In Kingdom of the Dead, from developers Dirigo Games and HOOK, you take on the role of Agent Chamberlain, an agent for a top-secret government agency that is tasked with putting a stop to the spreading chaos of Death. Armed with a mysterious talking sword, Chamberlain aims to stomp out Death’s insurrections throughout the world and keep the peace.
Kingdom of the Dead immediately stands out with its unique black and white, hand-drawn art style. The game is almost like a gritty noir comic coming to life on the screen and the red blood splatters pop out beautifully. This aesthetic is backed by an equally gritty and minimalistic, on-theme synthesizer soundtrack, reminiscent of John Carpenter films in the ’70s and ’80s. This unique presentation is how Kingdom of the Dead draws you in with a vibe that stands out from the pack in a big way.
While the pen and paper aesthetic is definitely unique, this art style can also present some difficulties. With a lot of moving lines in a single frame, it can, at times, provide a strain for the eyes. There’s also an issue with the monochrome color scheme where it provides extra cover for flying enemies. When you’re outdoors, these enemies can almost seamlessly blend in with the night sky, making it hard to sometimes pinpoint where the threat is.
Kingdom of the Dead outfits you with 8 different weapons including FPS standards such as a pistol, rifle, and shotgun. Each level has you start with just the sword and pistol, having you collect the stronger weapons as you go, only to then ditch them all before you start the next case. You cannot carry over ammo and weapons between missions, so don’t be stingy with your strongest weapon and let the bullets fly. The firearms all feel punchy and have multiple fire modes that makes them feel unique; your revolver can rapid fire multiple shots, the shotgun can fire one or double barrels and the rifle can attack with an attached bayonet. The melee, however, just does not feel great. You have a sentient sword that lusts for blood, but it takes multiple whacks to down common enemies on the first level? Weak.
While the demon sword can feel more like you’re whacking a particularly tough pinata with a broom handle, the enemies do take limb damage, which is a redeeming quality. If a zombie runs up on you, you can lop off their arms and they’re just stuck watching until you finish the job. You can also simply shoot limbs off, but a sporting gentleman such as myself will never back down from a duel.
When you die you respawn with a set amount of ammo. I only noticed because I had a ton of ammo for the rifle saved up and when I died during a platforming section I noticed I lost all of it. This can help out on occasion because you’ll never find yourself lacking for ammo entirely and the checkpoints almost never put you in a position where you can’t succeed.
I say “almost” because I did run into a strange glitch in one of the later levels where the checkpoint system left me unable to continue, forcing me to restart the level entirely. In this level you need to escape from a sinking ship by making a series of jumps and navigating the changing landscape. While this was a tense and pretty fun sequence, I mistimed a jump and died; then the checkpoint respawned me outside of the ship entirely which was an automatic death. A strange hiccup, but fortunately not a tough setback to overcome as the levels are relatively short, taking about 15 minutes on average to run through.
The map design is pretty straightforward, allowing some small chances to explore a secondary objective, but not quite big enough to get lost while making your way from point A to point B. In addition to a waypoint pointing you towards the goal, the maps have a flow to them that can feel pretty linear. Some more exploration in the world would be more than welcome and would go much further in capturing the classic FPS feel Kingdom of the Dead is shooting for. The levels are short-lived, with 9 in total each ranging about 10-20 minutes of playtime, but the range in where they take place and differences in their designs make each case feel memorable.
Kingdom of the Dead does hit the classic FPS nail on the head in regards to the boss battles. Each level ends with a boss battle that is challenging and varied from stage to stage. Whether it is throwing sticks of dynamite at giant worms reminiscent of the graboids from Tremors or dodging and blasting a majestic deer demon in the woods, the fights are artistically on-theme and give the game a sense of scale that puts in perspective the forces you are working against.
If you’re looking for an FPS that simultaneously tips its cap to the greats of the past while providing an aesthetic that stands out from the crowd, Kingdom of the Dead delivers. Despite some areas of the game becoming eyesores with too much line art packed into a single frame, the art style, when used in the appropriate settings, is quite the sight to behold. The moment-to-moment action is fun, fluid, and fast-paced without taxing the player with poor map or enemy designs. Despite this, Kingdom of the Dead is short and the ideas inside could use some more extrapolation and additions to take the experience to another level. Regardless, it feels like Kingdom of the Dead is content with packaging a quick shooter with a fun horror aesthetic at a budget price.
A retro themed horror romp
A short adventure with a killer look and vibe that sets it apart from other retro-inspired shooters on the market. The only thing holding Kingdom of the Dead back is a lack of content and map designs that, while functional, leave something to be desired.