Sony San Diego unveiled Kill Strain at its PlayStation Experience this weekend, but didn't provide much detail on the PlayStation 4 game, other than to say it's a free-to-play, top-down action game with an unusual five-against-two-against-five competitive structure. Sony brought a playable version of Kill Strain to the PSX show floor and after spending some time with it, we have a much better understanding of what the title is all about.
Kill Strain plays like a blend of a MOBA like League of Legends and a twin-stick arcade shooter. Two teams of five humans compete to gather resources — and rack up kills — while a third team of mutants battles both teams in an attempt to spread their infection and add humans to their mutant ranks.
Human teams can lose their players to the mutant side. When that happens, it's permanent. What starts as a 5v2v5 competition, over the course of a match, which runs between 20 and 30 minutes, changes to a 4v3v5 or 3v5v4 structure.
"We are creating a console title, so it has to be way more accessible."
"[Kill Strain] started out as a zombie-type game," explained Pierre Hintze, director of product development at Sony San Diego. "The humans could be infected by zombies and turned into zombies. The problem is that zombies are not great characters, they're not role models. In their own movies, they're extras."
The Kill Strain team wanted their non-human faction to have some personality, to be more like the heroes or skins one might buy in League of Legends or Dota 2. "Zombies are rad," Hintze said, "but they're not something you want to own. We want it to be something you'd want as a vinyl character."
The humans in Kill Strain are ranged characters. They wield guns and flamethrowers and they can call in powerful exosuits, called a MEC, for more firepower and a different set of abilities. The mutants are melee characters. They hack and slash and leap.
Sony San Diego brought three of the game's characters to PlayStation Experience: Diesel, a human with a flamethrower and incendiary blasts who can dash, leaving a flame trail behind him; Gridlock, a mutant who can slash, leap and stun his enemies; and Sylvin, a nimble assassin with dual pistols, a flip dodge and a camouflage skill.
The two human teams compete for resources to boost their score, gain experience points and level up their team and base turrets. On the map that was playable at PSX, each team had a single resource point that dropped canisters. Players are tasked with picking up those canisters from the resource point, then delivering them to a central drop point. Humans can only deposit those resources if they have control of the drop point, however, injecting a bit of control point gameplay into Kill Strain's design.
The mutants are there to mess with the human's plans. They have a base of their own, which is surrounded by a surface called the Strain. The Strain acts as a means of base defense — humans can't walk on Strain without taking damage, unless they're in a protective MEC suit — and as a boost for mutants. When mutants are on Strain, they move faster and regenerate health. Strain also serves as Kill Strain's jungle equivalent; if a mutant is positioned on some Strain (and a human isn't) he's essentially invisible.
Mutants can spread the Strain throughout the map with one of Gridlock's skills. He can drop pockets of Strain that serve as remote healing stations or connective highways.
The Strain serves yet another purpose. If a mutant racks up enough "rage," by killing humans, he can then drag a down-but-not-dead human character onto the Strain, transforming him into a mutant.
"People can play the game as long as they want for free."
Being turned into a mutant — allying yourself with the faction that was just trying to kill you — might seem like a major deterrent for human players. But Hintze said the developer has found that human players who go mutant don't give up or feel unmotivated to continue once they've switched allegiances. Since the primary goal is to be the top-scoring player, Sony San Diego says they've found that players happily soldier on in their new role.
Kill Strain is designed "from the ground up as a free-to-play game which has a strong community participation and as little as possible paywalls," Hintze said.
"We know our economic model," he said. "People can play the game as long as they want for free. If they want to have an additional character, an additional skin, customization, then yes, we ask you to pay for that. But the core experience is there for you to play."
Sony San Diego is building Kill Strain to be accessible for the console player who might never have played a more established MOBA, but might appreciate the depth and strategy of the genre.
"I believe MOBA is a genre that's really helped a lot of people to get new perspectives of gameplay and depth, but it doesn't really exist on console," Hintze said. "We knew when we started on the game we wanted to use all the good parts that MOBA provides: direction, depth of gameplay and engagement.
"But we are creating a console title, so it has to be way more accessible."