the one instance that passes for an interesting idea in Killing Zone, your monser's stats increase as they win fights, and occasionally they even change costume. Neato, you might be thinking, it's like a little monster-battling RPG! Oh, you poor, naive fool. You see, in their infinite wisdom Naxat neglected to include a "save game" option. That's right, every time you load the game you have to start from scratch, rendering the single interesting idea in this game utterly pointless. It takes a special kind of game to be this wilfully awful, and Killing Zone has most triumphantly earnt itself a place amongst the Pantheon of Dreadful Videogames. Take a seat between Superman 64 and Super Monkey Daibouken, you fucking idiot.

Do I even need to do a recap? Killing Zone is bad, bad like a hundred angry scorpions in your underwear, bad like a sudden attack of diarrhoea on a bouncy castle, bad like the souls of those you have killing haunting your dreams every night until you finally hang yourself just so that you can embrace the sweet release of death. And still, it's not hatefully bad - it's not like Dragon's Lair, where everything seems to have been created with the sole aim of making you despise mankind as a species. It just happens to fail on every level, and most importantly on the level of "being fun".

However, between the monsterific cast and the sheer horror of actually playing the damn thing, it is pretty fitting for the Hallowe'en period. Therefore it, gets a seven on the Hallowe'en-O-Meter - some points were lost for diluting the ghoul-pool with the addition of characters from Greek mythology, but overall a high score for any beat-em-up that isn't Darkstalkers.
One final word: apparently, this is actually a sequel, being the bastard offspring of a Saturn fighter called Battle Monsters. Apparently the prequel uses digitised actors as sprites. Dear God. Look upon Naxat's work, ye mighty, and despair.

8 comments:

  1. Maybe it's just because I had a Saturn during that era, but I just watched a video of Killing Zone and it didn't look that bad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Richy: All I can say is that it plays a lot worse than it looks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Graphics and characters are too much poor. I have played this game once and it was disgusting experienced with this game.
    Openbox S9 HD

    ReplyDelete
  4. Man, I hate to be that guy, but Darkstalkers totally has a skeleton. Lord Raptor. And he's got the best supermove, wherein he turns his opponent into a basketball.

    So... Killing Zone officially has NOTHING that Darkstalkers doesn't have. Except horrible 3D graphics, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Joe: No way, Lord Raptor is totally a zombie, right? Although I will admit he is a particularly skeletal zombie. Who can slam-dunk. Yeah, he's pretty cool.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I did not like this game. Graphics of this game is very poor. Character and sounds are very bad. Once I played it then I have deleted it from my PC.

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    ReplyDelete
  7. regarding your mention of battle monsters, you should totally give it a look. i love it and think it's pretty cool, but it isn't exactly 'well made' per se. it's got a cool ghost dude, a headless egyptian man and a cyclopean beast called Strawbelly Jam though, so that's something right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A cool ghost *and* a monster called Strawbelly Jam? That's pretty intriguing, I'll be honest.

      Delete

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