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Kingdom of the Dead Video Game Review

Written by Matt Bartlett

Released by Hook

Developed by Dirigo Games
2022, Rated PEGI 16
Game released on 10th February 2022
Platforms: Steam

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Review:

Since the early days of computer gaming, first-person shooters and horror have gone hand-in-hand effortlessly. Plenty of games over the years have tried to capture the dark and visceral tension of the greats.

Enter Kingdom of the Dead, an independent effort from the folks at Dirigo Games. Assuming the role of professor turned Army general Agent Chamberlain, players are tasked with the goal of stopping the growing army of Death itself from taking over the world. Tasked by a group known as Gatekeeper, Chamberlain will take up arms in a variety of locations at the heart of Death’s efforts along with his trusty steed and mystical sword to stop the legions of undead converging up and down the US East Coast.

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Slicing Straight to the Chase

Kingdom of the Dead has little in the way of frills, mechanically speaking. After choosing one of the available missions to embark on, you’ll be guided into the location with just Chamberlain’s sword and a simple pistol to defend yourself with. As the mission unfolds, you’ll chance across more weapons to add to the arsenal like the powerful but inaccurate shotgun or the deadly-from-a-distance rifle. Outside of the occasional heart that you can find throughout the levels to upgrade how much damage you can take before perishing, there is little in the way of bolstering your defenses. In true retro manner, the game relies more on skill and tactics on the player’s part than on improving in-game stats.

It does offer a variable challenge to players, however, by offering special objectives to make the levels tougher, should they choose to. While the primary objective may be the same no matter the difficulty chosen, a second and third objective can be added while choosing a mission. These usually involve finding an item in a separate part of the level off the beaten path or ensuring that captives found in the levels don’t die. This creates more of a challenge by adding enemies that wouldn’t have been encountered otherwise or adding tension to the already frantic combat, rather than making the enemies tougher. In turn, this makes the difficulty balance feel fairer than a lot of other games in the genre and makes the game more accessible to those less versed in the insanity FPS games can be known for.

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Sketchy. Like In a Good Way

What really stands out is the presentation of the game on all fronts. From the first few minutes of Kingdom’s start, we are treated to beautiful hand-drawn graphics that persist through the entire game. By default, the game plays out in a literal sketchy monotone with environments, enemies, and all other elements being beautifully rendered in a unique style. Splashes of color appear in small details, like blood splatters and power-ups, along with the occasional effect of flames and explosions. It feels flat and brilliant at the same time and rarely feels stagnant. If you’re not feeling the black and white palette, though, there are several filters to change the tint and linework of the art. Admittedly, I found a number of the filters distracting but there is certainly something for everyone in the options.

The soundtrack also delivers on the pulp horror feel of the rest of the game. Lined with deep synthesizers and driving beats, the music feels like it would be right at home in the library of the 16-bit era. At first, it feels a little strange against the detailed and smooth art style Kingdom presents, but once the game’s tone settles in for the player, it all comes together and makes sense for what the developers were going for- an atmospheric dive into a Lovecraftian trade paperback in an early 90s computer game format.

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Weighing Worth in the Land of the Dead

While I would stray from saying that Kingdom of the Dead is perfect, it is far more capable than its first impressions would lead it to seem. The story is minimal but gets the job done. Combat is sharp and easy to get a grasp. Each mission can last between twenty to forty-five minutes or so, and checkpoints are strewn throughout each level, so death feels more like an inconvenience than a chore. Given the clear passion for the genre and the detail that has gone into making this game feel smooth and engaging, any flaws or qualms with this game would have to be based on personal preference and would take some digging on the player’s part. One might be able to say that the gameplay loop could get repetitive, but the levels feel so vastly different ranging from the streets of a small village to a sprawling mansion to jumping across rooftops of a city that the game engages the player on a different level.

This already feels like a game that is going to undeservedly fly under the radar. The game has a number of elements that may ward people off individually, but all work together in such an interesting harmony that fans of older games like Doom or Quake may just find themselves drawn into a “just one more mission” loop that is both easy to pick up and play as well as come back to in an attempt at different challenges or for higher scores.

Grades:

Story: 4 Star Rating Cover
Buy Steam
Graphics: 5 Star Rating
Gameplay: 4.5 Star Rating
Sound: 5 Star Rating
Replayability: four stars
Overall: 4.5 Star Rating

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