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SWAT I Think: Door Kickers

Do the tango fandango

During the making of this Wot I Think, 379 doors were unceremoniously breached, 546 flashbangs were artfully lobbed, 19 timebombs were hurriedly disarmed, 61 suspects were roughly handcuffed, 501 hostages were ingeniously liberated, 6362 hostiles were liberally ventilated, and 1 player was royally entertained.

That player is 97.24% certain you'll enjoy Door Kickers. A top-down tactics diversion with Rainbow Six and Frozen Synapse echoes, KillHouse's début project delivers its high risk, high bodycount combat action in brief bewitching bursts. Though successful raids can be over in less than sixty in-game seconds, they usually come at the end of long strings of SNAFUs...

13.47. 'King Snake' forgot to reload before entering lounge. Restart!
13.49. 'Shaggy' shot in the back while attempting to pick lock. Restart!
13.52. Hostage killed in crossfire. Restart!
13.55. Hostage killed in crossfire. Restart!
13.58. 'Wraith' surprised by thug exiting lavatory. Restart!
14.02. 'Wraith' surprised by thug exiting kitchen while waiting for thug to exit lavatory. Restart!
14.05. 'Mozambique' didn't locate bomb in time. Restart!
14.08. 'Benjamin Disraeli's Toast Rack' failed to notice shack had north-facing window. Restart!

You will fail frequently in DK.

The reason this plan wrecker rarely exasperates is that its failures tend to be educational and entertaining, its scenario spans short. Within a minute or two you're back where you were when Gaffer failed to check the alcove or Doughnut accidentally blocked Tiggywinkle's line-of-fire. Back with destination dots in slightly different places or go-codes slightly rejigged. If the cock-ups keep coming then that simply means it's time to rethink weaponry, try a new class mix, or admit defeat (for now) and switch scenarios.

The men - and they are all men at present - that undertake the hostage rescues, tango culls, bomb hunts, and drugs busts are drawn from a 10-person roster. At the start, everyone on that roster is as green as green and restricted to the pistol-brandishing 'pointman' class. Mission successes swiftly unlock the remaining four classes (assaulter, breacher, stealth and shield) and steadily sharpen the reflexes and steady the sights of regularly picked personnel. Victories also generate the doctrine points needed to climb the squad-buffing doctrine tree, and the stars that pass as currency on the weapon/kit procurement screen.

Experienced operatives equipped with expensive unlocks like the SAR-18 Bullpup and Saiga 12K shotgun make formidable killing machines, but KillHouse's feel for balance and respect for realism (the devs cut their teeth working on the Silent Hunter sub sim franchise) mean the spectre of failure is never far away in a DK mission. In theory it's possible to attack the 76 scenarios in the single mission folder in any order. In reality, with higher numbered scenarios frequently infested with body-armour encased grenade hurlers and Kalashnikov wielders, it pays to start at the beginning.

Mission objectives and map styles don't dictate tactics (scenarios can be tackled in countless different ways); they do, however, vigorously shape them. If you've got an imminent execution to interrupt or a ticking bomb to disarm, you probably don't want your lads waddling around like Michelin Men in bulky heavyweight body armour. On large maps dominated by long streets or corridors, you're likely to struggle without assault rifles and carbines. Tasked with extricating hostages from a tiny apartment? Maybe leave those unwieldy, indiscriminate shotguns in the van, and stick to pistols and stubby SMGs. Every weapon has been modelled with reality-based advantages and disadvantages making for some deliciously difficult pre-mission customisation sessions.

One of the most useful pieces of kit doesn't hole hostiles, it exposes them. The spy camera - which annoyingly can't be used for peeking round corners - means you open most doors fairly certain of what's waiting for you on the other side.

Because arrest warrant subjects give themselves up when cornered, there seems to be no good reason to encumber operatives with another optional gadget, the taser, at present. Until the devs add a 'No Martyrs' mission type or let suspects slip to safety across map edges, I'll continue to bulge my team's utility pouches with flashbangs and breaching charges.

Added in the release version is a seventh mission type - the dope raid. Requiring both stealth and speed, these outings really kick-off once a team member has been spotted or a weapon discharged. At this point, suspects dash for nearby stashes and laptops and start destroying evidence. If your men don't reach one or more of the relevant locations before the 'percentage destroyed' counters hit zero, the bust is considered a failure.

You'll probably experience your first narcotics op while exploring another new feature - the campaigns. Three in number and comprised of sequences of up to 9 bespoke missions with occasional optional branches, these are in need of narrative grout at the moment (a deficiency KillHouse plan to rectify). With the odd recurring villain, and stories conveyed through briefings or cutscenes rather than hinted at in mission structures, they'd work far better. As it is, only the threat of being deprived of wounded officers for subsequent missions, differentiates sequence sorties from standalone ones.

Dan Dimitrescu & chums plan to develop the campaign system further over the coming year. Sequences that change depending on ongoing results (currently, mission failures damage your overall score but don't impact progress), missions that happen simultaneously (squad stalwarts can't be everywhere at once), more campaigns, random campaigns... it sounds like there's some fantastic stuff on the way.

Bolstered by the campaign content, DK's mission count is now approaching 100. With hostiles usually assigned several possible spawn points (randomly selected on each playthrough) that's a lot of potential replayability. It's likely to be a while before you reach for the mission generator - a natty device that quickly fabricates entirely new missions using existing maps or simple randomly-walled kill houses. Specify desired map size and level of opposition, then jab a button, and there, waiting for you, is a 'clear hostiles', 'hostage rescue', 'bomb defusal', 'stop execution', 'protect VIP', 'arrest warrant' or 'dope raid' you definitely won't have played before.

Another source of new challenges is Steam Workshop. The game's bundled level editor is totally idiot-proof (see above for proof) and has already inspired some cracking community cartography. Architects that want interesting ground and floor patterns must add them using imported background bitmaps (texture brushes are still to be implemented) but everything else is just a click or drag away.

KillHouse's own map makers and set dressers have been creating tango topping venues for almost two years. They're getting rather good at it now. The anonymous apartments and hotel rooms that dominated early builds have been replaced by a panoply of care-worn workplaces and lived-in living spaces. Houses, flats, cabins, warehouses, restaurants, shops, schools, hospitals, police, fire and subway stations... those pesky gangsters and terrorists get everywhere.

You're rarely too busy contemplating LoS angles, to absorb a little of the ambience. Law men scurry through hissing rain; they're serenaded by distant gull cries, dog barks and sirens. Boots creak floorboards and pause next to burbling TVs and flyblown rubbish bins. Law breakers perish amongst pizza boxes, bomb making tools, and half-finished patience games.

Until yesterday, one thing you couldn't do on any map was drag a destination dot up or down a flight of stairs. The new multi-storey locations mainly grace the campaign, and - thanks to a slightly unpredictable teleport effect near transition locations - feel like a work-in-progress. Engine limitations mean, even when stairs are present, firefights never involve multiple map levels.

On the subject of engine limitations, here's some other things your men can't do at present:

  • Lean
  • Crouch
  • Push, destroy, or clamber over furniture
  • Peer or fire under vehicles
  • Lob grenades over vehicles
  • Engage in melee
  • Shoot through doors and other thin barriers

KillHouse are exploring the possibility of switching to full 3D characters which would allow a little more flexibility. Hopefully, sophistication can be added without over-complicating the pleasingly lightweight and logical order system currently in place. The top-down view combined with the elegant path scribing and action queueing system  mean manoeuvres are effortless to choreograph and situations easy to read. Thanks to robust friendly AI and a Rogue Spear-style planning capability, it's possible to secure objectives without lifting a finger during missions.

Although on the dev's wishlist, we're unlikely to be playing adversarial and co-op multiplayer before next summer. Technical challenges and higher priority work like campaign and AI improvements, will see to that. If the Romanians can train their radicals, robbers and renegades to be a little warier of corpse heaps while they're busy teaching them how to surrender, draw concealed sidearms, and pick up nearby weapons, then all the better.

Offering fresh, friendly, and (sometimes) fiendishly difficult combat choreography at a very reasonable price (£12 to £15 depending where you look) Door Kickers is a game that will fill a five minute play gap as effectively as a five hour one. If you like your puzzles pausable and plausable, your firefights fierce and your tactical options abundant, this is sure to be one of the best things you buy this year.

Door Kickers is out now.

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Door Kickers

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Tim Stone