Kingdom of the Dead
Developer: Dirigo Games
Release Date: 11 February 2022
Genre: First Person Shooter
By Chris Picone, 11 February 2022
Now First Person Shooters (FPS) aren’t my normal jam – I’m more of a roleplayer – but I grew up with games like Doom and Wolfenstein, the sequels of which I still enjoy playing, and some of my absolute favourite games (Far Cry and Bioshock!) are FPS games. So I am a fan of the genre but those games need to work hard to impress me. I had never heard of Kingdom of the Dead (KotD) before it appeared in my review queue so I went in completely open-minded. And impress me, it did. Freshly released today, KotD is Dirigo’s fourth title. I haven’t heard of any of their other work either, but if this is anything to go by, I’m going to have to go and check them out.
As befits a first person shooter, the story’s barely more than an excuse to launch you into the action, with a suitable twist at the end which I won’t spoil here. In short: You’re a secret agent working for the Church (or some other agency) tasked with protecting the world from undead and supernatural horrors and closing the gateways to hell. Good enough for me.
Stylistically the graphics are similar to what you might expect to see in an oldschool comic except they’ve specifically gone for the pen & ink look. The only exception is, in a similar manner to the likes of Sin City, the blood of your enemies remains bright red and it gets splashed around quite a bit, adding to the effect. In the context of an FPS game, it really creates a dark and threatening atmosphere and a singular experience.
Some odd choices made here, but they work. The sound effects and “voices” (the groans of the zombies) are surprisingly minimal but delivered consistently and to great effect in terms of maintaining a spooky atmosphere where danger feels like it’s always lurking just around the corner. What’s even stranger is the soundtrack, which I can only describe as “high definition chiptune.” It’s a bizarre choice because the game’s sleek graphics mean that it comes across as fairly modern whereas the music sounds like it might better fit a (modern) retro game with pixel art. However, and probably because the graphics are comic-esque, it works. The music adds to the constant sense of foreboding and track changes during the boss fights in particular really get that blood flowing.
Kingdom of the Dead plays like a mix between Nightmare Creatures and oldschool Doom. The level designs are awesome; beautiful, dreadful, three-dimensional and interesting to play through. There are the ones you expect like the mansion and the crypt but you’ll also find yourself fighting demons in the deep forest, jumping across the rooftops of the city, and even on a moving train. Despite the totally different theme and art style, the creatures bear an uncanny resemblance to those found in early Doom and you’ll find yourself cycling through basically the same array of weapons to fight them (minus the BFG, of course). It’s fast-paced but not hectic. Of all things, I found one of KotD’s most interesting features is the way Dirigo implemented their difficulty modes. First, they’re on a level-by-level basis, and you can go back and replay each level in different difficulty modes whenever you like. Adjusting the difficulty in most first person shooters normally sees you playing the same level in the same way but against monsters that might have more health and do more damage or health and ammo drops are less frequent or that sort of thing. But in Kingdom of the Dead a higher difficulty means more and harder monsters, better strategic placing of those monsters, and additional objectives to complete for the mission. It has the interesting effect of forcing you to change your gameplay to meet the increased threat; a gung-ho approach works in easy mode but the harder modes force you to think tactically and use your ammo and best weapons sparingly. There’s also a gnarly boss at the end of each level, which sees you fighting gigantic sandworms, bats, and a demonic stag. There are others but I don’t want to spoil them so I’ll just say the fights were memorable and leave it at that.
Fun Factor / Replayability
Although the game’s quite short with only nine levels, each level is a decent length, and the manner in which the difficulty modes have been implemented allows you to play each level three times (once for each difficulty), enjoying three very different gaming experiences.
Kingdom of the Dead is the most fun I’ve had with a first person shooter in a long time. It’s thoughtfully made, nicely polished, unique, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re an FPS fan, don’t hold back.