The Game: Thrill Kill (1998)
Developer: Paradox Development
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
The Premise: KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KI-
Is It Any Good?: With MCP’s own Justin Clark and Cavan Gallagher having already covered titles both alien and supernatural for our month of horror themed Random Selects, I decided that for my initial entry I’d take things in a more meta direction. After all, a horror game is one thing, but what could possibly be spookier than talking about the GHOST OF A GAME! That’s right, savvy readers may have already figured out the twist that Thrill Kill was dead the whole time, but for everyone else a brief history lesson. Way back in 1998, a title was set to be released that would change the fighting game landscape forever. Heir apparent to the Mortal Kombat throne, Thrill Kill offered twice the action with its 4 player fighting system and more violence and depravity than you could shake a severed limb at. One of the few games to ever receive an AO (Adults Only) rating, Thrill Kill as we know it would probably never have seen the light of day even if new owners EA hadn’t decided to ax it after acquiring original publisher Virgin Interactive. In the words of then director of corporate communications Pat Becker, “We have to be responsible for the content that we make available to the marketplace. We felt that this was not the kind of title that we wanted to see in the market.” While EA would later decide that morals were for pussies and release a game were you murder babies in Hell on an epic quest for boobs, the damage was done and Thrill Kill would have been lost to the ether if it weren’t for this burgeoning thing called “the internet” which thanks to a near-complete leaked copy has allowed Thrill Kill to haunt the gaming world to this day, making it perhaps the most played cancelled game of all time.
It’s an interesting story, which is fortunate because that’s about the only thing interesting about Thrill Kill. Sadly this is no unfairly condemned classic, but rather a mediocre game which might have milked some interest out of its novelty gameplay and aesthetic back in the 90s, but by all modern standards is entirely forgettable. Setting aside the “extreme” elements for a moment, the problems begin at the most basic level. While the epitome of the four player fighter would come just two years later in the form of Power Stone 2 (yeah, you heard me Nintendo fans) in 1998 the concept was still fairly novel. The problem was that the reason many games hadn’t attempted it was the strain it put on hardware, resulting in cramped levels with little in the way of bells and whistles. While there’s obviously an element of skill to 4 person fighting games, a big part of their appeal lies in weapon and map management. Without those elements, Thrill Kill’s gameplay quickly becomes a confused mess of cludgy attacks. Rather than whittling away at a healthbar, players actually build up an energy meter until they have enough power to execute a finishing move on another player. While the other players do have a chance to dodge, it’s a one hit kill if it lands, eliminating that player and beginning the next round. Playing against the AI, my tactics never extended beyond spamming the basic attacks and avoiding getting cornered, and while more players might make things slightly more interesting, the fundamental problem with the game is that skill alone can be countered by numbers. That means combat is less of a back and forth fight and more of a game of tag because no one can engage without fear of being jumped from all sides.
As for the “shocking” violence and sexuality, by modern standards it’s downright quaint. Individual taste will vary, but I’ve always found polygonal graphics to age much worse than their sprite counterparts, and Thrill Kill is no exception. Yet even with a modern look there really wouldn’t be much here worth raising eyebrows over. Damned souls battling it out in Hell probably seemed incredibly edgy back in the 90s, but in this day and age a dominatrix with a cattle prod who moans suggestively after killing someone is relatively tame when games like Saint’s Row The Third let you run around in the buff with your pimp sidekick and beat people to death with a giant dildo. Alright, technically Saint’s Row The Third is the only game that lets you do that, but the point stands. While there’s a handful of clever moves and character designs (I personally dug Cletus the Slack-Jawed Cannibal Yokel), it all reeks of trying way too hard, lacking both the solid gameplay and genuinely disturbing design of something like a Twisted Metal: Black. Again, at the time it may have been enough to incite a few calls to protect the precious children, but as a jaded modern gamer it’s about as scandalous as Reefer Madness, without the ironic kitsch appeal. I mean seriously, did I mention EA’s baby killing game? For fans of gaming curiosities it may be worth a novelty playthrough, but for everyone else Youtube can show you pretty much everything this game has to offer.
Bonus Points: Using professional game journalist research skills (*cough* Wikipedia *cough*), I was able to determine that while boobs and undercarriage bits continue to plague the video game world, only a handful of titles with violence have been deemed heinous enough to warrant an AO. This prestigious club includes Critical Point, Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Director’s Cut, GTA: San Andreas, Manhunt 2, Lula 3D and Riana Rouge. Of those games, Manhunt 2 was the only one whose violence bumped it out of the M zone (the rest were tagged due to varying degrees of ugly bumping) which I was going to use as a segue into some social commentary on backwards American mores until my lawyer advised me that may be seen as hypocritical in light of the pending charges. To which I say if those hobos didn’t want to get chained up in the basement, they shouldn’t have been so catchable!
MOAR LIKE THIS PLZ: Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, Twisted Metal: Black, Manhunt, Postal
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