Originally published on Steam

In the search for the ideal top-down tactical shooter, I've tried Hotline Miami (too twitchy), Forzen Synapse (too random), Monaco (close, but too gimmicky), and recent XCOMs (on the abstract side). None of them quite scratch the itch created by Julian Gollop games. Until Door Kickers.

The heart of the game is a series of buildings your SWAT team must clear of bad guys. Sometimes there's another objective such rescuing hostages or collecting evidence before the suspects can destroy it. These require various tactics and give the game flavor. But the core remains moving from one room to the next shooting people who are trying to shoot you.

Every character possesses some level of agency. Enemies (AKA, tangos) respond to sounds and other cues in reasonable ways. For instance, they might turn to face the door your pointman is forcing. Alternatively, they might decide to shoot the hostages or destroy the evidence. Your operators might ignore orders in order to respond to immediate threats. In fact, you don't order them to fire at all; you tell them where to go and they just take care of business.

As a result, you can set up a plan at the start of a level and let the game play itself. I know that sounds boring, but it really isn't. Plans involve dozens of little decisions, such as how to breach a door, where to toss a flashbang, when to turn to check a hallway and so on. You can charge though most levels with a lone shooter (there are achievements for it) or carefully coordinate a full team with go signals. If your plan works, the payoff is a minute or two of perfectly choreographed violence.

Truthfully, however, perfect planning doesn't happen the first time around. More often I need to adjust because I failed check a blind spot or I blundered into shotgun crossfire. Plans can be redrawn on the fly or you can pause the action to give yourself time to think. Immediately after completion of a level, I find myself restarting it so that I can fine tune the plan.

There is an overarching game of unlocking tactics, roles and armament. Faster times unlock up to three stars for buying new guns, body armor and equipment. Officers earn experience points which open up new roles (assaulter, breacher, stealth and shield) and tactics. Missions can technically be played in any order, but the effect of the leveling system is to gate off more difficult levels. Skipping missions or forgetting to upgrade increases the challenge quickly.

On the other hand, once you have a stronger team, it's rewarding to go back to earlier levels and get an improved result. In addition, campaigns are unlocked once your squad levels up to a certain point. However, don't think of campaigns as stories since they are just missions strung together to force you to pay the consequences for deaths and injuries. I'd complain campaigns are too shallow if I weren't excited to play new maps.

Not that there's any lack of maps. In addition to 84 single missions and 6 campaigns, there are user-created missions for download and a map generator. These mean you will never need to play the same mission over again, but they also highlight the skill of official level designers. Levels designed by other users are wildly inconstant in challenge and quality. The generated levels can be anywhere from boring to near impossible depending on which settings you use and how the random number generator rolls.

In the final analysis, Door Kickers provides copious amounts of tactical decision making with simple controls and plenty of chrome.