For many, it’s the indie scene which is the true heartbeat of the gaming world. And whilst many more may wish to disagree, pushing forward claims that stunning visuals, hundred-hour long stories and mind-blowing mechanics are what really make the world go round, those who are happy to spend time with the smaller games of this world will know all about the mass effect that they have had. But similarly there does seem to be a bit of a trend in this independent department, one which dictates that the visual look must run the wrong side of retro; an old-school look if you will, something that immediately drains on some. Even sat here now, I have to admit that the plethora of retro-vibed games that have hit Xbox One in the past year are starting to become slightly tiresome. However, visuals aren’t what makes a game, and that case in point is proven brilliantly with the delightful Door Kickers: Action Squad. For it is the action within which makes this a near must-player.
Door Kickers: Action Squad comes about via the Romanian based indie developers at KillHouse Games, and throughout your time with the game you will find that you are requested to do nothing but rescue hostages, disarm bombs and take down bad guys. This is, of course, all done while kicking down a good few doors in the process.
Playing out as a SWAT themed side-scroller set in Nowhere City, all with retro visuals and ideas that were commonplace back in the day, it is up to you to take charge of a crack team of commandos, working through a huge variety of stages in order to clear out the bad, and rescue the good. And from the word go it’s all huge fun, albeit utterly intense at the same time.
Door Kickers: Action Squad on Xbox One comes with a variety of game modes, but it will be the Classic Mode that contains the standard police work that you’ll really want to get to grips with. It is here where we find no less than seven different episodes of action, with one unlocking after the other dependent on how well you are carrying out your duties. With each of these episodes containing 12 missions, and some of those missions proving to be pretty lengthy affairs, it’s easy to see that a lack of content isn’t an issue with what KillHouse have provided.
It becomes even less of an issue when you think you’re done with the Classic Mode and delve into the Zombie Invasion Mode which thrusts you back into the same missions again, just with a zombie threat appearing as you go about your business. It’s a great little amendment to the Classic Mode and will be sure to keep you on your toes throughout – battling bad guys, rescuing hostages AND taking down zombies will see you drawing on all your skills.
Action Squad isn’t done there though, and just for good measure, and to ensure that this is a game you will be playing for weeks and possibly months on end, is the Infinity Tower – one big randomly generated tower full of objectives, missions, enemies and more door kicking then you can shake a stick at. Whilst it has to be said that this is the least exciting of the options on offer, once again there can be no bad word sent back to KillHouse for at least including it.
Once you have decided on your levels of choice, you will discover that there is just as much variety in the characters, weapons, abilities and skills that you’ll be using going forward. See, prior to the start of each stage you’ll be able to choose between six different Door Kickers, with the Assaulter the easiest to get to grips with, delivering full bursts of firepower and plenty of long range takedown skills. Alongside him though is the short range, indiscriminately shooting, shotgun-powered Breacher, the Shield carrier who can withstand multiple explosions, and the Off-Duty Guy who comes with his own unique charm, wit and powerful carbine. Each of these does the job intended of them, yet should you wish to move away from hammering down the fire, you will discover that both Agent Fergie and the Recon Action Squad member are both just as vital to any form of success. In fact, only by utilising the strengths of each character, and deciding on which one’s abilities will work best for any chosen level will your Door Kickers life ever be fulfilled.
Each of these characters can be leveled up in numerous ways too, with experience points and earnt stars enabling you the chance to mix and match playstyles as you see fit. Struggling with a specific point on a certain level? Buy a more powerful weapon. Can’t seem to nail the bad guys in that end of stage room? Take some frags or flashbangs to help you out. Include multiple armour types, extra gear slots and the opportunity to work with faster reload speeds and your choice of character and gear is a hugely important one.
Each of the agents in this squad can have further Class and Team skills enhanced. This is where a little grind comes in and by playing through the huge number of levels that Door Kickers: Action Squad delivers, you will discover that your experience points fast unlock a number of skill trees, providing better accuracy and recoil stats for each individual fighter, and additional physical and logistical upgrades for the team as a whole. By working with these abilities and skills you’ll find a great amount of depth to everything that Door Kickers brings, providing even more reason to keep playing.
All of the action is played out with a visual and audio style that is reminiscent of the good old side-scrolling screen-flipping affairs from decades past. And while my initial thoughts centred on this being ‘just another goddamn retro’d game’, it all works quite brilliantly in Door Kickers.
Each and every level has been created well, detailed right down to the finest aspect, and this ensures that it’s a joy to play through Door Kickers, with it being a cinch to understand exactly how you’re best off approaching every single room – at least once you’ve had one attempt go wrong, anyways. In fact, the detail is so big that the stages created by KillHouse would put many a bigger budgeted game to shame.
The audio is of just as high a quality, from the lock and loading of the early opening throes of a stage, right through to the pumping soundtrack that accompanies the manic gunfire and screams of help as you go busting down doors in order to save any and all hostages.
But, and this is a fairly hefty but, Door Kickers: Action Squad is hard and pretty unforgiving, at least if you are a lone player. And this is because one wrong move, one slip of the trigger or one ill-placed reload will see you gunned down in a pool of blood and left to try things again. With no ‘lives’ and health bars easily depleted by the masses of oncoming bad guys, should you take your eye off the prize you will be left struggling with what Door Kickers brings. Thankfully, and despite this, the solo draw of Door Kickers: Action Squad is one that many should be looking to embrace, but it’s when you team up with a friend that this crazy old school side-scroller really comes to life.
Two brains and a whole extra set of weapons and tactical nous really do allow the difficult nature of Door Kickers to be slightly pushed to one side, with both local and online multiplayer elements ensuring that what may well come across as tricky for a single player, fast becomes much more fun with two. Obviously much like those who tackle this hostage rescuing affair alone will discover, tactics and strategy still play a huge role in the cooperative side of Door Kickers. But with special meters filling for each character throughout, one wrong move no longer means being thrown back to the start of a stage; with the surviving member able to heal and revive anyone who has been downed. Yes that may mean that the power of your specials is negated slightly, and you’ll struggle to make much use of the Ultimate skills that bring in special snipers and more, however it is this simple revival technique which pushes Door Kickers: Action Squad from a good game into a great one. As long as communication takes place, flanking bad guys and entering rooms in a variety of ways in order to spring surprise on the opposition makes this a hugely entertaining affair.
There really is very little to not like about how Door Kickers plays out. It may get brutally hard as a solo player, but the opportunity to play out your fantasies as a SWAT team member as fast, as slow, as tactically or as run-and-gun-y as you like is always a pleasant one. When you include the huge range of levels, the decent switch between characters, the upgrades to abilities and skills, and then the utterly simple gameplay elements that bring it all together, it must be said that KillHouse have pulled one out of the bag here.
Without the multiplayer element, I’d be happy to say that Door Kickers: Action Squad is more than worthy of the fairly low asking price. But with it, the entire experience moves up another good notch or two, providing some of the best cooperative styled gameplay I’ve managed to take in over recent years.
If you can grab a mate, then Door Kickers: Action Squad on Xbox One is a must-play title. While even a lone gunman will still find tons of content and shooting opportunities which will keep them busy for many a night – just be sure to know that it’s in the cooperative scene where this retro-vibed indie really excels.