I haven’t told you yet, but I have a great admiration for the game Return to Obra Dinn. When I saw that someone took the visual concept and re-implemented it inside a shooter called Kingdom of the Dead, I had to give it a try.
Some Obra Dinn Vibes
I haven’t told you yet, but I have a great admiration for the game Return to Obra Dinn. When I saw that someone took the visual concept and re-implemented it inside a shooter called Kingdom of the Dead, I had to give it a try. The Return to Obra Dinn is an extraordinary game for multiple reasons, but let’s be frank: the effort that went into making it look incredibly unique is a huge part of it. It uses a well-known technique called “dithering” to create the perception of gradients on screen while using only a binary color output (1 bit). In other words, the game is in black and white yet your eyes are fooled to see shades of grey in between thanks to the density of pixels adjusted in teal time by the graphics engine. Old computers in the 80s used that technique when they had to display photos on a monochromatic monitor.
Back to Kingdom of the Dead. It starts with good vibes: a catch retro tune (chip-tunes like) welcomes you in the adventure. You goal to to get rid of a rising evil force in separate locations, armed with guns and a talking sword supporting you in your quest. Quite an unusual FPS on several counts.
Kingdom of Old School
It’s very old school in its approach: there’s few movements and actions available. You won’t need a 20 minute tutorial to get into the game.
The first impressions are good: the graphics make the world work well, the background music keeps you on your guard, and the first enemies will appear before you before you had time to wonder where you were. And that’s when things could be better: the shooting part.
The first ghouls are some kind of crawling or walking zombies armed with swords. And they don’t look great. And that’s not the fault of the 1bit graphics, no. It’s just that both their design and animation feels cheap. Not fluid, too rigid. A headshot results in their head falling like a ball on to the ground. Even your guns don’t sound like they have a lot of impact; even Doom 1 back in the 90s had much better gun sounds. Combine the two and the shooting is not very impressive nor memorable. I’m not a huge fan of Doom (2016) but the action felt really engaging and dynamic to say the least. And it’s not those zombies. Most of the other enemies are more of the same: zombies with shotguns. Zombies with crossbows. Zombies disguised as wizards throwing fireballs to your face. None of them are too exciting.
But you know what? You kind of get used to it. After a while what looked like cheesy animations blends in the game and you won’t be bothered about it as much. And this is where you will start enjoying it more: I really like what they did with the landscape and the levels: always changing, the next room almost never a copy of the previous parts.
And then you get to the mid-level and end-level bosses, typically huge. The first level features a huge worm that tries to bite you as you shoot it. One bite and you’re dead: no room for mistake.
So, is Kingdom of the Dead kind of fun? Yes, but there’s some problems here and there: you get lost once in a while when you reach darker places: Since you are in a 1bit space, really dark places appear as pitch black, and you start wondering: “Where am I? Where should I go? I don’t see shit!”. There’s supposedly a pointer showing where you should go, but it’s pointing at the final destination, not where you need to go next — which makes it useless most of the time.
Inside levels you also have to deal with a fairly rudimentary checkpoint system, which brings nothing on the table. Worse, it prevents you from quitting the game and restarting the game at your last checkpoint: it makes you restart the level from scratch instead if you had the audacity to leave before the end of said level. There’s absolutely no good reason to do that — a terrible design choice.
So there you have it. Kingdom of the Dead reminds me of what we used to call “budget games” – a name that used to refer to titles that were sold cheaper than regular games, because they could not compete on actual execution. Kingdom of the Dead won’t be touching any modern shooter any time soon, but its unique presentation a la Dinn (did you see what I did here?) will attract curiosity.
Kingdom of the Dead works well with the latest Proton, at a great 60 FPS with my Nvidia GTX1660Ti. The only issue I have to report is that the games does not seem to handle controllers very well. They are recognized when you try to remap the controls, but they don’t seem to work as expected when you play the game with them. So, mouse and keyboard it is.
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