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I still remember the day when I had gone to see Logan in theaters. It was quite a big deal for me. You know why? Because here, the censor board has scissors instead of hands, chopping off all the ‘violent’ parts in any Hollywood movie that’s ever released. Irrespective of the movie’s target audience and how crucial the scenes are for the plot, these hypocrites simply remove gore to make the theater more ‘family-friendly’ (as if we haven’t been in awkward situations where we had gone with our family and saw the things happening in the darkness). But boy oh boy, did Logan survive the bane of the censor-board! And all that R-rated chopping, slashing, gory dismemberment, it was all playing out right before my eyes on the big screen; I hadn’t felt such a primal ecstasy for a long time. And therefore, only one hour into Katana Zero and I wanted nothing more than sweet, uncaged carnage.

First, the best parts of Katana Zero

Summon your inner ninja as you cut through anyone blocking your path while slowing down time and deflecting bullets. Katana Zero turns all these fatal fantasies into reality because our hero, Zero, is not a normal human being, or at least haven’t had a normal childhood. As part of a clandestine experiment by the old Mecca government, Zero was nurtured as a Null soldier, administered with regular doses of the highly potent Chronos, a drug that enhances precognitive abilities soon after birth. In essence, he can see forward in time and slow it down to plan attacks. Used as an expendable and discarded post the Cromag War 7 years ago, an amnesiac Zero now works as a bathrobe wearing, katana-wielding assassin for a bookish psychiatrist who speaks in vague terms about his benevolent “employers.” The targets to be eliminated are determined by these shadowy cabals, their dossiers burned by Zero once read, and regular doses up Chronos administered into his bloodstream to keep his precognitive abilities at the peak.

But Zero ain’t the only Null. As the story unfolds and you keep killing people, you’ll start to notice a pattern, a common thread tying up all your targets. And that’s when the plot-twists flood in. The nightmares you have, the little girl next door, the random flashbacks, are all connected to your past and the things you did as a Null. As you shred your way from facility to facility (which ranges from a lab, a club, a hotel, a studio, a prison, and much more), the usual questions begin to take shape: Who’s paying me for all this? How do my targets know me? Who am I, anyway? No doubt the story in Katana Zero is one brutal neo-noir drama, largely about the sins of war, and all its characters are either relics or walking embodiment of it.

What’s more? You can choose your dialogues while speaking and in many cases, it will change the reactions of the people you’re talking to, which may change the outcome. But before they complete their sentences, you have the option to cut them short and annoy them completely (things I do in real life). This goes without saying that Katana Zero encourages multiple playthroughs with varying outcomes of dialogues and choices in-between the levels, giving a new experience every time you take a different option. Such degrees of freedom can either make the game harder (which it already is) or make it smooth, and it’s all determined by how you behave with the NPCs, as even things that seem petty or irrelevant have ramifications down the line.

As a violent love letter to the pixel aesthetic of the bygone era, Katana Zero dabbles in fist-bumping synth and soothing retrowave depending on which part of the scene you’re in. There were memorable moments, like the one where you had to kill a drug-smuggling DJ in a club while sneaking and rolling into crowds of party-goers to dance and blend in, then rolling away to the next crowd until you reach the restricted area. All this while jamming to the DJ’s latest dope synths. After the indiscriminate dismembering of bouncers in the restricted area, you reach the DJ and it is then when you realize there’s not one but two psychopathic killers hunting their prey in that club. There’s a gunshot, a spray of blood, screams and then the music stops as SWAT team barge in, further providing you live targets to blunt your blade.

All these pixel visuals and the blood-pumping OST are nothing short of an intensification of the neo-noir backdrop the game is set in. The audio effects (and the vibration of the controller) when you successfully dissect bodies and the metallic clang of swords or the bullets that you deflect back to the shooter, all feel so grounded and heavy as if your controller is the katana here! The line between videogame and reality becomes blurred to the moment when you won’t be needing the time dilation ability as your mind perceives sword strikes and gun fires in real-time. And your final playthrough after the end of each level is shown as a grey-scaled security tape that you can fast forward or rewind as if you’re still stuck in the ’80s. You keep dying, maybe due to a mistimed parry or a stray bullet, and rewind time saying “No, that won’t work” and start the level anew until you successfully eliminate all. That’s when Zero comments “Yes, that should work” and his actual run begins, as recorded in the security tapes. The one where you play are all his precognition, the future Zero and you can see, and yet, there’s a limit to it, a time limit within which you’ll have to complete a level and proceed to the next as Zero can’t remember that far into the future.

Now for the not-so-good parts 

Frankly, there are no “not-so-good parts” in the game. It’s already so topnotch. From the multi-floor level designs that encourage multiple ways to approach and kill, to the skull-bashing soundtracks, it should no doubt be the perfect Indie Game of the Year nominee. If only the game was not this short (about 9 hours). With a lore this rich, much could have gone into world-building but, maybe because it’s an indie game, the devs kept the world-building items minimal. For example, the TV at Zero’s apartment starts repeating the same news after the third one, not much information about the Juncture authorities is available except that they manufacture everything to run the city etc. But with gameplay this fastpaced, the minimal world-building is something that can be easily overlooked.

This is an absolute recommendation by the noob.

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