#23 Kingdom of the Dead
Developed by Dirigo Games and published by HOOK, Kingdom of the Dead is an action-retro-FPS horror adventure that releases on PC/Steam February 10th.
Set in the 19th century, you take control of Agent Chamberlain, a professor turned Army General, who now works for a secret government program known as Gatekeeper. Their primary purpose is to defeat the newly empowered Death and his ever-growing army of the dead.
‘Keep it simple’ is something we hear all the time, and when developers do just that, wonderful things can happen. An action-retro-FPS horror adventure might sound like a wildly ambitious mix, but Kingdom of the Dead works because on arrival at each aspect, Dirigo Games have kept things simple.
The game opens with a brief cutscene and four short lines of dialogue, before we join Agent Chamberlain in his swanky office. A file is pushed under his door, so you grab your trusty sword and pistol. It is time to go to work.
To begin with, you have three missions to select from. Once those three have been completed, you’ll have access to a fresh batch. There are nine linear levels in total, each with three difficulty options that have different goals depending on the difficulty you have chosen.
Within each level, you’ll find up to eight weapons, including a shotgun, rifle, gatling gun, dynamite and more. You’ll also collect health upgrades and find small crates that offer ammunition replenishment, which selected enemies may also drop. Each mission has checkpoints scattered throughout and levels culminate in an old-school boss fight. These typically consist of circling a closed-off area and shooting a huge central target while avoiding it’s endless spawning minions.
Of all the coolness that seeps from Kingdom of the Dead – and there is so much you could bottle it – two things that really stand out are the music and art style. You can get a taste of the soundtrack in the trailer above. The game is rammed full of equally contagious beats that marry so well to the horror aesthetic achieved by everything in-game being hand-drawn in black ink. I was barreling down corridors timing my shots to the bass pounding through my headphones, and I had the biggest smile on my face.
This is an FPS where you are heavily outnumbered, making gameplay a frenzied turkey shoot. Limbs will explode, heads will roll, and your laundry bill will be through the roof. There is blood and plenty of it.
All nine levels are almost identical in premise and structure but the various locations, settings, and difficulty options will keep you coming back over and over. I won’t spoil anything but two standout levels for me were Frontline and Train – a gun-fight on a moving train is always a winner with me.
Something I was surprised I appreciated was that given levels can be completed in an order of your choosing, they almost always involve finding weapons and health upgrades from scratch. Going into later levels with an initial lack of firepower added to the sport of hunting. I dipped my toe into the hardest difficulty and it will test you considerably – I completely ran out of ammo on even the first level.
There are more than twenty enemy types in Kingdom of the Dead, but as long as you’re a good shot, then nothing will cause you too much stress.
Unless it has wings.
I dreaded hearing anything above me as I covered open ground. This was not because enemies were particularly strong – I just couldn’t see them. Look at the night sky below. You’ll spot the bird quickly because it is a still image, but when those bastards are in full flight they made a fool out of me. The stars in this picture could easily represent all the shots I missed.
To be honest, Kingdom of the Dead wasn’t on my radar. I was sent a key for this and thought ‘action-retro-FPS horror adventure? How?’. But this works. This works so well. I had so much fun playing this. Gameplay is tight, the art style is deliciously implemented, the music is just incredible, the difficulty is well balanced and respectfully incremental, the story and structure is straight to the point with no filler, and everything is wrapped in an old-school blanket of love.
There is even an area in your office where you can listen to all twenty-eight instrumentals that make up the game’s soundtrack. I probably spent just as long doing this as I did completing the game. I would have it on in the background as I did real-world paperwork.
This is a fantastic release and one that I highly recommend. Dirigo Games are firmly on my watchlist moving forward. Bravo to everyone involved. You smashed it.