Desert Kill — A shoot-em-up roguelite that should work but doesn’t

When I first saw this game’s trailer, I was thrilled by the numerous explosions, guns, vehicles and more. In an industry filled with frantic and violent roguelites, Desert Kill appears to be a bright and enjoyable, if derivative, into the genre from IO Games. 

Desert Kill doesn’t waste any time with exposition. Upon launching the game, you select one of three available starting characters (the female one is a cartoonish nurse, a portrayal I find deeply questionable) before being dropped in some sort of home base. You are immediately directed toward a chopper, which takes you to a new map when entered. This sort of minimal setup seems ideal for a fast-paced roguelike, allowing you to get directly into the action.

However, if you hop in the chopper right away, as the objective marker on the screen urges you to do, it’s easy to miss the tutorial. Off-screen, near the edge of the starting camp, is a tutorial tent, which requires just a bit of attention to locate. The tutorial is bare-bones, with little more than a series of dull grey rooms offering opportunities to practice shooting, sprinting, combat rolling and the like. While it’s not too hard to figure out the controls without the tutorial, the gameplay isn’t exactly intuitive, with commands assigned to keys and mouse buttons seemingly at random. Movement is standard enough with a WASD layout, but switching weapons and accessing other functions feels unwieldy. 

A purple level adds some new color to repetitive environments.

In addition to somewhat clunky controls, the occasional glitch can make Desert Kill even more difficult to play. I jumped right into the chopper and began dashing and shooting at the first enemies I could find. After defeating a couple, I rushed over to the container they were guarding to see what loot I had scored, only to stop short of my prize. The “interact” key that should have allowed me to obtain the loot seemed to be doing nothing at all. In order to fix this, I had to restart the game several times. This didn’t put a dent in my progress at all, but it was a frustrating and lengthy interruption. 

Some other things about the game are decidedly unintuitive. Facing off against sometimes a dozen enemies at a time with just one or two guns at your disposal in the beginning, you would hope that you would be able to replenish ammo or grab new weapons off of fallen foes. No such luck. Additionally, when you’re trying to take out an enemy compound, all the enemies swarm you at once, which makes for some fun, temporary chaos. However, it also removes all elements of strategy. If you flee the compound to recover, the enemies are coming with you — leaving the compound totally undefended. It’s a system that doesn’t make much sense and isn’t very satisfying in the long run. 

One of many swarms of foes.

In all, Desert Kill is a lesson in unfulfilled potential. Though it has a consistent art style (think the Lego games but bloodier) and bright enthusiasm, it doesn’t make good on its promises of high octane shootouts. With more polish, better loot and smarter AI, Desert Kill would be able to hold its own in the roguelite genre, but as it stands, the game simply fails to achieve this.

You can grab Desert Kill on PC.

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