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Developer: Paradox Development
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Thrill Kill is a name which will no doubt bring a nostalgic smile to the face of most old school gamers, thanks to the controversy which surrounded its impending release and which fueled the urban legends about the game being banned. The truth however was that the original publisher Virgin Interactive were acquired by Electronic Arts and despite having the game all but ready to ship out, instead decided to scrap the project completely, not wanting to be associated with such a “senselessly violent game”.
The decision to axe the game was not only a setback for gamers who had eagerly awaited this game which promised to be more shocking and violent than Mortal Kombat, which at the time had been causing all kinds of fury amongst parent and censorship groups who were worried that it would corrupt the youth of the day . . . who knows what they would make of the current incarnation of Mortal Kombat, which makes the original look positively twee in comparison. By axing the game it also meant that the rather dire cash-in by legendary rappers the Wu-Tang Clan with their game Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style to become the first fighting game to allow four players to fight simultaneously thanks largely to Activision using the Thrill Kill game engine.
While the game has certainly been looted for parts and certain concept ideas over the years which followed, it’s really thanks to a group of former employees at Paradox Development who leaked the game to the group “T@STY” who not only finished off the game, but also released it onto the internet alongside several other beta versions of the game, meaning that the players would still get to play the game while pretty much flipping the bird at their former employers as the popularity of the game exploded.
The game itself is set in a modern-day version of hell were Marukka, the Goddess of Secrets, bored of her usual routine decides to hold a fighting tournament with the winner getting the prize of being reincarnated. The player chooses one of the ten damned souls with many of the characters having become manifestations of the evil which marked them for hell when they died.
Unquestionably one of the big draws of the game was with its roster of fighters, many of which are designed for maximum shock or offensiveness. As such players get to play as fighters such as the dominatrix “Belladonna” who not only opens her bouts with an orgasmic groan, but also dresses in a number of fetish outfits. Meanwhile one the serial killer side of things we have the bear trap mouthed and scalpel welding “Dr. Faustus”, the cannibal redneck “Cleetus” who carries a severed leg and “Odd-Ball” who has no arms either to amputation or a straightjacket depending on your costume choice. Rounding out the roster though are the freaks and monsters like “Mammoth”, the stilt walking kinky dwarf “Imp” and contortionist “Violet” meaning that there really is a fighter to suit all warped tastes. Unquestionably, like so many aspects of the game everything from these character designs up is designed to cause offense in one way or another with the fights taking place in arenas like a padded cell, a toilet and even an alleyway. So sure of its offensiveness it even offers players an opportunity to opt out playing the game with its disclaimer requiring players to press circle to continue.
Unlike other fighting games which use energy bars, here instead it’s about which player can cause the most damage to the other players as four players at a time battle out to be the last one standing. Once your damage bar has been maxed out that plater is then supercharged and can pick any player in the room to instantly kill off in a variety of violent and bloody ways depending on the character they have chosen. Fights continue till one fighter is left standing while the final charge-up is shown as a Highlander style sequence in which the player is struck by multiple bolts of lightning and causing me and my brother to cry out “There can only be one” while animation played out. The supercharged player now can pull off their ultimate finishers which are equally if not more extreme than the finishers unleashed on the previous fighters.
While the game’s visuals have certainly dated and come off quite blocky thanks to its early 3D engine, there is still a certain joy to be found in the game, especially when the controls are so simple with fatalities being performed by a simple button press than a cranium straining series of commands to input though it’s hard to tell if this was down to the game being finished up “T@STY” rather than the developers who might have gone the more traditional route with this fatality system which rewards players with instant gratification during these fights than the usual damp squid finish many of us get from the “Finish him” setups.
The game controls, while perhaps more clunky these days, are still responsive enough to not cause frustration while at the same time easily pull off any of the highly original move sets the characters which range from over the top violent through to comedic with many characters branding improvised weapons such as scalpels, cattle prods and even a severed leg. At the same time blows to characters are greeted with sprays of blood which pool on the floor before vanishing in a nod to the OTT style of Mortal Kombat that the developers were clearly (like so many games of the time) using as a guide.
Sadly due to the game not being finished (though it varies depending on what version you have) many of the characters are left without movies to reward players who beat the game with them. Instead, for these characters, the game randomly switches to the Virgin interactive intro which can be kind of disappointing especially when these movies explain or at least hint at how these characters ended up in hell, background which has since been filled in by the fan community from various notes from the production they have been able to gather. Thankfully the rest of the game is pretty much complete.
An interesting curiosity of a game and one which certainly deserves its place amongst the most controversial games, even if games such as Manhunt and Postal would push the boundaries of taste much further. It’s harder for the younger gamers to understand why people got so worked up over this game, while for the older gamers, reminding us of a wilder time for gaming let alone another important example of changing attitudes toward censorship.