Kingdom of the Dead Review – A Serviceable Retro Shooter

Poor visual presentation and bugs hold back Kingdom of the Dead from truly shining.

Posted By | On 10th, Feb. 2022

First-person shooters have been one of the most popular genres in gaming for decades at this point, and the genre itself has evolved by a significant margin over the years; encompassing several different types of experiences in the process. That said, many long-time fans still yearn for the “good old days” when the likes of Quake and Duke Nukem were all the rage, and rocket-jumping across deathmatch servers was every PC gamer’s favorite pastime.

This arena shooter subgenre (more commonly known as boomer shooters) is once again starting to garner mainstream popularity with the likes of Shadow Warrior and Wolfenstein modernizing the genre while returning to their roots. On the other hand, indies such as the likes of Dusk have continually strived to retain the purity of these original experiences to varying degrees of critical and commercial success.

Developer Dirigo Games’ Kingdom of the Dead fits somewhere in between, retaining some of the defining elements of the games that inspired it all while incorporating a few neat touches of its own. It might not always stick the landing due to poor presentation and other technical inefficiencies, but it might still be worth experiencing for those who generally have an interest in the genre.

kingdom of the dead 01

"It might not always stick the landing due to poor presentation and other technical inefficiencies, but it might still be worth experiencing for those who generally have an interest in the genre."

Kingdom of the Dead sees players controlling Agent Chamberlain, a former professor who has now taken up a job in a top-secret government organization fighting otherworldly creatures. You see, there’s been a long-standing secret fight between the living and the dead – and as the army general of the Gatekeepers, it’s your job to fight these beasts and destroy the Gates of the Dead. The story is pretty threadbare and never evolves throughout the course of the game, and it’s great that the game never takes itself seriously. Of course, Kingdom of the Dead doesn’t exactly need to deliver in the narrative department – since most players will likely be in it for the action.

Unsurprisingly, gameplay is king, and this is where the game delivers for the most part. Chamberlain’s office acts as a base of operations for the campaign, allowing you to select missions from a file on your table. Each mission involves arriving at the location, killing dozens of undead, defeating the level boss, striking the Undead Gate with your talking sword, and making an escape on your trusty horse. The game design rarely veers away from this blueprint for the entirety of its runtime.

"Unsurprisingly, gameplay is king, and this is where the game delivers for the most part."

The game is extremely fast-paced and will require you to constantly be making tons of micro-decisions in a moment’s notice and quickly act upon them. Dirigo Games has nailed the game feel in the movement department, and as a result – Chamberlain feels extremely responsive and nimble to control. The gunplay also feels top-notch in a similar vein, though the sound design leaves a lot to be desired as weapon sounds lack the oomph that’s needed to make them feel powerful.

That said, each weapon plays a distinct role in the gameplay proceedings. For instance, the starting revolver is great for popping Undead heads from medium distances while the machine gun is great for crowd control whereas the hunting rifle is great for sniping airborne enemies. The combat loop isn’t as thoughtful as say, Wolfenstein, but Kingdom of the Dead does a great job mixing different kinds of enemies pretty well with each encounter to keep the gameplay from getting stale. As such, players will need to play to each weapons’ strengths and be tactical about which enemies to dispatch first in order to survive the game’s toughest encounters.

Bosses, on the other hand, remain serviceable at best and disappointing at worst. While one or two of the bosses can offer a decent challenge, even that challenge mostly arises from juggling your attention between regular enemies and the arena boss. Other times, they can be easily defeated by just pumping red hot lead into their cranium until they fall down (and trust me, it’s just as easy as it sounds).

"Bosses, on the other hand, remain serviceable at best and disappointing at worst"

Kingdom of the Dead features a total of 10 distinct locales, ranging from a haunted house to a rusty railyard to a spooky forest and many more. Level variety is decent across the board, with some even having their level-specific traversal challenges to shake things up. Much like the games that inspired it, most of the game’s encounters take place in large open arenas featuring multiple levels of elevation and requiring players to constantly keep moving and shooting at all times to make it out alive.

That said, progression through these levels remains a linear affair with one strict path and an objective marker clearly indicating where you need to go so you don’t get lost running in circles looking for keycards to progress – which is a positive in my book. Well-placed checkpoints do a great job of ensuring that you are not repeating huge chunks of the level on every playthrough.

One weird inconsistency that I found with regards to the progression is how health upgrades work. If you play through multiple levels in one sitting, all the health upgrades collected during one level (which maxes out at 5 hearts) will carry on forward to the next level. However, if you reload your save from a cold boot of the game – you lose all of that health and have to start searching every nook and cranny in search of extra health all over again. Weapons, on the other hand, have a consistent progression loop wherein you essentially start a level with just the revolver – and you have to collect additional weapons over the course of the level only to lose it all when it ends. This isn’t a criticism of the system by any means but remains a point that’s worth mentioning nevertheless.

"Level variety is decent across the board, with some even having their level-specific traversal challenges to shake things up."

Kingdom of the Dead features a distinct monochrome art style that looks like a pen-and-ink painting alongside a synth-heavy soundtrack. Despite this novelty, Kingdom of the Dead‘s presentation doesn’t stand out in any particular way, rather giving way to another frequent annoyance of inconsistent enemy visibility as dark-colored goons will keep shooting from dimly-lit environments making it pretty hard to spot them. This is further accentuated by a frequently occurring bug where enemies can clip into walls but still be able to hurl projectiles at you while you can’t obviously damage them. Players can change the color-palette to suit their liking, but it doesn’t do much to alleviate these issues in a tangible manner either.

Kingdom of the Dead isn’t the most technically sound of games, despite its limited scope. In addition to the enemy clipping issue, I encountered constant frame drops even after playing on a PC well above recommended specs. I tried switching on V-Sync to help with these issues, but more often than not the game wouldn’t apply those settings. Additionally, I also encountered two game-breaking bugs (without going into spoiler territory) that required me to complete an entire late-game level without hitting any checkpoints. I encountered another bug in the game’s final boss fight, where I would instantly die after draining the boss’ health for seemingly no reason; making it impossible to witness the game’s ending. 

"I encountered constant frame drops even after playing on a PC well above recommended specs."

Getting through the entirety of Kingdom of the Dead‘s levels took me just under 5 hours. Those wanting to get more out of the game could replay levels on higher difficulties, which increases the enemy presence and puts additional objectives such as obtaining a hidden collectible (which are optional in easier difficulties). All in all, it’s a pretty short experience – which might be a factor that interested folks should consider before making a purchase. The lack of any multiplayer game modes also feels like a major missed opportunity, given its inspirations and otherwise solid mechanics.

Kingdom of the Dead’s poor visual presentation coupled with lackluster bosses and game-breaking bugs mars down the game’s many strengths by a significant margin. Kingdom of the Dead might end up appealing to fans wanting to relive the glory days of Quake, but even so – it isn’t anything particularly exceptional.

This game was reviewed on the PC.


THE GOOD

Fast-paced gameplay; thoughtful encounter design; varied levels.

THE BAD

Lackluster bosses; poor visual presentation; game-breaking bugs.

Final Verdict:
GOOD
Kingdom of the Dead might not always stick the landing, but it might be worth experiencing for fans of games like Wolfenstein and Quake.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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