A pseudo-turn based/rts strategy game, you’re given top down views of buildings and then need to control a SWAT team as they move through the building attempting to clear out all the hostiles or possibly secure hostages or complete other objectives. It’s not quite turn-based because you can let it run in real-time giving orders on the fly, but then you can also pause the action and lay out detailed plans for your officers to carry out. This is much more detailed than the likes of Baldur’s Gate or Kotor, you can not only plan out a whole movement path through the entire building, but along that path you can select which direction they’re looking, how they move through doors and when they need to reload. You can also issue hold orders that wait for you to tap a button allowing you to synch all of the SWAT members up.
So far this all sounds a little like the early Rainbow Six games but this is quite a different beast. With simple, functional graphics and often small one-screen buildings (you do move up to two or more floors as it progresses) most missions will take a handful of minutes. We managed to complete one in just over 4 seconds. That’s right, 4 nail-biting seconds. Of course the actual mission took longer than that due to all the planning and failed attempts, but once you get a strategy down you can execute it in very little time.
That scenario we completed so quickly was basically a single room with four or five hostiles inside. We had use of two SWAT officers, starting outside the front door (you can often choose where you want them to enter before you begin). If you just tried to kick open the door, your officers would be absolutely massacred as it was clear the enemies were expecting you, if you used a breaching charge you might take out one or two with the force of the door, but there’d still be more than enough to take down your team. Each officer can take two shots, once that second shot hit they go down quickly and once persistent members are introduced it’ll be a heartbreaking moment to see one of your crew die. The best plan of action for this room was to position both officers so they didn’t get in the way of each other, throw a flashbang through the door and then move in to clear the room. There were sofas and chairs dotted around so one officer couldn’t possibly shoot everyone in time (furniture counts as a kind of cover) so you need to send in both at the start looking straight ahead and slightly to the sides to take out immediate threats, then have them quickly move behind some cover and take out targets at the side. As we already stated, it took just over four seconds, but that four seconds took a lot of planning and thought.
At its best, Doorkickers is a game about this careful thought and planning, as levels grow more complex you need to spread your forces out to achieve the best times (you can get up to three stars on each map) but then a single officer is much more vulnerable than a group. Do you want to take assault rifles or pistols? which rooms do you use your flashbangs in? Unlike Hotline Miami, you can’t see the position of any hostiles, sometimes you get a little cross of the map to show you where they might be, that means you can easily waste a flashbang clearing an empty room while you get shot in the back by someone in a broom closet. Next time you run the map they might be in the opposite place and get you again. Planning for every eventuality is key, and taking it slow and steady while not giving the enemies time to react is quite a fine balance and a lot of fun when it goes right.
At its worst, Doorkickers is an exercise in pure frustration. One of the biggest missteps with the game is that much of the combat is worked out using some kind of random variable so sometimes in a plan an officer will hit his target and sometimes it’ll miss. This goes along with the ‘prepare for every eventuality’ mentality and shares the design with strategy greats like X-Com, but it also means you can’t create a perfect plan. When each map is so small and doesn’t take much time, it’d be nice to be able to ‘solve’ it, but instead there’s always the chance you’ll lose through absolutely no fault of your own when an officer repeatedly misses or a target gets off a lucky shot. This, coupled with a pathing system where everything has to be done in one go (you can’t delete a single step you have to delete the entire path and start again) and slightly unclear markers on how long your officers will be looking in a certain direction means that while the game is going after tactical brilliance, there’s a little too much left to chance which might be realistic but rarely feels fair when you’re going after those three stars.
Overall Doorkickers is an incredibly promising game. It’s not finished and there’s plenty of time for them to iron out the kinks, we’re expected to be able to create our own levels and customise loadouts before the game is done and there’s a random scenario generator that’s sure to give the title some longevity. For now, £6.99 is definitely a good price to get a game that’s already tonnes of fun if you enjoy planning, just be prepared for the frustrations that come with any early access.