Door Kickers is an interesting game. Sold by developer KillHouse Games as Real Time Strategy, you could be forgiven for thinking you would be controlling legions of police officers with riot shields against an army of criminals. Though that would be incredible, Door Kickers is best described as a top down SWAT tactics simulation. While an Age of Empires style SWAT game remains a fever dream, the Door Kickers we got is an excellent product with both a novel experience for the player and seriously addicting gameplay.
Door Kickers puts you in charge of a SWAT team that varies in size from 2 to 8 people wherein each member of the team can move and perform actions independently of one another. You are given a goal which range from kill all these criminals/terrorists, collecting evidence, extracting VIPs and so on. You control the teams actions by drawing movement paths with the mouse for each individual team member to follow. The mechanic reminded me a lot of the iPhone game Flight Control (surely the only time the two games will be compared) with some of the challenge coming in coordinating the movement of up to 8 characters simultaneously.
That hectic feeling is addressed elegantly by the ability to pause the action at any time to enter a “planning mode” where you can draw out the paths of your team, set up actions and create an order of operations by breaking up the actions of the team into stages. It provides a good sense of control of the situation when you can break down the actions of your team in advance and watch your plan unfold. A great amount of the gameplay also centres around the titular mechanic, your swat team has a host of options for entering a room potentially full of criminals. You can simply kick the door in, scout the room with a spy camera, plant breaching charges, pick the lock to sneak in or bust in with a flashbang.
The gameplay itself is a lot of fun, when you do everything right you’ll feel like a mastermind of tactics; coordinating simultaneous breaches taking out criminals in seconds. When you do it wrong you’ll feel like an idiot for having your point man walk backwards into a room full of baddies. A major strength of the gameplay is the short iteration time, when you realize your chosen tactic isn’t going to work it takes seconds to reload and try again. It reminds me a lot of Hotline Miami in that regard; the lack of punishment for screwing up and trying again encourages experimentation and stops the game from feeling like a circumscribed slog. It is also incredibly cathartic to just dispense with stealth and clever tactics and just go in guns blazing once in a while.
Throughout my gameplay experience I only encountered one game-breaking bug, when a character who was to be arrested clipped through the level geometry and became unretrievable. With that one exception, the game is incredibly solid mechanically.
There are also customization and RPG elements with regards to your squad. Completing missions and levelling up your squad gives you access to better guns, gear and class specialization as well as providing skill trees for your SWAT team. This is one of the only areas I thought the game fell short; it doesn’t do a particularly good job of introducing all these elements to the player from the outset. I discovered the skill trees by accident, and did not realize how certain customizable equipment affected abilities in game until I sought out why I suddenly couldn’t throw a flash-bang. None of this hurt the core gameplay, but the game could benefit from a more in-depth tutorial of all the features.
The game really doesn’t have a story to speak of, there are “campaigns” but the only thing that differentiates a campaign from the single missions is that injuries and deaths of SWAT team members carry over. It does provide an incentive to strive for a perfect run of each level when you can potentially be without your highest level characters in the next mission. Each team member is given a name and eventually a callsign, but this is primarily so you can differentiate the team members from one another when customizing. It did create funny moments in-game however; my point-man was Nadine Branagan who despite being a woman spoke only in a man’s voice. The game doesn’t really require a story to be extremely entertaining however, the “story” elements present are primarily means to frame missions or game mechanics and there is no problem with that.
The graphical style is again reminiscent of Hotline, but shoots for a much more realistic look. The ultraviolence is dispensed in favour of more environmental detail and fidelity in the models. The graphics aren’t jaw-dropping, but there are many nice touches here and there; such as TVs that cast light and are audible when your team members are nearby. The only niggling issue with the visuals is that occasionally the overlapping of character paths and actions can become confusing and indecipherable, but that only really occurs when trying to move your entire 8-man team through one doorway.
From an audio standpoint there is also little to complain about, the music is effective and understated, the sound effects crisp and appropriate. The only issue coming in line recycling; hearing “injured!” and “The cops are here!” a couple dozen times a level can cause you to wish that KillHouse had sprung for another voice actor or two.
Door Kickers is an excellent game any way you slice it. It is addictive, satisfying and consistently challenging without ever becoming punishing. The few minor issues enumerated above do nothing to hurt the experience of one of the most fun games I have played in recent memory. Grab your copy of Door Kickers today for $19.99 on Steam.
Door Kickers is an addictive, entertaining and surprisingly cerebral experience. If you have any interest in strategy and tactics, this game is for you.