Free-to-play is a service that is becoming ever more prominent on consoles, weening its way from the App Store and Steam to offer a new way to play in the console market. However, Kill Strain doesn’t drum up enough interest or variety in its gameplay to help quash the growing belief that free-to-play games can’t be on par with the likes of their AAA counterparts.
At first glance, Kill Strain looks like it could be a fun twin stick shooter with MOBA-esque tendencies, something it accomplishes for the first few matches played. With a nice and short tutorial to get you to grips with the game’s mechanics and dabble with the 3 starting Mercs, you’re then made to ‘buy’ just one of them after a mere few minutes with each. As a free-to-play game, it’s understandable that there will have to be a lot of grinding to purchase new characters without spending actual money, however each character can be further upgraded using the same currency. I found myself having to just spend all my hard-earned currency on upgrades, just so I had a chance against other players, rather than investing it into buying a new Merc or Mutant.
The main goal of a match is to team up with other players to destroy either the Merc’s or the Mutant’s base, depending on who you play as. It’s a game that relies heavily on teamwork, and thus it seems absurd that you can’t invite friends or parties into matches at all. Both sides grant you four recharging abilities to help you dominate the other teams, but the most interesting gameplay hook of Kill Strain is the Mutant’s ability to ‘turn’ Merc’s into one of their own at certain points in a match. This is a great mechanic that makes playing as the Mutants much more enjoyable, and it can completely change the outcome of a match. The main problem however is the game’s obtuse nature in explaining these mechanics. After putting 10 hours into this game, I still don’t quite understand how this ability becomes available.
Sharing similarities with MOBA’s such as DOTA 2, Kill Strain also relies on a single map for every match played, which is in no way a bad thing. The map is seemingly well-balanced at first, with two teams of up to four Merc’s on opposing sides and a single team of two mutants placed in the upper end of the map. However, after a few matches played as the Mutants, I began to find a way to exploit their ability to spread the titular ‘Strain’ across the map in such a way that it would be impossible for either team of Merc’s to win. This degree of unbalance doesn’t bode well for a team-based multiplayer game that relies so heavily on borrowing gameplay mechanics from popular MOBA’s, which in their very nature have to be well-balanced.
Despite the grinding needed to invest into new characters and the lack of variety across matches played, Kill Strain is an enjoyable experience at heart, but with an absence of nuances between the playable characters, it’s hard to tell whether this free-to-play game will have the longevity and support it so desperately needs.