Door Kickers: Action Squad PC Review

Door Kickers: Action Squad is a loud, violent spin-off.

By Woozie, Posted 17 Sep 2018

Door Kickers: Action Squad leaves behind the original’s top-down perspective and requirement for meticulous planning, taking the action side-scroller route instead. The team of SWAT operatives is replaced with just one lone cop – two if you dip into local or online co-op –, while opportunities to keep the finger on the trigger are more plentiful. And yet, despite this departure, some of Door Kickers’ DNA is still present. 

Bad guys are bad and bullets are the best solution. As enemies choose to mostly occupy enclosed spaces, this means that clearing room after room is back in Door Kickers: Action Squad. Whether office buildings, flats or underground bases, you steadily move your pixelated trooper from one end of the screen to the other making sure those up to no good get permanently evicted. More often than not that implies blowing their brains out, leaving blood splatters and giblets behind. It’s not called “room cleaning”, after all. Some doors open at a press of a button while others require a bit of convincing via kicks, breaching charges, lockpicks or a good old shotgun blast. Once open, clearing the room is mostly a matter of using one shot kill abilities or simply unloading your weapon – a straightforward concept spiced up a bit by the presence of hostages, bombs and different kinds of enemies.

Door Kickers: Action Squad, PC, Review, Screenshot

The three mission types available during Early Access haven’t changed much, largely revolving around dispatching bad guys. Hostage Rescue adds the need to save hostages, bomb defusal missions place a bomb in an unknown location and come with a time limit; the newest addition, arrest warrant, requires capturing a high value target. These only shift focus in minor ways. Certainly, keeping all hostages alive becomes challenging when foes detonate bombs before they die. Some defusal missions require a run or two to figure out the ideal route that gets you to the bomb in time. At the end of the day, however, you’re doing that by kicking doors and blasting foes away, which shows that, despite the new additions, Door Kickers: Action Squad remains a bit of a one-note thing.

I previewed Door Kickers: Action Squad back in December, and the months spent in Early Access have seen new things introduced. One sign of that lies with the class skill trees. Missions grant experience points to whichever of the five classes you happen to be playing as, which upon leveling up turn into skill points. These can be distributed across five trees, two of which apply to all classes, with the other three being class-specific. Smaller passive upgrades lead to more significant perks that grant buffs like more resistant shields, longer spot times when entering rooms or faster reloads which end up visibly increasing the different troopers’ efficiency.

Door Kickers: Action Squad, PC, Review, Screenshot

Early on, holding the trigger down as an Assault means that bullets fly all over the place after the first three or four shots – an unconventional way of reaching targets above or below your level, but not exactly reliable. After a series of points spent in the appropriate tree, firing longer bursts becomes more accurate. The shotgun-wielding Breacher turns into a veritable killing machine after its reload tree is maxed out, quickly loading shells in between blasting foes apart. Thus, leveling up is definitely something to look forward to. Each of the five classes has its own flavor. Aside from the Assault and Breacher, which I found to be easily the most efficient, Door Kickers: Action Squad also includes the self-explanatory Shield, the Agent and the Recon. The latter two have some interesting gimmicks, like the ability to roll and evade damage or carry spy cameras, but while trying them out I often wanted to go back to the Assault’s precision and the Breacher’s sheer firepower. It’s much harder to argue against an M4 than any pistol or SMG.

The enemies you initially fight are lowly henchmen that die easily and get drawn towards the doors you’re kicking only to set themselves up for being stunned. That, however, changes as you progress. Detonator-wielding enemies might require an extra shot to the head after being downed, otherwise they’ll push the button right before their final breath, potentially blowing up a hostage or killing you. Armored enemies take a bit of a beating, pushing you towards using armor piercing weapons. Some enemies will shield themselves with hostages, or outright kill them if they hear you coming, stopping you from getting that three-star rating. It’s a varied distribution of enemies that does sometimes require proper prioritizing when entering a larger room or corridor.

Door Kickers: Action Squad, PC, Review, Screnshot

Trial and error was a part of the original Door Kickers, but Action Squad manages to make some of these moments feel cheap. I can assume the mistake of miscalculating the time it takes my team to clean two separate rooms and then meet up. Being one shot by a guy with a sword popping up from the background, which leads to restarting the entire mission, isn’t quite as easy to swallow. Missions also have fixed layouts meaning that once you died to a foe, you’re very likely to not fall for that again. In some missions, these situations do pile up, however, leading to rather joyless clean runs. Then there are the few minibosses that appear in three-or-so missions. They’re a total pain to deal with, given how they’re vulnerable from the back while jumping over them isn’t an option. Unless you’ve breaching charges on you, this leads to awkwardly trying to place down medkits as you’re burned to a crisp, throwing grenades and using doors to move to lower levels, only to get a couple of shots in before running away from the hell that’s brought upon you.

The levels themselves only do interesting things in a couple of missions which put you on trains or in an airplane filled with hostages and enemies coming from both ends off the screen. While clearing office buildings feels great, it shows how Door Kickers: Action Squad becomes predictable while not valuing all the gear it gives you. Entering rooms can often be done from two sides, one of which will always be better. Kicking down a door alerts everybody inside while going around gives you a free kill as you shoot unaware foes through the window. This becomes easily ingrained into the way you approach things. When it fills rooms with more enemies, an ultimate like the Sniper Support get rids of three random targets on screen, provided you’ve killed enough enemies to fill the Strategic Points bar. It’s not long until you find yourself passively opening door after door, using a special ability followed by normal fire only to rinse and repeat this for twenty other rooms, with the occasional break of stopping to use Strategic Points on refreshing armor or health. Only a handful of enemies react to noise coming from outside their room which further reduces the levels’ capacity to engage.

Door Kickers: Action Squad, PC, Review, Screenshot

I found myself rarely using grenades and favored the Sniper Support ultimate over the others. An LMG, breacher saw or akimbo pistols sound awesome and feel powerful when used, but aren’t as tactically viable a choice as three free kills from an offscreen sniper with pinpoint accuracy. The same can be said about weapons and gear. Some of it definitely gives classes specific flavor – like the Recon’s spy camera allowing you to peek into unlit rooms –, but I only found very few actual uses for something other than rifle resistant armor, which makes enemy snipers much less of a threat, and flashbangs. Even the flashbangs themselves, mostly came into play when forced to ascend or descend ladders which would leave me vulnerable to enemy fire for a few seconds. Where the Breacher makes a good case for trying out different shotguns, as it gives them different alternate fire modes, in the Assault’s case I found little reason to use anything other than the M4. It is the most potent weapon and has the same quickly rechargeable instakill alternate fire as all the others.

Door Kickers: Action Squad gives you enough tools to play around with, but its level design doesn’t push you towards enough experimentation. Instead, it tries to increase difficulty by littering its final chapter with armored foes, which only leads to further annoying deaths as you learn what hides behind unlit room #5 before doing a clean run that’s thoroughly lacking in thrills. It’s true that the option of challenging yourself to see if you can three-star levels using a specific class with a specific loadout is there, but the levels themselves could have done more in this regard.

Door Kickers: Action Squad, PC, Screenshot, Review

Door Kickers: Action Squad is a loud and violent alternative to the more tactically-minded original. The time spent in Early Access brought additions that translate into needed variety. In its best moments, it feels like an awesome action movie in which you kick doors down, kill wrongdoers and save the day. Trying out new weapons in the arsenal is satisfying thanks to punchy sound effects. The synth-laden soundtrack makes you feel like you’re in a badass movie, with soaring guitar solos playing in the background as you blow bad guys to bits. On the flipside, it’s undoubtedly one-note, and with level design that falls prey to encouraging repetitive gameplay once you find the most efficient way to approach clearing rooms. It also doesn’t go out of its way to offer situations that properly value all the gear in the arsenal. But the tools are there and as long as you’re putting in effort to vary loadouts and give all five classes a spin, dipping in and out of sessions of murdering criminals (and hopefully not that many hostages) can be good fun.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): KillHouse Games
Developer(s): PixelShard, KillHouse Games
Genres: Action, Side-scroller
Themes: Indie, Retro
Release Date: 2018-09-40

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