When I was a young lad just tipping my toes into the sea of PC gaming, no genre was more intimidating than the RTS. While strategy games come in all shapes and sizes these days, back then they were by and large incredibly complicated creations that had an aura about them that suggested anyone who wasn’t the reincarnation of Sun Tzu would be dealt a crushing blow.
While not an RTS in the traditional sense, Door Kickers is a game that very much harkens back to an era when strategy games were not there solely for your amusement.
A quick glance at Door Kickers suggests that it is built in the same vein as games like Alpha Protocol, albeit in a slightly tweaked setting where you play the role of a SWAT team member as opposed to the sci-fi warriors or fantasy tropes that typically populate this genre.
For the most part this is an accurate comparison. In both games, you assume the overhead tactical command of a squad. As such, you are responsible for directing and coordinating their actions by setting their movements, dictating their fields of vision and sprinkling in actions like breaching doors and throwing out an absurd amount of tax-payer purchased flash bang grenades as they attempt to complete objectives like saving hostages or just killing every enemy in their path.
Where Door Kickers separates itself from other games of this design is in its difficulty and depth. When I first started playing, I was disappointed that the game would let me basically walk through a level at my leisure and, so long as I was reasonably careful to keep my guys close together, mow down opposing forces without ever employing that whole strategy aspect.
As it turns out, this easy start would not last long. As soon as Door Kickers introduces the simple idea of having to split your team into multiple paths, it begins a snowball effect of asking more and more of the player that never really ends. A part of this is the result of the traditional method of incorporating more gameplay elements (which ranges from the standard implementation of more classes and equipment, to the awesome ability to bring in some sniper support), but it has more to do with the simple concept of randomizing the enemy placement on every map.
That isn’t a new idea, but given that Door Kickers requires you to carefully consider every single movement you make to stand a chance of surviving means that not being able to ever count on the positions of your enemies is a giant handicap. What keeps the entire experience from boiling down to rolling a beneficial placement of your foes (though that does happen from time to time) is that Door Kickers affords you so many options at any given turn, that’s it’s impossible for any to ever be the definitive winning strategy.
The result is a game that rewards you not for perfection, but for being aware of your best options at every turn. Let’s say you have four squad members who can each conceivably carry out five options at a given turn. Three of these options are wrong, one is not ideal but keeps you alive and two are optimal. Now consider that these odds are altered by combining these decisions between members. What that means is that if you play reasonably well, you are typically looking at 33% odds to do poorly, perfectly or stay even at every turn.
Many strategy games strive for those figures, but few achieve it like we see here. What could have ruined this entire experience is the fact that touch controls require you to rely on completing tricky movements with your stubby fingers, yet somehow developer Killhouse Games has managed to come up with a control system that retains the features of the PC version while still feeling like this game could have originated on a tablet (sorry, there’s no phone version. That would have been nigh impossible). Are the PC controls strictly better? Sure, but no more than is to be expected.
If there is a knock against Door Kickers, it’s that while the difficulty is often its greatest aspect, occasionally you run into a level where victory is accompanied by more of a feeling of relief that you don’t necessarily ever have to play it again, as opposed to genuine accomplishment. This isn’t a tower defense strategy game that can be enjoyed by nearly everyone, or even a game like XCom that has so much in its favor that both genre purists and casual gamers can fall in love with it. This is a hardcore strategy experience for hardcore fans. While that’s a great thing most of the time, there are instances where Door Kickers suffers from not really being a fun game to play.
There is a satisfaction in victory, but it’s closer to acing a test than hanging out with your friends on the playground.
Regardless, that is the intent of Door Kickers and it is triumphant in its pursuit of providing an uncompromised hardcore strategy experience for Android gamers. While I thank you for reading up until this point (hi mom!) if you are a true strategy gamer, you really should have started downloading this several paragraphs ago.
Is it Hardcore?
Oh my, yes.
Similar to some Android strategy titles, but answering to none, Door Kickers sets a standard for tactical excellence.