I genuinely love bad movies. What is for some a college fling spread over several drunk nights is for me a lifelong obsession with direct to DVD creature features. Every flubbed line, every hammy performance, every ridiculous plot twist—I live for that absurdity. Unfortunately, this attitude doesn’t translate over to games as well as some of the other cinematic touches the industry have borrowed over the years. Generally, you can’t laugh at a bad game because you’re a part of the experience, and games with a more absurd presentation are generally tight where it counts. There have been a few examples in the past, but I think I can safely add Killing Room to the small list of games that capture the essence of what a B-movie is all about.
Killing Room is a roguelike FPS by Alda Games that is half The Running Man and half The Binding of Issac. Each run begins with a named contestant boasting a randomized item that boosts stats like health, accuracy, or critical chance. You go into your first room, pick up whatever weapon is on hand, and charge forward to battle the hordes of evil snowmen and flying baby heads that await you. Along the way, you’ll have to contend with spiked floors and giant bear traps, as well as trying to stay popular with the audience watching the show. The combat is unforgiving in its difficulty, but there is a lot to like here once you get used to Killing Room‘s many many quirks.
As a roguelike, Killing Room succeeds just due to the sheer variety of items and pickups available in the base game. There are plenty of stat boosts, but the game also isn’t afraid to alter gameplay completely via a pickup. Grab a shirt featuring a famous web slinger’s logo, and you will suddenly jump twice as high, giving you a better chance of escaping hordes of enemies as they bear down on you. It gets even more creative when looking at the items that hurt the player. I’ve seen everything from the game chopping off one of your legs (complete with first person hopping and limited mobility), to pixelating your entire screen 90s style, to inducing insanity effects that come in the form of random farm animal noises and cartoon ponies dancing across your screen. Roguelikes are at their best when they can throw the unexpected at the player, and Killing Room does that in spades.
In addition to varied items, Killing Room also has a unique karma system of sorts that complements the typical shop and locked chests that you see in other games of the genre. You’re on a game show, and every action you take will change the feeling of your fans in the crowd. Score a few headshots or a sick triple kill and you’ll see your popularity rise. Do things seen as boring (like neglecting to explore side rooms) or unbecoming (such as opening a coffin to raid the health packs stashed inside) and you’ll quickly lose favor with the crowd. The game does an excellent job at playing with this system, including tempting players with vending machines that offer free money or healing for a loss of fame. At the end of each floor, the audience rewards you with prizes based on their opinion of you, and losing favor could mean some serious penalties going into the next round.
What Killing Room stalls on is its first person shooter mechanics. For one, the game doesn’t have controller support at launch, which prevented me from getting all that I wanted out of the game considering my control preferences. In addition, there are enough slightly off decisions here to make even the most lenient of FPS veterans shake their head. For example, reloading your weapon is an arduous process that can’t be automated. Instead of reloading automatically after emptying a clip or even just after pulling the trigger after firing off your last shot, hitting the reload button is required, even with single shot weapons like shotguns. This simple oversight slows the game’s otherwise quick pace and makes combat harder than it was probably intended to be.
Still, the combat being slightly off-balance kind of works in a title that’s full of things that feel slightly detached from what you’d expect from a game released in 2016. Killing Room has some great presentation values, which is a testament to the inexpensive tools that allow small teams to make games that feel big. Alda Games aimed high here, and the large assortment of enemy designs and gameplay variance at play gives a great sense of value. It even has a Twitch-related hook, allowing streamers to have their audience decide the types of rewards that they receive after boss fights. However, there are little things here and there throughout Killing Room that betray both its country of origin and the size of the team that made it.
It has to be clear, Killing Room is what some might easily call a bad game. After all, this is a game with a tutorial narrated by a woman who does everything but physically assault our hero in her attempts to hint that she wants to have sex with him. This is a game that goes one step beyond Duke 3D in the one-liners department, having its protagonist scream out every obscenity in the book without hesitation in a voice that sounds like the Russian cousin of Tommy Wiseau. This is a game where copyrights of popular characters and symbols are taken as a suggestion rather than a hard and fast rule. Even the name Killing Room and some of the presentation feel like a mockbuster clone of Tripwire’s Killing Floor, and that fits considering the games are about as similar as Michael Bay’s Transformers is to The Asylum’s Transmorphers.
All this leads me to why I personally enjoy playing Killing Room despite myself. It’s a flawed game, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also a scrappy game. It’s a game that isn’t afraid to try new things and also a game that feels held together at the seams by duct tape and wishful thinking. The parts that are broken are also the parts that are charming, and I was never put off by the game’s jank like I have been in so many other releases before it. In short, Killing Room is something that is meant to be played late at night when you’re in the mood for nonsense. It captures the spirit of Hollywood schlock in an interactive form, finding success in its own failures and missteps. If you’re willing to give in to its insanity, then Killing Room will reward you with some truly memorable moments.
Killing Room was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Killing Room is a flawed first person roguelike with a lot of heart. It's not for everyone, but fans of procedural generation or general cheesy nonsense can do a lot worse than tuning in to this deadly reality show.
- Large Variety of Items
- B-Movie Aesthetic
- Fast Paced Gameplay
- Shoddy Shooting Mechanics
- Punishing Difficulty
- Lack of Controller Support