Prior to playing Door Kickers: Action Squad, I had never put much thought into the actions of SWAT Teams even as they had featured in most of the media I watched. The “big guns”, those forces busting down doors and entering, guns drawn, in situations of high risk had always seemed cool, in a macho actiony kind of way, but I hadn’t actively wondered about their role or how they would act. I knew their job was, undoubtedly, a high risk one but I hadn’t considered their approach, or even methods of action, until I played Door Kickers: Action Squad.
And the reason for such a quick reformulation of my thoughts on the job? The reason I now value all the challenges those forces go through all the more? Well let me tell you a secret, Door Kickers: Action squad isn’t an action game. It’s not Metal Slug or Contra, no, it’s actually a puzzle game.
That would have made sense had I thought about it, if the job of intervention forces is to save hostages, like it so often is, then entering guns ablaze could end up badly for them, not to mention you. Playing it like an action movie, you know break the window, pop through it, and shoot the bad guy before they even get a chance to react, move to the next room, as cool as it would’ve been, was not the way to go. Doing things that way ended up with me dead, again, and again, and again.
No, Door Kickers: Action Squad presents a conundrum, an enigma with every situation you must resolve, every house you must clear. Different divisions have different entry points, many of the hostiles have hostages nearby, and catching their attention might not be the best idea. In houses with as many floors as blood splatters after you’re done with it, some new tactic needed to be applied.
That is where Door Kickers: Action Squad shines. Playing alone, or with a partner, one must first examine the house, consider the options, and plan a route through it. It’s not the mindless spread of guns firing, but rather the heavy and well thought out coils and gears of your mind. It’s deceptively deep, and way more of a brain teaser than what appears at first glance. There are two ways to go about it, trial and error, or planning it just right. With endless lives and little in the way of penalisation (in fact I don’t think there’s anything you lose by dying) you could just try again and again, changing your tactics.
But I took a much more cerebral, if clinical, approach. I considered my options, and drafted out game plans in advance. It’s the kind of cross eyed, mind racing, concentration few games get out of me. It’s the kind of thing I enjoy so much about games like Portal 2 and Packed Train. It’s not reactionary, it’s planned and well thought out, and the moment where it “clicks”, and you see your planifications work right in front of your eyes is magical, a true pleasure. After all, enemies don’t react until you breach the perimeter of the house, you (usually) have all the time in the world to plan, even if the hostages probably don’t enjoy the delay.
It’s something else, entering through a third floor window, then going down to the first floor and using the door to stun an enemy, rescue that hostage, cross the now empty room to climb some stairs to the second floor, and use that better situated entry (most rooms have two doors, one on each side) to surprise the enemies from behind. It feels even better to shoot your gun once or twice so as to catch the enemy’s attention, and use that rush to reach the room where you shot only for them to find you long gone, while you have descended through stairs to the floor below, and entered the floor with the hostages through the other end, so as rescue them without the risk of bloodshed.
Alone or with a partner, it’s a complex thing. Like math, it quickly escalates so you’re juggling the next 5 moves you’ll make. It’s a game of chess in a way, one where you draw the battle strategy before you even move. And yet the game goes deeper still. With different classes and upgrade skill trees for those who wish to play it in a less brainy way, there’s every possibility to adapt it to your playstyle. A swat team has several different members within it and you can play as one. I know it first hand, when I played the multiplayer mode with a friend. My favorite tactic was to deliberately catch their eyes, use a character with a shield to block their shots, and let my friend race through the house so he could sneak up on them from behind. Close hand-to-gun combat or stealth? Explosive and strong bursts or controlled distance? Those were tactics that were possible and the fact was, the more one played a class the better one could make it, by upgrading it. Success is rewarded in game, sure, with the unlocking of better weapons and special skills, but it paled in comparison to the personal satisfaction of carefully constructing and executing a personal (or not so personal if playing in pairs) strategy.
Door Kickers: Action squad really surprised me. It was clever, easy to control, and fun in ways I did not expect. I might be the girl with over twenty plus hours of Metal Slug 2 on Steam and who enjoys an afternoon playing Broforce online with friends, but I’m also someone who has downloaded hundreds of community maps in Portal 2 because I enjoy a good puzzle. Don’t let its exterior look fool you, beyond the militaristic approach to the combat (which admittedly make sense), you’ll find a puzzle game worth playing. It leaves you with an urge to retry after failing, and the sense that dying was your own fault, without making you frustrated enough to quit. Much like Hotline Miami, it’s a game where dying just cements your drive to try a new approach. Of course it gets the seal.
A PS4 review copy was provided by the developer
Mcportugalem has awarded Door Kickers: Action Squad the Indie Gamer Team seal of approval.