Why cracking a tough mission in 2014’s Door Kickers is one of the best things I did last year

It looks slick, doesn’t it? A polished SWAT squad that knows exactly when to move and which angles to cover. When Door Kickers comes together it’s a fluid dance of flash grenades, muzzle flashes, and dead terrorists. The problem is that you start each mission with two left feet. The short video above is the result of more than two hours of testing and probing, trial and error, and many trips back to the drawing board. Polishing it off was genuinely one of the best feelings I had with a mouse and keyboard in 2017. Quite impressive for a game that came out in 2014.   

It was the release of a side-scrolling spin-off called Action Squad that brought me back to Door Kickers and, having played a bit when it first released, I wanted to see if I was still any good. The stage was 255th Precinct, a mission with 16 terrorists packed into an overrun police station. I had to clear them all without dying to get three stars and make sure the hostage they were holding kept his skull intact. Hardest of all, I was shooting for a ‘single plan completion’, which means plotting out your police officers’ moves during a paused ‘planning phase’ at the start of the mission, then setting it all in motion with your fingers crossed. 

Here’s what happened. 

Take point

In Door Kickers, the choices start when you see a level for the first time. You assemble what you think will be the best squad for the job, and kit them out with guns that match the mission’s balance of long sight lines and tight corridors. I saw a mixture of both, so picked a variety of close-quarters specialists and officers that could hold their own at range. 

It didn’t exactly go to plan. Door Kickers is a game of angles, and if you’re off by a few degrees you get punished.

I like to split squads of four into two groups, so I selected a point man, Monk, to head up one group and Sebastien, carrying a riot shield, for the other. Behind them were Angela and her SMG and the M4-wielding Bryan (yeah, the naming system isn’t one of its strengths). I figured there were two main routes to take. The first group would clear out the big room in the top left, and the second would head to the hallway in the bottom left.

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I ordered the top group to pick the lock of the first door they encountered to avoid noise, but my second group, Monk and Bryan, went in more aggressively, fanning out across the bottom hallway. They were promptly shot in the back by an enemy lurking in the corner of an adjoining office. 

Next time, I told Monk to lob a grenade through the window to the office first, investigate, and kill anyone in sight. Meanwhile, Bryan would take cover to the top of the corridor, ready to murder anyone curious enough to pop their head out of the door to the right. 

It didn’t exactly go to plan. Door Kickers is a game of angles, and if you’re off by a few degrees you get punished. During the planning phase, you can click and drag with the right mouse button to tell your squad members which way to face at any given time, ensuring they check any danger spots. When you pull it off and get them spinning like a top and popping headshots, it feels great. But I hadn’t quite cracked it. Monk caught the slightest glimpse of an enemy but the route I had plotted quickly took him out of sight. Bullets tore Bryan’s back apart. No good. I’d have to be more exact. 

A precision machine

After a couple of tweaks I got the angles right: I told Monk to look left, then right, then move on. I also told him to stay put until any tangos in sight had been killed, another useful command in your Door Kickers arsenal. But as so often happens, once I solved one problem another arose. The loud bangs attracted guards from the long corridor to the right. When they opened the door I had a clear line of sight to the hostage, but the terrorists guarding him could see me too. They shot him in the head immediately.   

I tinkered for 15 minutes to find a way around it, trying to reach the door and chuck a flashbang to blind the guards before crossing the threshold. But I couldn’t get there in time: the noise of fighting always brought enemies running through the door, opening up that sightline. The hostage died again and again, poor fellow. I even tried sending my team to the door via a completely different route, coming from above rather than from below. But it was no use. 

I wrote the whole area off as a bad job. Maybe a four-man assault on the room at the top left would be a good way to start. Then my squad could wrap all the way around the map, and come at the hostage guards from the back, hopefully catching them by surprise. That was the theory. In practice, too many cops spoil the broth.   

I knew from testing that there were normally enemies in the top left corner of the large room, and sometimes to the top right as well (Door Kickers’ enemy placements are semi-random). My plan was to flashbang both corners, sending the two squads in simultaneously, one from the left door, one from the bathroom to the right. I sent Sebastien and Angela round to the bathroom, while Monk and Bryan stayed put at the first door, ready to breach. 

To contain the terrorists, I was going to have to confront the bottom of the map, and that dreaded hostage door.

When Monk opened the door to throw a flash in, Bryan could pick off anyone he could see with his M4 before moving in himself. And when Angela opened the door, Sebastien could block any damage with his shield. In hindsight, I should’ve just put them all in safe positions and moved in when the enemies were stunned, but with a bit of tinkering it still worked a treat. I could get all four officers into the room without taking any damage, and clear out the enemies without an issue.   

But Door Kickers wouldn’t let me off that easy. The noise from the fight stirred the enemies near the hostages, where Monk and Bryan had initially been. The terrorists spread out across the unwatched bottom of the map, often having clear shots at the backs of my squad. Sometimes my squad survived, but I couldn’t risk it—and besides, it made it much harder to track the terrorists’ locations (you can see one of them sneak up behind me in the clip below).   

Lockdown

To contain the terrorists, I was going to have to confront the bottom of the map, and that dreaded hostage door. Monk and Bryan were given back their unenviable task. After experimenting for a good 15 minutes I found that if I didn’t throw the initial flashbang into the small office, enemies wouldn’t cotton on straight away, and therefore the hostage door would remain closed for longer. 

As Monk swept the room and cleared the enemies in the office, I placed Bryan at the end of corridor looking up into the bathroom, in a position where he couldn’t see the hostage even if that door had opened. And after Monk had finished his rounds, I set him up at an angle, ready to pounce on any strays. 

As you can see, it worked a treat. The pair stood there mopping up any enemies that came to investigate, and it meant that Sebastien and Angela above could operate in relative peace. All I needed was a plan that would let them clear the top-left room and sweep around the top of the map. 

This deviation is a core part of Door Kickers: you have to build a plan for every situation, and give your officers as much advantage as possible in case of a bad dice roll.

I ditched Sebastien’s shield to give him more mobility. Angela would flash the room from the bathroom, as before, and to control Sebastien I set up my first ‘go order’. Basically, you place these at points in your plan and an officer won’t proceed past that point until you hit the corresponding letter on your keyboard (A, B, C, D). It means you feel more involved than, say, Frozen Synapse, another top-down tactical shooter, because you play an active part in the action. Hitting the button at just the right time can be the difference between success and failure.  

When Angela’s grenade went off she and Sebastien (on my command) stormed the room, covering each other’s angles perfectly. The stunned terrorists were sitting ducks. I cleared the room and made my way the courtyard at the top of the level. Finally, I was really getting somewhere.   

Take no chances or prisoners

Bursting through the door into the courtyard at the top of the map, my officers were met by a pair of goons. The first time I ran out, my guys won. The second time, Sebastien took a headshot and went down. This deviation is a core part of Door Kickers: you have to build a plan for every situation, and give your officers as much advantage as possible in case of a bad dice roll. To stack things in my favor I flash-banged the garage before poking my head out. 

I love the feeling when you roll out of cover and obliterate stunned enemies. "X-Ray down," your squad says as they steam forward. My pair swung into the garage simultaneously to take out another enemy inside, and then I had a clear run back into the precinct. 

There was only one door between me and the hostage. Monk and Bryan were waiting, on my go order, to swing around and take a shot at the guards and anyone else nearby. I just needed a distraction to give them a chance. I told Sebastien to crowbar down the door. When he and Angela were ready, I’d activate Monk and Bryan’s go order, and the whole thing would turn into a giant ball of death that, hopefully, the hostage could steer clear of (your squad can’t shoot hostages, so I wasn’t worried). 

The first time I tried it, Sebastien got his head blown off as soon as the door fell. When you break down a door in Door Kickers the guy doing it just hangs around for a few seconds after, presumably to stash their crowbar and pull out their weapon. So, I positioned Angela so she’d be looking through the door when it burst open, ready to shoot down the offender. 

The last bit of the puzzle was the timing. I had set a go order for Monk and Bryan to come in from the left, creating a crossfire. I had a couple of muck-ups where I brought my left squad in too early, shooting one terrorist but giving the other just enough time to pull the trigger before his own head was blown off. Eventually, I got it down, and the two guards fell within milliseconds of each other. The only thing left was to hunt down the remaining terrorists with some simple patrols, and that was that. I’d done it.

And now I just want to do it again and again. According to KillHouse Games their sequel, Door Kickers 2: Task Force North, will release at least its Early Access version in 2018. I can’t wait, though I hope it can fix one huge issue with the game’s planning system: you can’t move a waypoint without destroying every order after it. If you’ve set up a long chain of commands you can’t alter an early one without starting over, which is criminal. 

If KillHouse can fix that, and maybe throw in a few more command options, I suspect Door Kickers 2 will be a stone cold classic.