Game Review: The Chaos Unleashed in “Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League” – A Perspective from Loot World Order

Rocksteady’s first game in nearly a decade can’t shake the superhero-as-a-service genre’s ubiquitous feeling that it exists to keep players mindlessly engaged.

By Mark Delaney on February 5, 2024 at 3:34PM PST

The tightrope to walk when writing a review is assessing a game for what it is, not what you wished it would be. Though some wished Rocksteady would make a game more like its Batman Arkham series, it’s not fair to critique Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League for being something other than that. Instead, one must examine it for what it is: a game-as-a-service looter shooter applied to an all-star roster of DC Comics heroes and villains. You zip about a city, shoot aliens, get gear, and repeat. And, as it turns out, that game isn’t very good.

In Suicide Squad, teams of one to four players step into the boots of DC Comics’ wise-cracking villains Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, and Captain Boomerang. Designed in a similar vein as Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers and WB Montreal’s Gotham Knights, Suicide Squad is an open-world game littered with proper nouns like Afflictions, Boosts, and Shield Harvesting, buried in colorful resources, and intensely focused on having players chase better and better loot such as guns, shields, and melee weapons as it (and the all-important endgame) goes on. The intent is to keep players invested for months to come, and the game isn’t shy about that.

With a plot that features Suicide Squad taking on traditional heroes now controlled by Brainiac, it’s a storyline that could have been an exceptional comic book. Transitioning into a game should also work smoothly, given how superhero narratives usually fit perfectly into games. Despite that, there are points where the game struggles, bypassing significant events with low-key spectacle.

Each anti-hero is given depth in the game, interacting with each other in a style that matches the tone of other Suicide Squad narratives. The violence is heavy, the jokes are brash, and the humor is silly – but that’s exactly what’s expected from this crew of loud, disposable villains on a mission to disable Brainiac and the drones he created using the world’s top heroes. The cast, in terms of character representation, is excellent, with AEW’s Samoa Joe standing out narrating King Shark, potentially cementing his acting credentials in the process.

While I appreciate the characters for what they are, there are inconsistencies that I can’t elaborate on due to spoilers, that feel out of place given the sheer size of the task at hand. I often wished the Justice League, now iconic heroes turned villains, were given more screen time. But the game swiftly took me through these narrative points in a manner that didn’t do justice to the situation. This constant rush only reinforced the fact that, in this genre, the story often fails to rise above simple stage setting. There are traces of Rocksteady’s excellence still present, but the act of taking down the Justice League ought to feel like a monumental saga, an effect the game fails to create.

I anticipated therefore that casting the Justice League as villains would be inherently engaging, given the way this premise flips their usual representation. However, they are often flat or stereotypical, from Superman and Batman to The Flash and Green Lantern. Superman’s transition from hero to villain presents a chance to explore new interpretations but for some reason, Rocksteady did not capitalize on this.

Rocksteady’s treatment of Batman is seen as an unpleasant transgression, given the immense time and effort they invested in the Arkham games to develop their unique interpretation of him. This version forgoes all of that and the many years of existing characterization, substituting it with a basic cartoon villain who is allotted an inappropriate closure to his story.

The game’s depiction of Green Lantern majors in his space cop gimmick, which is a superficial interpretation of a persona that fundamentally draws motivation from his inner willpower. The perceived gravity of the Suicide Squad’s mission was oddly easy to disregard, and the manner the heroes-turned-antagonists were exhibited did little reinforcement of its significance.

While Wonder Woman’s involvement adds an extraordinary and more complex curve to the narrative, her departure, akin to all other characters in the game, feels inconsiderately dismissed. Rocksteady, as the game’s developer, and you, as the player, make some radical modifications to the lore of the DC universe, but these pivotal moments appear transient as if merely ticking off items from a list.

In an open-world Metropolis under threat from an array of extraterrestrial thugs, utilizing stolen gear from the Hall of Justice, the Suicide Squad imparts a fraction of the Justice League’s skills into the gameplay. Boomerang harnesses the Speed Force borrowed from Flash to teleport across gaps, while Harley uses Batman’s drone for grappling and swinging, akin to a newly appointed Robin.

Combat and traversal in the game are intended to flow seamlessly, creating an immersive, visually satisfying, and empowering gaming experience. Yet, constraints on the traversal components and overly specific enemy weaknesses that require precise strategies disrupt this gameplay. Some adversaries, for example, can only be defeated using specific techniques like Afflictions (status effects), counters, critical hits, or grenades. This leads to a frequently disordered and frustrating gaming environment, especially when multiple enemy types are presented simultaneously, leaving the player without recourse in certain situations.

Cooperative play can help alleviate some of these difficulties, with each player contributing to the battlefield with a diverse gameplay style. Nonetheless, Suicide Squad’s game structure surprisingly discourages conventional shooter gameplay. While this novel design adds depth, it occasionally hampers progress and the power fantasy the game attempts to portray.

There’s also an emphasis on accurate quick-time-event-like reactions to counter enemy attacks, but this system is often unreliable, particularly at a longer range. This can be a significant source of frustration, causing failed counter-attacks and resulting damage, even when the timing and aiming are spot on. A comparable issue arises with the shield-harvesting mechanism, where injuring enemies enables players to recover health upon their defeat. While one of the activation methods involves shooting enemies in their lower extremities, it often fails to activate, leading to wasting significant ammunition from Harley’s SMG without any noticeable advantage.

The variability in weapon types and their distinct features is quite noticeable. Depending on your preferred play style, certain inherited weapon traits can be tailored for specific builds. You may even find favor in certain firearm classes such as pistols, SMGs, snipers, and concentrate on customizing or creating new weapons within those classes. Personally, I enjoyed playing as Harley, which led me to become proficient with SMGs. However, I also found switching to play as Deadshot to be enjoyable due to the reliability and impact of sniping.

Each character has a few classes they can equip but no one can equip every class, so a combination of the character’s traversal tools, available weapon classes, and your group dynamic may all lend themselves to you finding a main character for yourself, and the game lets you seamlessly swap between any of the characters at any time out of combat so you can, if you so choose, get to grips with the game’s full range of loot.

Because traversal items operate on strict cooldowns, the game never lets you consistently move in the coolest ways on offer. Instead, it wants you to routinely touch ground (or more likely roofs) to reset your cooldowns, thereby resulting in a movement style that, no matter which character you main, demands some wall-climbing, jumping, flying, and sliding. It sounds cool but in practice feels restrictive. I understand the reason players aren’t allowed to endlessly zip around as Harley–she’s not Spider-Man after all–but in a world where Spider-Man already set the bar for traversal systems in superhero games, it’s frustrating to take a step backward.

Suicide Squad doesn’t want to be Spider-Man, but it seems to want to be Sunset Overdrive, and it lands far from that goal, too. Those foundational movement tools, flawed as they are, are also not able to be upgraded in any way. This led to moments where, for example, rather than look cool as I took out a group of enemies, I might plummet well below the skyscraper rooftops needing to scale back to the top to continue fighting simply because Boomerang ran out of Speed Force charges. Because I couldn’t improve those gameplay features with upgrades, I instead learned to accept that the fluidity I was searching for just wasn’t coming. Character growth is absent in anything beyond numbers going up on equipment, and this is deeply unsatisfying.

With only one type of side activity to take part in between the game’s actual missions, the open-world cityscape has no personality either. So not only does the game force me back onto solid ground with half-baked traversal mechanics, but that time spent with boots on the ground is nondescript. Metropolis is a tall, purple-infested city where landmarks feel almost non-existent. In 30+ hours of play, I can’t recall one interesting sight I saw in the city. The whole world devolves into stuff to jump off of so I can fly again.

The considerable clutter of visual elements is one of the game’s biggest flaws. The screen is constantly filled with a chaotic mix of meters, prompts, effects, and information – giving the impression the game lacks optimization. Elements like the cooldown for abilities occupy too much screen space and could certainly be reduced with better refinement.

While it is possible to deactivate parts of the HUD, achieving an optimal balance between necessary information and visual clarity is impossible. With an unorganized jumble of elements always on display, Suicide Squad appears as a general non-gamer’s perception of video games. The fact it released in such a state is quite surprising. This excessive visual clutter not only detracts aesthetically but also disrupts gameplay, causing crucial prompts to disappear in the chaotic mix.

In my experience of a week playing the game, server problems, including some crashes, were persistent. These crashes occurred notably after completing a mission – requiring me to replay it to regain my lost progress. There were also instances when the game was offline and therefore unplayable (though an offline mode is expected to be released in the future).

Furthermore, it contradicts the story’s logic that this game is part of the Arkhamverse, as suggested by Rocksteady. The main tasks, most of which would be considered side tasks in other games, involve repeating multiplayer-focused goals similar to those in Overwatch or Call of Duty’s Domination. The integration of continual resource gathering and repetitive goals that the former Rocksteady games lacked is challenging to rationalize. Although I don’t intend to directly compare this game to the aforementioned ones, the studio’s insistence that this game is a kind of sequel warrants clarification. It operates under different rules without any provided story explanation. The reason for this, from the meta perspective, is evidently the looting grind requirement.

Playing many hours into, Harley Quinn expressed something unique, serving as a perfect representation of my encounter with Suicide Squad. Brushing off the quest-giver’s directions over the radio, she intervened saying, “Kill aliens. Get to your number. Got it, pal.” That was the moment it all made sense. The game unveiled its true colors. Though the characters were engaging and entertaining, the stakes and narrative of the story seemed repressed. It seemed as if Rocksteady’s renowned aspects took a backseat to repetitious missions where the actual prize wasn’t the gameplay itself, but the rewards and items unlocked by enduring it.

Just like any loot-based shooter game, the actual fun begins with the crucial endgame. Despite the stated grievances about Suicide Squad, I have to accentuate the well-formulated and intense endgame loot chase. It doesn’t redefine or recreate the conventional long-tailed systems, rather it mirrors these aspects in a superhero disguise. However, the game manages to incorporate these concepts in a manner that feels fitting and natural.

Unlike previous games, where the endgame felt haphazardly integrated (Avengers) or plainly tacked on (Gotham Knights), here the game triggers and steers players towards the endgame right from the onset. Although this might do disservice to the storyline, considering the game’s intent, it hits the bull’s eye.

The initial in-game skill tree subtly indicates various build styles for players to concentrate on. Even though these can be overlooked, they significantly aid in building an endgame character benefitting their squad. You can focus on a build curating buffs for specific combo milestones, or major on uniquely armed allies causing damage in special ways or which do not harm at all but fling enemies into the air for the team to trigger a destructive Suicide Strike.

While the early stages of the game would sometimes present me with weapons and items that didn’t precisely match my style, despite their superior power, the loot in the final part of the game appeared to be significantly improved. When I came across my first firearm influenced by Bane, available only in the endgame, my kill time reduced considerably. This reduction was further emphasized when I equipped multiple Bane-related items, unlocking the group benefits reminiscent of Diablo or similar games. The game’s appeal lies in the constant recycling of new and superior loot, making current possessions seem subpar in the long run and tempting players to continually pursue the next level, potentially playing the game for weeks, months, or even years, if the publisher’s ambitions are realized. Considering what the game currently offers, it seems that Suicide Squad will deliver on this promise effectively, provided there’s a community ready to get hooked.

It’s a challenging and awkward request to expect fans of Rocksteady’s previous games to prioritize build and loot over storytelling and intriguing boss fights, but there’s definitely an audience for this type of game, and in this niche, Suicide Squad stands out as a strong contender, particularly at launch. In this game, finishing the storyline and reaching level 30 represent only a small fraction of the intended player activities. For teams that focus on well-timed cooldowns, explosive element combinations, and strategically playing to each other’s strengths to compensate for weaknesses, Suicide Squad is a deeply engaging game. I’m assuming much of its lengthy development time was spent learning from the mistakes and best practices of others.

The superhero genre in video games has experienced dramatic change since Rocksteady’s last game nine years ago, transitioning from a narrative-driven solo experience reminiscent of comic books to the current trend of multiplayer, loot-obsessed open-world games. Rocksteady, in creating a fresh narrative for the superhero world, had to adapt to this new trend, and they’ve done so relatively successfully compared to their predecessors. However, due to repetitive missions, visual chaos, server problems, frequent combat and movement restrictions, and a lack of personality in the setting, it still falls short of the standard that this studio has demonstrated it can achieve. In my opinion, Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League is the best example of the blend of superheroes and loot grinding so far, but it sets a low bar and demonstrates that ‘best’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘good’.

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