“Citizen, stay still and prepare to be scanned.” Before I realized how potent an EMP is against the flying police drones, these words were usually the last I heard in Metrocide. Even after sacrificing my hard earned virtual credits to always have an EMP ready I still died. A lot. You might play as a hitman in Metrocide, but don’t expect your marks to go down quickly or quietly.
Metrocide doesn’t waste time with details such as a plot. Your character has to get out of the city fast and the easiest way to earn the money to do so is by performing assassination contracts. Luckily for him (or her, you get to choose your gender) there is always someone who wants someone else dead in the city. The trick however is to get the job done without getting killed, a task which is much harder than I anticipated.
You are given a bird’s eye view of the city and various contacts dotted around the map. Each will provide you with assassination contracts, with the more difficulty ones earning better money. Thanks to the trackers worn by your targets it is usually easy to locate them as they roam around the city. Unfortunately, the city is also inhabited by innocent pedestrians, gang members, security cameras and police drones. Drawing your gun in sight of any of them usually results in your character getting gunned down or reported, neither of which is desirable in a game with permadeath. This means that you have to carefully follow your target and kill them in a secluded spot before dumping the body in an open sewer or river. As the city is pretty crowded and your targets have a tendency to wander around in public spaces your job is never easy.
Knowing that a single shot can end your life and cause you to lose all your progress makes for a pretty tense experience. The goal on each level is to reach a certain amount of credits which then buys you the papers needed to move on to the next level. Since your weapons, items and ammunition also cost credits it usually takes a while to scrape together enough cash. You are also given a horrible, slow charging pistol as your default weapon, so upgrading to something better is a top priority. Getting a clean kill is not an easy task, so many a time you will have to settle for a quick, but messy shotgun kill, especially for targets that are only in the city for a limited amount of time.
If you leave behind evidence of your grisly deeds the police is called in and opens an investigation. Any citizens that saw your face will identify your character and increase the chance of police drones swooping in to take you out. You can pay a hacker to remove your id from the police database, but the cost is usually more than what you get paid for a contract. Still, if you are close to completing a level and have a lot of heat on you it is usually better to sacrifice some cash instead of risking it all only to get gunned down before you can reach the exit.
All the action in Metrocide takes place outside in the grimy city streets. You have to make your way through the downtown district, docks and finally Hilldale area to leave the city, but don’t expect to experience the sweet taste of victory without putting in many hours. Even on the “normal” mode the game is quite brutal and very unforgiving. If it is not vigilantes shooting you for drawing a weapon in public it will be your own targets turning the tables on you or those pesky police drones catching you by surprise. Do well enough and you will even have other hitmen hired by a “shadow authority” to kill you, to worry about. It is immensely frustrating to spend your time slowly completing your contracts without getting spotted only to be shot in the back by another assassin while you lurk around a corner waiting for your mark to approach. The game doesn’t care if you have made no money or were only a hundred odd credits away from your final amount, death is permanent.
The only thing that you do retain from playing are the unlocks. These are mostly new weapons or items that require specific actions to obtain. For example, hiding ten bodies will unlock the “lure” item which makes it easier to temp your target into stepping into a secluded alley. Performing 25 shotgun kills on the other hand will unlock the silenced shotgun which is just as messy but not as noisy. Unlocks are permanent, so even if you die and have to start over you will still be able to purchase them from the vending machines. There are also unlocks which can make your life more difficult such as targets being armed, paranoid, watched by bodyguards or escorted by police. While your ultimate goal always remains the same, kill your target, you might also be given secondary instructions such as picking up whatever they were carrying, that has to be done in order to get paid. Usually the more complicated it is to kill your target the more you will be paid, but in the mean streets of this game even a simple contract can end in disaster if things go pear shaped.
Metrocide might have tiny, pixelated visuals, but it absolutely nails the atmosphere. The camera is pulled back very high, so it’s hard to see much detail, but the city looks suitably seedy and run down. Steam billows from open sewer vents, cleaning bots roam the streets along with civilians, and flying craft occasionally passes overhead all while the rain beats down relentlessly. The game definitely has an early 2D Grand Theft Auto meets Blade Runner meets Hitman vibe going for it. There’s plenty of little touches as well such as the cleaning droids swooping in to clean the bloody messes that you leave behind or the chalk outlines that are drawn around the discovered bodies of your victims. Unfortunately, there is no traffic on the ground, but considering how easy it is to die in Metrocide I suppose getting run over all the time would just have made matters worse.
The audio in Metrocide also adds to the atmosphere and while there isn’t much in the way of music the sound of rain and lightning is quite nice. You’ll also hear the loud, bass beats coming from nightclubs that you pass and the sound of cleaning bots threatening civilians to stay out of their way. My favorite is the “Keep clear or I will clean you with my class three incinerator beam” line from these bots. The controls are very straightforward and you use the WASD keys to move while your mouse is for aiming and shooting. With the default control scheme, which takes a while to get used to, pressing “W” causes your character to move in the direction of your mouse cursor, but you can switch to a more familiar scheme.
Despite its difficulty and how frustrating it can be at times Metrocide is still a lot of fun. Due to the lack of vehicles it doesn’t have the same sandbox style charm as the early Grand Theft Auto titles, but stalking your target before moving in for a clean kill is immensely satisfying. Even more so because one slip up can cost you the entire level. Once you get the hang of the game you can start using your surroundings to your advantage to make life a little easier. For example, simply brushing against a paranoid target can cause them to pull their gun and start firing. Anyone shooting in this game is seen as a threat, so if you are quick enough you can duck behind a corner while vigilantes or even the police take down your target for you. The fact that you can’t save and the lack of variety does mean that the game can become repetitive. Unless you are a sucker for punishment the high difficulty level can also be infuriating, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to play. The game only has a “Normal” and “Tough” difficulty with “Impossible” being unlockable, so don’t expect any mercy.
Aside from the normal mode you can also unlock a couple of other modes to keep things interesting. The “Score Attack” mode challenges you to complete as many contracts as possible without getting killed while “Blaster Only” does exactly what the name suggests. There is also a “Dead Trench Walking” mode, which turns the entire city against you, to unlock for the truly skilled and masochistic. The game keeps track of all your kills as well as the amount of innocents and gang members that you bumped off which means you have something to show for all the hours spent getting killed. It also tracks the amount of times you died, contracts completed or failed and money earned and spent, which is great for people who love statistics.
I’m not going to lie, Metrocide is not a game for everyone. Players who require hand holding and coddling while they go about completing missions won’t last very long in this game. Death is a sudden and very frequent occurrence in Metrocide, so you had better be prepared to die early and often until you learn the ropes. Even then it is possible to get killed purely from some random event, but like I said early, the punishing difficulty only makes each victory so much sweeter.