Despite the Switch being home to grand, heavy-hitting blockbusters like Breath of the Wild, Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Octopath Traveller, I’m forever finding myself playing games that can be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks of time. When I heard that top-down strategy game Door Kickers was coming to the Switch, I envisioned myself enjoyably smashing out a mission or two on lunch breaks. As much as I’ve enjoyed thinking tactically while I clear buildings room by room on my bullet-filled half hours at work, the game does suffer from a lack of direction, some UI irritations and a wonky control system on the handheld console.
Door Kickers does exactly what it says on the tin. You control the actions of a group of highly-skilled troopers tasked with eliminating terrorists, defusing bombs, extracting hostages and arresting suspects throughout a number of missions in various environments. At the beginning of each mission you’re given time to plan out your approach in the…planning stage. You probably could have guested what you do without an explanation there. Here you’ll set paths for your troopers to follow and actions for them to execute such as breaching doors or throwing flashbangs. You can queue up multiple actions for each member of your squad and you’ll need them all to be working in unison to achieve success.
Looking back on a clean run is so very satisfying
This can all sound a bit daunting at first, but a clear tutorial that steps you through the complexities would alleviate the stress. It’s a shame then that Door Kickers barely has any tutorial at all, let alone a thorough one. Still images or short, looping videos accompanied by a few lines of text are supposed to teach you how to intricately manage multiple forms of commands, trooper types, situations and actions. It leaves the player with a lot to figure out by throwing commands at the wall to see what sticks and that isn’t ideal for this genre.
Once you do manage to find your feet, the core gameplay is solid and can be fairly addictive if you’re a fan of trial and error. Perfection is in planning here, so take your time. The best runs will come down to how many avenues you’ve explored. You’ll almost always be outnumbered, so you’ll have to be smart and outthink your AI opponents, who are no slouch either. Using snake cams to peer under doors, identifying the threats and positioning are all vital if you want to complete the mission with your troopers and a decent score intact.
Still not hitting that 3-star rating, best try again then
Scoring comes down to how fast you managed to clear the mission as well as efficiency in completing tasks and whether or not your whole team survived. You’re awarded stars from one to three, very similar to your typical mobile game experience. This incentivises multiple playthroughs of each level to reach that next star rating. As much as personal glory is incentive enough, the game also uses these stars as currency to unlock weapons, perks and gear. This sounds like a decent enough system, but unlocks are not only pricey, but they also manage to hinder the experience by placing hurdles between you and certain playstyles. For instance, you’ll have to grind through a fair amount of missions before you’re properly able to approach situations with full stealth, which is where (in my opinion) the game is at its best. This form of progression might feel natural to some, but it seems a bit stilted and odd to me.
There’s no lack of content in Door Kickers, however. With 84 individual mission and a mission generator that allows you to whip together a situation that suits your needs, you’ll always have something to dive back into if you’re feeling tactical one afternoon. The true test of skill can be found once you’ve reached level six and unlocked the campaigns though. These six, short stories weave together a number of missions that are to be completed with progression that carries over. So you’ll choose your team, kit them out and stick with them for the duration. If you go headlong into a sticky situation without proper planning and a trooper dies, too bad, you’ll have to reorganise and keep on truckin’. This added layer of strategy allows the rewarding gameplay to standout and forces you to pay attention to the intricacies of each situation.
The presentation, though not offensive, is cut and dry. Menus are serviceable and easy enough to navigate and the visuals do the job, but there’s not much to write home about in this department. A real hurdle is the controls. Using the Joy-Con sticks to plot routes just feels needlessly difficult. There’s no great way to accurately convey what you want your operatives to do with this method and I found myself using the easier touch controls often. Without the benefit of hotkeys, slogging through submenus using the actions buttons was a bit tedious as well. It’s nothing outright awful, but I did find myself getting frustrated when I needed to cancel actions a half-dozen times due to the controls, especially when your troops find it necessary to say things like ‘affirmative’ or ‘on it’ whenever you even think about moving the thumbstick.
Breaching a room without knowing what you’re up against is a death sentence. So remember, knowing is half the battle
Despite being fairly shocking at strategy games, I love the satisfaction you feel when you look at the playback of a successful run that you orchestrated. I absolutely get this feeling with Door Kickers and watching the slow-motion replays of my badarse SWAT tactics is great, but there are one too many irritants in the whole package for me to sustainably return to the line of duty. If you can ignore the strange progression and lack of direction you’ll likely find yourself enjoying this one, but just know that this door has some sizable padlocks so you’ll have to persevere and kick harder.
Reviewed on Switch // Review copy supplied by publisher
- KillHouse Games
- Nintendo Switch
- December 26, 2020