Welcome to the infection!

MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) have been dominating the PC space for quite a few years now, cultivating a massive following and ushering professional eSports into a lucrative new era.

Now that trend is hopefully making its way to consoles, and Sony - more specifically Sony San Diego Studio, known for the award-winning MLB: The Show series of games - are aiming to lead the charge, with their free-to-play title Kill Strain for the PlayStation 4; which releases July 12th for PlayStation Plus subscribers and a week later (on July 19th) for everyone else.

Jump to: Kill Strain Overview, The Mercenaries, The Mutants, Characters & Upgrades or Impressions.

Kill Strain Overview

Whilst Kill Strain follows the MOBA trend of a team-based system - with the penultimate aim of destroying the enemy base - it throws a spanner in the works by not only adding a unique third team, but one that plays entirely differently too.

Within the world of Kill Strain, the discovery of a new energy source has led to an outbreak of the Strain virus across the planet. Now Mercenary groups and Mutants - those turned by the virus - must do battle, leading to all out 4v4v2 warfare. Upon booting Kill Strain up, youíll be given a set amount of gold - one form of Kill Strainís in-game currency - enough for you to unlock a character of your choosing from each side.

The Mercenaries

If you have played any twin-stick shooter.. in well... everÖ then playing as one of the two Mercenary teams within Kill Strain will be second nature. Maneuvering with the left-stick, aiming with the right-stick and firing your characters weapon with a press - or even a hold, for prolonged fire - of the R2 button on the PlayStation 4 dualshock controller.

The goal of the game as a Mercenary is to destroy either the rival Merc base (that being either blue or gold team depending on which you are on) or the mutant Strain base itself. To aide you in this endeavour you will have to not only bolster your own defenses - your bases turrets - but increase your own offensive firepower by unlocking your MEC suit - which once available is activated by a push of the square button.

The benefit of the MEC suit is not only greatly increased firepower - along with its own health bar - but that it is immune to the Strain virus which normally harms you and surrounds the enemy Strain base. In essence the MEC suit is a key component to victory regardless of the enemy you wish to face, unfortunately the suit is only active for a short period - meaning consistent use of this benefit will require levelling up within the match.

To level up as a Mercenary you can do many things, all of which help the overall team and gain you experience points; from damaging and killing enemy Mercs or Mutants, destroying the Strain spreading, virus-pods dotted around the symmetrical map or the most efficient way by transporting ARCC canisters to a Drop Zone - unfortunately thereís only one Drop Zone, meaning itíll be constantly contested by the enemy Mercenary team.

The collecting of ARCC Canisters also produces a quandary, as they are also highly effective against the Strain virus as throwable grenades - demolishing it on impact by throwing with a press of the triangle button - but you can only transport one at a time; thankfully they are of infinite supply, it just means backtracking to your teams ARCC Station to get another.

Whilst your primary weapon may vary depending on your chosen character, they also each have three abilities to go along with it, accessed through the L1, L2 and R1 buttons. After activating one of your characters abilities, it will have a brief cooldown period before youíre able to use it again - signified by a countdown on its icon at the bottom of the screen - you may also run out of stamina (a white bar underneath your health bar) which blocks the cooldown process from triggering until you regain a set amount, thankfully it's constantly regenerating but it may mean leaving combat for a brief period.

All teams will have 20 minutes in order to destroy a base, that means either annihilating the enemy turrets in order to reach the enemy Merc core or using your MEC suit to wipe out the Strain virus and taking the fight to its base. Failure will mean an automatic win for the Mutant team, unfortunately as the match progresses this can become more difficult as the Mutant team level-up - gaining the ability to turn other players - resulting in the team dynamics shifting dramatically.

The Mutants

Whilst only two players are automatically assigned the role of Mutant at the start of a match, this is offset by some generous abilities you are gifted, not to mention more ways to win the match; from letting the 20 minute match-time lapse, destroying either of the Mercenary bases or best of all, turning all of the enemy Mercs on the map into fellow rampaging Mutants.

The benefits don't end there either, whilst the Mutants donít wield guns - instead use their razor-sharp claws - meaning getting up close and personal is a necessity, thankfully Mutants are much tougher, and getting a Merc by his lonesome will mean a quick death for the poor soul.

Also unlike the Mercenaries, healing is a cinch for Mutants, staying within the Strain infection - which you can also help spread yourself via a tap of the triangle button - will result in you not only being invisible and traversing with greater speed, but in quick health regeneration too.

But much like the Mercenaryís, the Mutants are equipped with 3 different abilities (using L1, L2 and R1 shoulder buttons) that vary depending on which Mutant you are playing, but all once used, require a cooldown before being able to be activated again. Likewise, if you run out of stamina (the constantly regenerating white bar underneath your health) the abilities will be greyed out until you regain a distinct amount back.

As you level up the Strain - or evolve as it's called within the game - by killing Mercs, spreading the Strain virus (via triangle) or destroying enemy machinery such as turrets, a unique fourth ability will be activated for use; that being the ability to turn other players into Mutants.

Normally upon felling a Merc, he or she will crawl among the ground for a few seconds before abandoning their mortal coil - to begin again at their base, after a brief respawn penalty. But with turning now available, a prompt of the square button will appear above their heads. Upon pressing, you can now drag their dying body to a nearby Strain pod (youíll notice another prompt appearing when close enough) once activated, sit-back and watch in all its glory as a one-time enemy now transforms into a Mutant ally before your eyes.

Characters & Upgrades

Kill Strain currently contains 12 unique characters, 3 of those being Mutants and 9 Mercenaries. It also appears two mystery characters will be added as further content down the road. When you begin the game you are given enough Gold Credits (one of Kill Strain's two in-game currencies) to unlock 2 of the starter characters - from a choice of 4 - one Mercenary and one Mutant.

Each of those characters you have yet to unlock can be done so by earning enough Silver Credits, which you will earn after every match depending on how well you did - and whether you managed to complete any of the daily challenges - or by using the aforementioned Gold Credits, which require real money to acquire at time of writing. You can also rent characters for a set amount of games for a much smaller amount of Silver Credits, perfect for trying out a character

Alternatively you can purchase Kill Strainís Corporation Pack which will give you access to all current and future characters.

All Mercenary and Mutant characters come with their own stats and abilities (used by pressing the shoulder buttons within a match) to suit a wide range of playstyles; from tanks, healers, snipers and support.

You can also adjust the loadout of your Characters in two different ways; the first is through Masteries which are unique to each character, such as increasing damage on a specific ability they have. Initially youíll only be able to purchase a single Mastery and attach it to a Character, but it will expand with up to 3 slots as you level-up. Each Mastery can also be upgraded further (with Silver Credits) to increase its effectiveness.

The second is through Augments these are non-specific power-ups for your Character (such as gaining extra run speed for a short duration after destroying a Strain pod). Whilst at first youíll only be able to attach one, levelling up with unlock the ability to attach 4 unique Augments to your Character.

How you acquire these Augments is through Augment Packs within the Marketplace. At the time of writing they cost 500 Silver Credits, and once purchased will give you a selection of 5 random (Uncommon or better) Augments for you to use how you see fit on your characters.

Kill Strain also features a variety of skins for you to purchase (with Gold Credits) if you are bored with the current look of your favourite characters.

But if using real-world money isnít your thing, then thereís still a chance of attaining unique items with special Event Challenges if you are able to meet its requirements in-game.

And last but not least are Boosts, these have no impact in-game and are merely a way for you to gain XP and Silver Credits quicker. Currently they are only purchasable through Gold Credits.

My impressions

MOBAís have never been a genre that have interested me, even the more recent ones such as Overwatch which are slanted towards first-person gamers havenít peaked my curiosity.

But oddly enough Kill Strain has stuck with me ever since booting the title up for a quick playtest. I find myself coming back to it with regularity and have quickly ascended levels (currently at 21 and climbing). I believe part of it harkens back to my days of playing the zombie mod within Counter Strike; the sheer fun of fighting an enemy only to be infected and joining the Ďdarksideí leading me to then slaughter my team mates with whom I was cowering with in a corner - or a vent in the case of Counter Strike - just moments ago. Whilst Kill Strain is clearly not a first-person shooter, nor is it quite as fast-paced, it manages to capture an inkling of that same shifting dynamic and has drawn me in.

The biggest fear among gamers regarding free-to-play titles, is the issue of microtransactions and whether payment allows other players to have a competitive advantage over you. Thankfully Iíve found that not to be the case thus far with Kill Strain, in fact with just a few days of playing Iíd earned enough Silver Credits to purchase the most expensive characters and plenty of Augments. So whilst the early launch stages will likely have many players using the same characters, a matter of just a few days will likely change that. Likewise the levelling system seems to be swift, so youíll be unlocking the full potential of your chosen characters very quickly without the need of any hefty grinding which plagues many F2P (free-to-play) titles.

The best thing about Kill Strain though is not only is the gameplay itself very smooth - think in terms of Dead Nation or the more recent Helldivers, which is a surprise seeing as Sony San Diego Studio have never made a twin-stick shooter before - but the team dynamics can create some interesting tactical play. Whether you choose to quickly go for the enemy base, or sit back as a team and gather experience to unlock a MEC suit will likely depend on the scenario unfolding before you, whether the Mutants and the enemy Merc team are fighting amongst themselves or both focusing their attacks on you, can mean very different tactics come into play (the latter is more often the case). This obviously changes as the match progresses too, with the Mutants being able to infect other players to turn them; basically causing you to turn against your one-time allies and undo the hard work the team may have put in thus far.

From a technical aspect thereís still work to do within Kill Strain, the first being the initial boot-up being overly long - like pre-patch Bloodborne respawning long. Thereís also currently (at time of writing) no kind of party system, leading to a few of us aiming to join the queue at the same time and hopefully land within the same game. Speaking of queues, whilst it's great that you can queue for a match and still tinker around the UI, itís unfortunately very limited, not enabling you to purchase and adjust character Loadouts, Augments etc, resulting in you likely leaving the sofa to go make a cuppa until a match starts. Another aspect is the lack of help, whilst there are a few quick tutorials they werenít very helpful in explaining what exactly is going on, how it benefits you/your team and why you are doing this. Thankfully after a few games you manage to pick up the inís and out's, but itís unfortunately not explained very well and youíll regularly see players just aimlessly wandering.

The most puzzling aspect though that I feel about Kill Strain, is the direction it's aiming and the more competitive audience that MOBAs tend to steer towards as a whole. Whilst Kill Strain is team-based, the ability for the teams to shift, rules out any kind of strict clan-based competitive play. This is further emphasised on the scoreboard, with players ranked as individuals, crafting a far more free-for-all deathmatch feel. Likewise the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy base, whilst giving you or a player on the team credit for doing so, does not affect the standings and is merely a way for the match to end. In essence within Kill Strain you are judged and ranked as an individual based upon the points you have accumulated. Whilst your skills do indeed help the overall team and vice-versa, you can still be ranked first yet have essentially Ďlostí the match by having your own base fall to the enemy.

It will be very interesting to see how Kill Strain evolves (pun intended) going forward and if any changes are made to facilitate it towards one direction or another, I assume that it will largely depend on what the community as a whole will want, but as of right now if you're a fan of twin-stick shooters or just want to dip your toes into the world of a MOBA, you should definitely keep an eye out when it launches on July 12th.

Are you interested in playing Kill Strain? Let me know in the comments below.

NewsInfo

Sony San Diego Studio formed in 2001, their first title was Mark Of Kri for the PlayStation 2. They have since developed game titles for every PlayStation console and handheld since.

The team also have another free-to-play game in the works, in collaboration with The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency (David Jaffe's team) titled Drawn To Death.

Kill Strain was initially unveiled at PlayStation Experience in 2014, as a competitive 5v5v2 title.

Opinion of: David Robinson
Twitter: @5ypher

Posted on 4th July 2016