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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game’ Review – Cult Movie Becomes a Uniquely Fun Multiplayer Experience

If you were to shortlist all of the legendary horror films that are crying out for a video game adaptation, it’s unlikely that the first to spring to mind would be the one in which alien invaders encase people inside cotton candy cocoons, so that they can later drink said abductees gelatinised fluids through a silly straw.

Yet while 1988’s Killer Klowns from Outer Space might not be held in the same esteem as, say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it’s the IP that ultimately inspired a brand new collaboration between the teams at Teravision and Illfonic. And with the latter studio having established itself as a real authority in this genre — counting Friday the 13th: The Game, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed and Predator: Hunting Grounds amongst its credits — you can hardly blame them for going with their gut. Indeed, they must have seen real potential in The Chiodo Brothers’ goofy flick because, despite its relatively niche appeal, they’ve deigned it worthy of a multiplayer tie-in. By Illfonic’s own admission, Killer Klowns doesn’t have the same brand recognition as some of the other pop-culture landmarks they’ve enviably been entrusted with in the past. Unlike Ghostbusters it didn’t set the box office alight during its initial theatrical run, nor did it manage to spawn any kind of follow-up in the intervening years (never mind a whopping eleven of them, ala Friday the 13th). And while the Predator franchise has been milked for all its worth since its debut, Killer Klowns has effectively laid dormant for the better part of four decades. Notwithstanding a cult resurgence at Halloween Horror Nights.

Layer on top of all that the fact that your average cinemagoer doesn’t know Fatso the Klown from Adam — in stark contrast to how intimately acquainted they are with Jason Voorhees or Slimer — and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this latest licence is a bit of a downgrade for the devs. A trashy B-movie comedown after some Grade-A blockbusters.

What a pleasant surprise it is then, to report that Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game is actually one of the most enjoyable asymmetrical horrors we’ve played to date. More polished than its Camp Crystal Lake stablemate, pacier than Saber Interactive’s take on Evil Dead, and considerably less frustrating than a certain Behaviour Interactive juggernaut, it’s an absolute blast no matter which side of the colourful carnage you’re on. In fact, almost every single match we played for the purposes of this review ended with a lobby-full of journalists all in fits of hysterical laughter; eager to keep the slapstick violence going for “just one more round.”


“This Is No Fun House”

An encyclopedic knowledge of the source material is not required here but, in case you’ve not seen it, Killers Klowns from Outer Space is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the gloriously shlocky sci-fi of the 1950s.

Think The Brain from Planet Arous, This Island Earth or any given Red Scare film that used Martians as a stand-in for the communist menace. Only in this instance, the quintessential flying saucer is replaced with an intergalactic Big Top and the little green men have been swapped out for hideous harlequins.

You see, the gimmick is that those eponymous jesters are in fact ancient astronauts who visited our pale blue dot once before and, in doing so, inadvertently gave primitive man the idea for many of the traditions now associated with the circus. So their grotesque appearance became the template for Bozo-style makeup, their advanced vehicles gave birth to the clown car, and their bulbous weak spots served as the inspiration for the red noses that are worn by children’s party entertainers the world over.

That pretty much covers the “Klown” part of the movie’s wacky title and, if the word “Killer” didn’t already tip you off, let’s just say that the next thing you need to know about these spacefaring pranksters is that they definitely don’t come in peace. On the contrary, their Plan 9 entails kidnapping unsuspecting earthlings, putting us into cold storage, and then keeping us on tap for whenever they’re feeling parched.

Oh, and sometimes they get disconcertingly horny and attempt to procreate with teenagers who look suspiciously like 30-year-old mortgagors. But that incident with the Terenzis may just have been a one-off!

Anyway, the new game faithfully retains this goofy premise — sans the interspecies breeding — as well as a few of the main characters and the setting from the original movie. Once again, the Klowns have set their sights on the remote town of Crescent Cove and once again they’re jonesing for our blood.

However, this time around the residents are a little more prepared. Unwilling to go down without a fight, it seems that they’ve invested in all kinds of supplies and civic defensive measures between invasions (including emergency bunkers, air horns that can disorient those big-eared freaks, and plenty of guns). So it’s safe to say that the odds have been evened.

Which, incidentally, creates the perfect conditions for one of Illfonic’s trademark asymmetrical multiplayer joints.


The Greatest Balancing Act On Earth!

You know the drill with this sort of thing. There’s always a group of would-be victims who are charged with absconding the map, and then a designated hunter whose job is to make sure that nobody makes it out alive.

Killer Klowns is no different in this regard, although it does take a leaf out of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s book by giving its villains some company and letting them form a team of their very own. In this case, the match structure is 7 v 3 (that’s 7 humans to 3 floppy-footed ETs) and, for what it’s worth, it feels like that balance is pretty spot on. These asymmetrical releases usually have their teething problems at first, as one half of the dynamic tends to be overpowered or unfair exploits slip through the cracks for less-sportsmanlike players to abuse. Indeed, it can often take a few months of community feedback and iterative patching before the elusive sweet spot is found.

Conversely, this one feels like it’s gone through that refinement process in advance, likely owing to Illfonic having the whole asymmetrical thing down to a fine art by now. Plus, they’ve learned a bunch of lessons from their previous forays into the genre, allowing them to sidestep some of its common pitfalls (more on that later). It’s quite impressive to be honest, with the ratio of Klown to Survivor wins resembling a near enough 50-50 split.

And that’s exactly what you want, of course, as it means you’re never disappointed when the game randomly assigns you to one team instead of the other. In fact, we had a ton of fun on both sides of the Klownpocalypse.


Organised Chaos

As humans, you’ve got four potential objectives to be focusing on. You can either repair a docked speedboat, try to clear obstructions that are preventing you from leaving via road, power up an inexplicable teleporter machine, or open the aforementioned emergency shelter and wait for this whole nightmare to blow over.

Regardless of which strategy you plump for, there’s inevitably going to be a lot of sneaking around and rummaging through containers as you look for the necessary key items — the catch being that some of these are featured on more than one checklist. For example, both the bunker and the boat must be fuelled with gasoline, while the latter also shares its sparkplug requirement with the portal generator.

If you’re the person who stumbles across any of these objects, it can therefore be a little stressful deciding what to do with them. You’ve got to weigh up which escape route is closest, what the rest of the squad is currently working on, and whether it’s too early to make a tactical commitment to any given plan. Not to mention, a couple of the sanctuaries/ getaway vehicles have a maximum occupancy limit, meaning that you could be forced to leave fellow survivors behind should you (ill-advisedly) put all of your eggs in one basket.

The suspense that comes from this is palpable and puts you constantly on edge. Especially since it’s complicated even further by a ticking clock element. On that note, every match has an imposed 15-minute countdown and, if you don’t get out of Dodge before that elapses, you’ll be at the epicentre of a cotton candy catastrophe the likes of which you’ve never seen. In gameplay terms, this means that humans can’t afford to waste time hiding in dumpsters or trolling their pursuers, as is permitted in certain other titles (*cough* Dead by Daylight). Rather, it behooves them to concentrate on the task at hand and get shit done. Otherwise, they’ll risk being at ground zero when the pink-hued Armageddon rolls around.

Again, it’s a smart design-choice that adds a welcome dose of urgency to proceedings and does wonders for the flow of gameplay, stopping it from dragging on. As a result, the matches here feel snappy and gloriously frenetic; with everybody running around in a man panic amidst the chaos of “gigaray” fire and popcorn projectiles.


Close Encounters of The Zany Kind

With all that said, you might be thinking that the deck is stacked utterly against the local populace of Crescent Cove. After all, they can’t all escape at once, have to make split-second decisions that could later come back to bite them in the ass, and time is literally against them too.

On the flip side, while they might not have the best home-field advantage, human players do get some perks. For a start, there are a number of helpful items scattered around the map that can give you an edge over the Klowns. The sugar rush obtained from chugging a soda, for instance, will help you outrun pursuers, while the compass is a real lifesaver as well (temporarily highlighting the location of all exits).

Then you’ve got an assortment of weapons which, in a refreshing shakeup for the genre, allow you to get a kill or two of your own on the scoreboard. That’s right, it’s actually possible to turn the tables on your tormentors in Killer Klowns, which is deliciously therapeutic if you’ve been on the receiving end of one-too-many dismemberments in Friday the 13th, or find yourself constantly being sacrificed to The Entity in DbD. Granted, getting your own back on the aliens does require a good amount of coordination — on account of them being physically stronger and only vulnerable in the nose region — but it can be done if you play it smart.

And, to reiterate, that role-reversal is mighty cathartic! Speaking from experience, there’s nothing that quite compares to the thrill of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by gunning down a Klown that’s blocking your escape route, with mere seconds left on the clock. It’s the kind of watercooler moment that you’ll be giddily recounting with friends in the downtime between rounds.

Alas, the excitement does dissipate a little when the ranged combat gives way to closer encounters. Melee is stiff and awkward, with it often feeling like the winner is determined less so by skill and more so by sheer luck. The way it works is that you hammer the R2 trigger to clumsily swing your baseball bat around, while your clueless opponent does the same until one of you obligingly kicks the bucket. As opposed to being an exhilarating fight to the death, it more strongly evokes the jankiness of a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots bout.

Fortunately, perishing in one of those confusing scuffles isn’t necessarily the end of the line. You see, dying in Killer Klowns from Outer Space takes you to a familiar spectator mode, as it does in most other titles. But where that’d normally be your cue to bail, Illfonic and Teravision have found a clever way of motivating you to stick around, with a miraculous resurrection being on the cards.

All that needs to happen to facilitate this second coming is for one of your still-breathing buddies to activate a terminal that’s hidden somewhere in the map. You’re not left idly twiddling your thumbs while you wait for them to do this either, as you’re instead given the chance to play some minigames that will, in turn, help you stockpile items ahead of any prospective respawn.

Overlaid on top of the live feed that you’re watching, these bite-sized challenges take the form of old-school carnival games. There’s the Whac-A-Klown QTE, a pattern memorisation puzzle, a balloon-popping gallery and the opportunity to just shoot some hoops. The better you perform in the chosen skill test, the greater your reward; which you can either hang onto (in case you are brought back to life) or gift to the remaining survivors like some kind of benevolent guardian angel.

It’s a revelatory mechanic that takes the sting out of premature failure and — complementing the fact that matches are short & sweet to begin with — gives you an incentive not to ditch the lobby as soon as you’ve been zapped by a Klown. Honestly, it makes a world of difference and it’ll be hard to go back to those other asymmetrical games now knowing that they don’t have an equivalent. Let’s hope they take note!


I’m Off To Join The Circus

Of course, whilst it’s vital that the human half of the experience is satisfying, you really want to know what it’s like to step into the oversized shoes of those jesters from beyond the stars. Well, rest assured that Klown gameplay is not only finely balanced here but it’s also ridiculously entertaining.

Fans of the movie, in particular, are sure to be pleased by how comprehensively it represents the aliens’ quirky abilities and oddball gadgets. Whatever moment from the film you consider to be most aspirational, you can almost certainly relive it: from knocking off a teen’s head with boxing gloves to performing a straight vertical jump that defies the laws of Newtonian physics.

Before you can indulge in that intoxicating power trip though, you’ll first need to put aside your bloodlust for a minute and do some harvesting. The reason for this being that Klowns don’t spawn in with immediate access to their loadout, and so are better off deferring the hunt and focussing on more achievable goals. At least until they reach full strength.

The earlier stages of the invasion are thus dominated by you and your cohorts scouring the environment for confectious cocoons that can be hooked up to nearby processor gizmos. Doing so enough times will furnish you with a small army of AI-controlled lackeys (little roaming gremlins that expose the location of any prey they happen upon) and accelerate the Klownpocalypse timer thereby putting extra pressure on the other team. In that sense, it recalls how feeding Grandpa in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre would eventually pay dividends and make things easier for the family in the long run. So neglect it at your peril!

Only after you’ve wrangled up a sufficient posse of scouts should you think about cutting loose with all your cool toys. But, trust us, the delayed gratification is well worth it! Ambushing a group of survivors who are on the cusp of escaping — dashing their hopes of salvation as you coat them in reams upon reams of fairy floss — never stops being fun. Nor does blasting them with the popcorn launcher or whaling on them with a novelty mallet.

Outside of the weapons, you’ve also got some fiendish abilities like a hypnosis lure and balloon animal craft (through which you can fashion a handy sniffer dog). Again, using these successfully always provokes a devious chuckle from the perpetrator in question. There’s a nice handful of them to unlock as well, hopefully ensuring that the game has decent legs post-release.

Speaking of which, there is a solid progression system here that should prevent lobbies from dwindling anytime soon. In addition to earning new armaments and tricks by levelling up, you’ll be rewarded with a number of vibrant options for customising your Klown too. We’ve dressed ours in a snazzy Sundae-themed ensemble, complete with delicious-looking sprinkles, and have to say that we’ve grown rather fond of it.

Most tantalizingly of all, however, are the screwy finisher animations you can unlock known as “Klownalities.” Significantly less gory than their Mortal Kombat namesakes, these imaginative executions revel in the glorious absurdity of the Killer Klowns premise. You’ll want to collect them all, as each one is sillier than the last, allowing you to do insane things like: cake your victims in custard pies; engulf them in a whirlwind of confetti; or get a hand-shadow puppet to swallow them whole.

The point is, they’re very charming and, as such, in keeping with the PG-13, gateway horror vibe of the source material. The Chiodo Brothers’ movie was always about cartoonish slapstick after all, as opposed to excessive blood & guts. This game fundamentally understands that. In general, it understands a lot about the enduring appeal of Killer Klowns and that’s what makes it such a resounding success.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s not without its flaws. The opportunity to tweak your loadout while waiting for the lobby to populate wouldn’t go amiss — whereas, at present, you’ve got to leave and do it via a dedicated menu — and there ought to be at least a couple more maps so that rotations doesn’t get stale. The A.I. bots could do with an overhaul as well. At best they’re functionally useless right now and, at worst, they’re active liabilities that can cost you the entire match (by drawing enemies to your location and stubbornly holding onto items you need). Still, these are all minor gripes and nothing that cannot be remedied via a handful of quick updates.

Even in its current form, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is an extremely tight package and a formidable contender in the asymmetrical multiplayer EWN. We can’t wait to see how it evolves from here, because it already has the makings of a legit cult favourite, just like the film upon which it is based. Who’d have thought that Fatso would be giving Leatherface a run for his money in the year 2024?

Co-developed by Teravision Games and IllFonic, Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game will be released on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S on Thursday the 6th of June. For those who have pre-ordered, advance access starts a week earlier on the 28th May. Review code provided by publisher.

4 out of 5 skulls

The post ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game’ Review – Cult Movie Becomes a Uniquely Fun Multiplayer Experience appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.



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