Review by ReDead01

Reviewed: 03/30/07

A masterpiece in its own unique way

Over the last few years the gaming industry has been on top form. It’s more profitable than cinema and the standard of truly great games has been plentiful recently. However, one thing it’s lacking is creativity. I’m not saying its non-existent, but games that truly go against the grain and try something new are being greatly smothered out by more generic ‘by the book’ titles.

Killer7 defies this statement, however. Honestly, you will never have played anything like this in your life. That’s not to say that this is an irrefutable masterpiece no matter who you are, quite the contrary. Like all pieces of media entertainment that attempt to distance themselves from the crowd Killer7 lacks qualities that make it accessible to everyone. This is a love it or hate it type of game- but if it finds its right audience Killer7 is an unrivalled experience in style and originality.

Killer7 is seeped in overall weirdness and that fact begins in its storyline. It’s set in an alternate present day where the world’s biggest threat is a terrorist group known as “Heaven’s Smile”. Now, Heaven’s Smile aren’t your standard terrorists; in fact they consist of zombie-like creatures that wear constant grins on their faces and detonate on contact. Like I said; Killer7 is far from normal in almost every regard.

To combat this threat the American government enlist the help of Killer7- a deadly assassination squad consisting of seven multi-ranged assassins, each with their own abilities. The thing is, however, that these assassins only exist within the mind of Harman Smith- and aging wheelchair-bound killer, who is able to manifest his form into each member of the Killer7. You play as each assassin, but in reality you’re only Harman. Put simply, the game is about the Killer7’s battles to eradicate the Heaven’s Smile and their enigmatic leader Kun-Lan, but suffice to say things are a whole lot more complex than that. Giving anymore away would be sin though.

Odd though it undoubtedly is, I must say that Killer7’s plotline was one of the most interesting and colourful stories I’ve encountered in the gaming industry. It’s not the most structurally sound though- it’s made up of several chapters and, quite strangely, the middle chapters completely abandon the main plot of the game in favour of side stories that don’t contribute to the overall action. But this isn’t really a complaint. The stories you’ll be playing out are so rich with originality and weirdness that, if you’re like me, you won’t mind.

Not the mention the fact that this game’s narrative is ripe with heavy themes and applicable statements on modern politics. It may be weird, but it’s far from dumb. Killer7 has a lot to say; only its method of saying it is never quite clear. This is an ambiguous story; if you’re the type of person who loves to dissect plotlines and form your own interpretations then you’ll love Killer7. It’s purposefully indefinite but constantly intriguing. It ranges from darkly disturbing to laugh-out-loud funny. And you’ll encounter some truly disconcerting characters along the way- after playing this Iwazaru will linger in your memory. Trust me.

Luckily, the assortment of oddballs that appear in this game are all voiced quite expertly. There’s nothing more satisfying than playing a game with wholly solid voice acting, as such an accomplishment is rare, but Killer7 takes the prize. Characters are brought to life through their voice actors and even if they’re just spouting random badass lines during gameplay, the work done here is very much appreciated.

But one of the truly disappointing aspects of the story is how little is revealed about the central characters. You’re treated to a fascinating range of main characters (I’ll outline them in the gameplay section) yet, aside from a couple of exceptions, we learn very little about them. Most don’t even have any line of dialogue to speak in cutscenes, making them nothing more than lifeless characters for you to play as. This is the one slip-up in what is otherwise a gripping story.

Importantly though, this is very mature stuff. There are few games that I’d say are truly inappropriate for young gamers, but this is definitely one of them. It’s violent, albeit cartoonishly, with plenty of faces being shot at point blank range on display. The dialogue is full of profanities and it’s suggestively dark. You’ll encounter plots that deal with very dark material so if you’re a young-un I’d give this one a miss.

One of the most resounding aspects of Killer7 is its unique style. The developers use the cel-shading technique to great effect and really manage to create their own unique style- a feat achieved in few games and certainly not in ones as mature as this. A realistic approach has been discarded in favour of a more comic book feel. You won’t find realistically detailed environments on offer; instead you’ll be treated to canvases of colour that ooze with elegance. Ranging from moody corridors to vibrant city streets, Killer7 offers a hefty variety of areas to play in and they’re all brilliantly displayed.

Characters are also drenched in this unique artistic approach, giving them very anime looks. The character design is pretty solid, but the use of cel-shading results in annoyingly shiny character models. This is especially noticeable upon close-ups of faces, where they can be seen to be glossy and slightly distorted. This is a small complaint however and it probably won’t bother more lenient players.

To add to the game’s excellent style we are also treated to numerous animated cutscenes. Seriously…these are fantastic. Like the game itself they’re drenched in style and are evidently professionally created. If you’re like me, some of these will blow you away, especially the ones that appear in Chapter 3.

Upon its release Killer7 received a lot of negative press when it came to how it’s played. Firstly, I won’t deny that it’s unique take on play mechanics isn’t exactly as inspired as its unique style or interesting narrative. But one fact that remains is that Killer7 is very functional- it works and it doesn’t feel like a chore to play.

So how does it play? Well, while it may appear to be a third-person shooter, it hides a terrible secret. Killer7 has no free-roaming exploration- meaning your characters are stuck firmly on set paths that you can go back and forth on. They’re on rails. You hold the A button (Gamecube version in mind) to move forward along a designated path and when you reach a fork or a junction you select the direction you want to go on a list that appears on the screen. You can also press B to turn around.

I’ll admit that in this day and age playing like this is a large step backwards, but as I said- it works. It really does. At first it’ll feel annoyingly restrictive, but as you ease into the game it becomes less of a problem. It can be quite irritating to be running around in a beautifully designed area and being robbed of the ability to explore it properly, but I can see Capcom’s reasoning behind this method of playing.

The hard fact of the matter is that, quite controversially, Killer7 is perhaps an interactive story first and a game second. A pretty damning thing to say in a game review I know, but that’s how it is. The on rails method of exploration gives off the sense that the story is being perceived by the player through a designated perspective, rather than the ‘becoming the character’ approach that many games would normally take. Then again, I have a haunting feeling in the back of my head that the developers were just trying to be as different as possible for arty reasons. Whatever it is, it worked for me, but depending on your views this could be regarded as the biggest reason not to play this game. But I’d like to stress that in my opinion it really isn’t bad as it sounds. If the game grabs you you’ll sink into the mould and this distinctive control scheme won’t even be noteworthy anymore. But I’d imagine that you’d know pretty quickly if it wasn’t for you.

So you’re stuck on rails. But naturally, there’s more to this game than walking back and forth on a set course. While navigating through levels you’ll encounter the Heaven Smile creatures and things will start getting violent. Any time during play you can hold down the R button to go in first-person view with your gun. You can’t walk around in this view, only aim.

Heaven’s Smile creatures are invisible at first so you’ll only know they’re near by the sound of their laughing. But pressing the L button in first-person view will allow you to scan the area in front of you and all hidden enemies will be revealed. Then the idea is to kill the things before they make their way to where you’re standing and explode in your face. This can actually create some pretty tense moments as you shoot wildly to kill the damn things as they near, blowing limbs off in the process. You’re given unlimited ammo to work with, but the need to reload will slow you down so you’ve got to be efficient.

Some enemies possess weakspots in the form of glowing yellow segments on their bodies. If you bullseye one of these you’ll take the suckers down in one shot and watch as they evaporate in a very stylistic way. As you progress the Heaven Smiles will taken on various different shapes with more elaborate and difficult ways to hit their weakspots. Not only will killing enemies in this way help save your skin, but it’ll also yield more blood for you to collect.

Yes, you collect blood. Two kinds of blood actually- thin blood to heal your characters and thick blood to upgrade them. Blood streams out of enemies when you kill them, but you can get it in higher amounts by blowing off limbs or striking a weakspots. Collecting both kinds of blood is essential, as you’ll need it to make surviving easier.

When you reach certain havens throughout the levels called “Harman’s Room” you can spend your thick blood to improve each of your assassin’s attributes. For example you can put blood towards improving the power of your gunshots or decreasing the time it takes to reload. You can also learn character-specific skills, such as the ability to take an enemy out in one blow if they’re crawling on the floor. It all works very simply and helps add a bit of depth to the game.

So what about the Killer7 themselves? Well, there are seven of them (obviously) and they all possess attributes and skills that set them apart from each other. For example- Dan Smith possess a magnum and is capable of charging up shots using blood to create extra powerful attacks, while Kevin Smith is able to become invisible and avoid certain traps. You’ll need to utilize each of the seven’s different abilities throughout the game, be it Mask de Smith’s hulking strength, Con Smith’s super speed, Coyote Smith’s amazing jumping and lock-picking or KAEDE Smith’s peculiar power of spraying blood everywhere to reveal hidden things.

Rounding up the team is Garcian Smith who, although features the most prominent role in the story as he is the only one of the killers who can communicate to Harman, you’ll probably use the least. He’s the cleaner- his expertise is revitalising deceased characters. So if one of your assassins is killed you’ll have to switch to Garcian and make your way back to the place of the death and revive the character or you won’t be able to use him/her again. It’s a neat idea at first, but proves to be nothing more than an annoyance as you play. Backtracking because of a mistake is never fun. It doesn’t help that Garcian is absolutely rubbish, equipped only with a small little pistol.

Different killers possess different kind of weapons too, allowing for a bit of strategy to be brought into play. Con packs two fast shooting handguns that gives him the fastest shooting out of the killers while KAEDE has a scope for zooming. Personally though, this diversity went to waste on me, as unless it was absolutely necessary I usually stuck with Dan or Coyote who both have pretty standard single-shooting weapons. So while I appreciate the effort of adding diversity, it was wasted on me. However, you will NEED to use certain characters for certain enemies. Mask De Smith uses two grenade launchers so if an enemy is wearing armour you’ll need his extra firepower. But as I said, I usually stuck with the two.

Now for a bit blatant criticism- Killer7 features some pretty horrible puzzles. Puzzle solving can add a whole new depth to a game, but the developers largely missed the mark with this one. Perhaps it was in an effort to keep the game moving along nicely and not have players getting stuck, but this game hold your hand a lot when it comes to puzzle solving. There are areas you’ll encounter in levels where you’ll need to make use of a certain killer’s abilities. A simple example- you reach a high ledge and need Coyote’s proficient jumping talents to get up. Even if it wasn’t incredibly obvious what to do, the game’s map will feature a little icon of Coyote at that place. And it does this for all parts where you need to use a character specifically, leaving little room for error and dropping the difficulty somewhat.

Then there are the countless Resident Evil- style puzzles you’ll encounter- the ones that are completely unrealistic and stick out like a sore thumb even in a game as improbable as Killer7. And it’s not like they’re challenging- they usually incorporate the usage of special types of rings you collect throughout the game. So you reach a toilet that has no water in it- use the water ring. Or you find unlit candles- use the fire ring. That’s all it is. Actually, in regards to the candle puzzle, you need to light them in a certain order but luckily they have numbers written on them! Is that even a puzzle? Admittedly, there are a couple of clever, yet still easy, puzzles you’ll come across. I won’t spoil them, as they’re the only positive parts of this aspect of the game. They’re rare, but you do encounter them.

It’s not an overly difficult game, but it does have its moments. Some of the crazy, demented boss fights you’ll take part in can be challenging to suss, even if defeating them isn’t really that taxing. It’s also not exactly a lengthy quest; I’d estimate it could take 10-15 hours on the first play through. But it does offer different difficulty settings to replay it on and the highest of these, the Killer8 mode, will add quite a lot of playtime and reward players with stuff they haven’t seen. But it’s undeniable that some games offer way more.

So okay, that’s everything about Killer7. So how does it all add up? Well, its gameplay is far from perfect- functional but flawed. But on the other hand it features one of the most brilliantly distinctive styles and narratives you’re likely to ever experience in a game. It’s because of this that I give it full marks. Judged squarely on its gameplay, you can remove two, maybe three points from my score.

But Killer7 has so much more to offer. Don’t look at it as just a game, but a fully diverse form of entertainment. You’ll spend a lot of time merely watching and it could be argued that when you’re playing you’re not really playing properly, but this is an experience like no other. When I finished it, it stayed with me. It’s an experience that resonates for a long time after in a way that few games do. It’s a shockingly successful experiment and really is one of the greatest games I’ve played. Not for its gameplay, but for the whole ensemble. It achieves what movies have attempted and in some regards accomplishes a lot more than most games have.

But I know for a fact that not everyone will take this stance. Like I said, it’s not for everyone. But I definitely think it’s a game that deserves to be tried and definitely one that deserves to be remembered. For some, like me, it could be an unbridled masterpiece but for others nothing more than an arty piece of trash. But you won’t know unless you try.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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