Insert Disk collects Thrill Kill for the PlayStation 1 (PS1).
Today’s retro game review is Thrill Kill for the PlayStation 1 (PS1). This retro gaming horror nasty has become a classic after the decision to keep it unreleased. Rather than banning the game the decision to shelf Thrill Kill meant that the source code was inevitably leaked. Thrill Kill has become so notorious for its violence and sexual undertones the leaked game has is still widely played even today. If it’s a combination of horror, violence, controversy and video games you’re after then Thrill Kill is certain to deliver.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s rather dark episode. Today were going to be breaking some of the rules and looking at a game that you can’t collect. Today we’re looking back at an unreleased video game nasty from 1998 for the PS1, Thrill Kill. Contrary to some sources this game was never actually banned. It was simply never published despite the development being completed.
Originally Virgin Interactive were to publish the game although Virgin themselves were bought out by Electronic Arts in 1998. The story goes that EA were so offended with the games content that they would rather shelve this complete and already marketed title rather than either releasing it or selling it to other publishers. It was a landmark moment of when a company decided to scrap its own game for moral reasons. So, what are we seeing here? Well, it turned out that some of the developers were not so pleased to see their months of development essentially thrown away. Before long the game had become leaked on the internet. What’s interesting about this leak though are the multiple leaked versions of the game. There is a full version of the game that includes all options, music and cut scenes. However, this “full” version (or at least one version of the full version had been slightly toned down). The other main leak of the game is from an earlier cycle in the development without cut scenes but with a slightly different move set.
Many images of Thrill Kill can be found online which I won’t be posting here so please don’t ask. It’s certainly one of the easier unreleased games to get our hands on though. Typically the game is played on emulators but it is possible to configure the images to work on real PS1s. Either with an extended play adapter of a chip mod with the appropriate bios chip. Again, the legalities of modifying hardware are somewhat debatable by region so please don’t ask me for advice. Uncle Google will tell you everything you want to know and more about this side of gaming. The game does have a plot. Ten souls of murderers in Hell must fight in a tournament of the damned. The winner wins the right to be resurrected. Each of the ten characters takes on imagery representing their crimes. The cast is represented by everything from a Dominatrix to an Imp. In terms of originality I have to admit that this game has a very diverse character set. It’s not often you see a game roster with maniac surgeons, contortionists, torturers and asylum patients.
The battle is a 4 on 4 event set in rather grim fighting environments. Expect to see dungeons, morgues and any number of hellish scenarios. Rather than a life bar each character has a Kill Meter. As they land attacks the meter fills. At filling the meter the character can pull off a Thrill Kill fatality. It’s an interesting mechanic as it pushes the player towards attack rather than defence. To pull off the Thrill Kill you must first catch your victim. This can sometimes be more difficult than others as the remaining fighters scramble to stay alive. Catch your victim though and it’s certain death for them. The 4 on 4 mechanic, free for all elimination system gives Thrill Kill an interesting dynamic. In the early rounds you’ll want to simply get out of the main brawl and survive, landing the far reaching hits and not getting trapped in the middle of an onslaught of hits from the other weirdoes. There’s nothing more frustrating that a ganged up attach in the arena corner. By the 1 on 1 stage you’ll want to go in for more combos and throws to really pile on the damage to make sure you win the round. It is technically possible to coast through the first 2 rounds without landing a hit, as long as you avoid the victor’s fatality move.
This brings us on to the Thrill Kill itself. Upon winning the final round you will become charged with lightning and must pull off the Thrill Kill. These are essentially souped up fatalities. Limbs will be lost and there’s going to be a bloody end all round. Inevitably this is where the line was crossed for many. For most of us, violence in video games is just part of the industry. When you think about the movies it’s a similar situation, there’s everything from the latest Disney to extreme Asian gore available. Something for everyone and something for everyone else to take offence to. One of the issues with Thrill Kill though was the blurred lines of realistic portrayals of violence and more sexualised themes of violence. In particular some of Violet and Belladonna’s move sets would certainly divide opinion as to whether Thrill Kill was good old fashioned gory beat’em up action or something a little more deviant. Everyone will find their own level of comfort on this issue and I think that there’s no right answer on the decision to hold Thrill Kill from release.
To play Thrill Kill is a bit of a mixed bag in my opinion. In some ways it’s quite ground breaking as the game is 4 on 4 and set in tight and horrible battle areas. The move sets are outrageous and the Thrill Kills rather morbid. Games such as more recent instalments of Mortal Kombat may have upped the gore factor but at the time Thrill Kill would have possibly been at the head of the class. On balance the actual fighting is a little unbalanced. Certain characters have a few cheap moves that can be repeated to cause a lot of damage. With a bit more play testing and refinement though I dare say that this would actually have been a hit. We’ve seen time and time again that there is a big market for horror themed games. As it is I feel the game just needed a little tune up. This was no doubt planned before the shelving of the final release so I won’t criticise anything on an unreleased title.
Although Thrill Kill the game was cancelled the Thrill Kill game engine was used for the Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style and X-Men: Mutant Academy games. However, neither of these games set the world alight upon their release so this may be the closest that we will ever get to knowing if Thrill Kill would have been a hit. My honest opinion of the game is that as it stands it would have caused the usual upset in the media and perhaps led to a ban. Despite this you can be assured that it would have sold well based on the hype and then slowly be forgotten as the next outrageous game came along. The killing of Thrill Kill though has ironically made it a martyr in the industry and actually propelled it to resurrect itself. If for no other reason other than a gaming curiosity.
Personally I think that Thrill Kill has taken on a life of its own and become the best known secret game of the 90’s. As time has now moved on I’d quite like to see a newly imagined version of the game. The potential of a hit with next gen graphics and better battle system combined with the horror theme could be a monster hit if a developer gets it right. In terms of did EA do the right thing by cancelling this game I think that I’m in the “Yes” camp. This would have been a great risk for EA back in the 90’s, when you’re trying to pedal family friendly titles such as the FIFA series the last thing you need is a boycott due to your gamble on releasing a non-family friendly title. However, shelve the title completely? Perhaps not. Thrill Kill was certainly marketable and I can imagine that there was a genuine demand for this type of game. Perhaps EA could have created a sub-brand for adult gamers or even licenced out the game to another publisher. Either way, by the distribution of the smuggled out game code we can all come to our own decision. Let me know what you think in the comments though, were EA right to cancel this one or would Thrill Kill have been worth the risk in releasing?