Hands-On Preview: Kill Strain
Kill Strain is a hard beast to describe to someone as the game’s the inner workings and mechanics are deep and complex, but suffice to say it is a 5 vs 2 vs 5 free-to-play top-down shooter. Now the bit that immediately confuses everyone is that team size structure, at the start of a match there are two human teams of five and one team of two mutants. Everyone is against everyone else, with the humans focused on collecting resources to automatically upgrade defenses and access powerful mech suits, while the mutants have something called the Strain, and the ability to turn humans to their side.
The easiest way to fully comprehend it is for me to walk you through both sides, the humans and the mutants, and each of their objectives and team abilities.
We’ll start with the humans as the majority of players in a match will be on one of the two five player human teams. Both teams spawn on opposite sides of the map and have their main base, turrets protecting it, and a health station to use whenever needed. The humans objective is to capture one or preferably both of the resource canister collecting stations and carry those resources to the deposit station near the top of the map, which can only be used by one human team at a time so it must be captured away from the other team.
When resources are deposited it slowly increases the level of both their base and turrets, and recharges the team’s mech suit ability, which drops down a mech suit for each player to use for 30 seconds or until it’s destroyed. While in the suits, players do much more damage, and are no longer injured when standing in the Strain.
The game is ended whenever one of the three bases are destroyed, whether its the mutants’ base or one of the human team’s. This give human teams the choice of attempting to push their way through the Strain with their mech suits, or to try and destroy the other human team’s turrets and base. All the while humans need to be very aware of the mutant team as they have the ability to convert players from a human team to the mutant team, but more on that in the mutant section.
Interestingly enough, the resource canisters humans collect can be used for a variety of purposes, while usually they are simply deposited, they can also be thrown to briefly push back the Strain, or be used to turn on your team’s second, closer to the action, healing station for 45 seconds. Each human character has different abilities and weapons, from machine guns to flamethrowers, so choosing your character pretty crucial, as you’ll be using only that one for the next 15 minutes or so of your game.
Mutants only similarity to the humans is that they also have different characters, and can kill humans. That’s where the similarities stop however, as mutants are melee players opposed to ranged, and have no resource gathering aspect to their strategy. Mutants main goal is simply to kill humans and spread the Strain to accomplish that goal easier. You see, while inside the strain mutants are faster, invisible to humans, and constantly regenerate health.
They can spread the strain using one of their abilities, and when used it has a ten second cooldown. Humans will constantly be destroying strain so expanding their strain-covered area can be quite difficult. Mutants also have the pivotal ability to convert humans into mutants. Once mutants gradually fill the orange bar surrounding their health bar, they become able to convert.
Conversion is done by dragging a recently killed human into the Strain. Now the easy way to do this would be to just lay strain down right under them and just pick them up, but Sony San Diego has thought of that, and each time you use either the drag ability or the spread strain ability, it triggers a shared 10 second cooldown. That doesn’t stop you from using some teamwork by having one mutant place the strain, and another simply start to drag the human to turn them.
Mutants can end a game by either destroying one of the human bases, or by turning all of the humans, a feat accomplished decently easily once the balance tips to be greatly in their favor.
Bringing it all together:
I know that all of this is a lot to take in, I felt the same when talking to one of the developers while waiting for my chance to give the game a try.
Once I actually picked up the controller however, it clicked. My brain began to process all the different strategies available to me. Do I use this resource to turn on the healing station so I can quickly get back in the fight? Or do I take the longer route back to base and heal there and save my resource for pushing towards the mechs? Or do I perhaps use it to push back the strain temporarily so my teammate isn’t converted?
The game’s scoreboard is individual so you also have to take into account your own place in the standings. In the game I was watching while I waited, the mutants’ base was about to be destroyed and one of the mutant players simply let it happen so the game would end since he was so far ahead in points that even the huge amount received for destroying a base wouldn’t bump any players over his spot in the standings.
When I first heard about Kill Strain during PlayStation Experience last year, it seemed interesting. The kind of thing I might give a go, but after watching and playing it, the game’s depth, complexity, and strategy has hooked me. Sony San Diego will be having a closed beta later this year which you can sign up for now on the developer’s website.
You can look for the full game to launch sometime late this year exclusively for PS4.