Game Description: Killer7 is film-noir drama brought to your GameCube, with gorgeous cel-shaded animation bringing it to life. You play Harry Smith, a delusional hitman who's after a mob kingpin named Kun Ran. His unholy army, called "Heaven's Smile", are destroying the city and Harry's out to get him before they succeed. But he's not alone—inside himself, he hides 6 other Smiths, each with their own skills & personalities.
It's impossible for the connected gamer not to have heard some of the hype, the questioning curiosity, or even the abrasive sound caused by people scratching their heads and wondering what the @#$#@ this strange game titled Killer7 is about. The devotees of the enchanted school of hardcore gaming, who are relieved to see otaku bizarreness other than the King of All Cosmos with his magnificent codpiece, of course counter the philistine masses to revel in Killer7's strangeness. There is one thing that all would likely agree on: Capcom has produced a game that may seem like a throwback to halcyon days of yore, when adventurers pointed and clicked their way to the end of a game, but it drips modern style and gun action along with rivers of blood.
From the beginning it was evident I was playing a particularly stylish piece of electronic entertainment, with a blunt opening that played out like the introductory credits of an anime movie, using bold colors and clean lines. This stark design gives the game a dramatic feeling throughout. The outdoor night in one chapter looked especially beautiful, featuring rain and Japanese trees in a grey-on-black world reminiscent of an old ink painting. Every transition in the game, whether the blood that coalesces with a character change or the static screen that accompanies loading from disc, illustrates that care was taken to generate the elegant atmosphere of Killer7. Let me not forget to mention the bizarrely endearing Iwazaru, a speak-no-evil spirit in red bondage gear who frequently pops up to assist, chide, cajole or even give the occasional narcissistic soliloquy.
The game is focused on countering the deadly Heaven Smile, mutated beings who have become monsters able to move invisibly and undetected through society, allowing them to appear where they will and to explode mercilessly, causing havoc and bloody destruction. They are a disturbing form of terrorism in an alternate near-future world, where countries are united and peace is the order of the new day. Right away the story jumps into an international scale, with the fate of Japan hanging in the balance.
Slurp was the sound of my brain getting sucked in. I was reminded of Front Mission 3 with its alternate Japan, its large man-made island, and even the segues that represent travel across the country. The story stayed interesting, albeit confusing, all the way to the dramatic ending of the game. It's a story worth pondering, and will take a bit of mental mastication to determine what was really going on. I will say that the ending sequence of the game gave me goose bumps. Or was that the definite ending…?
It is the Killer7 who can effectively fight the Heaven Smile. Each of the seven deadly personas of this syndicate has unique skills, all of which are required to progress through the game. The unusual premise is that each member of the Killer7 is one of Harman Smith's seven personalities; and each personality is a discrete individual. In terms of gameplay, I swapped assassins as appropriate for the task at hand, tapping each character's strengths and abilities. I had a lot to learn initially about how to utilize each character, but fortunately the game offers informational resources in the checkpoints and save areas known as Harman's Room. This was very beneficial, as not everything was self-evident (for example, how to counter-attack when an enemy was upon me, which saved my bacon a few times).
Killer7 is a very dark and—at times-a mentally claustrophobic game, steeped as it is in murder, intrigue and evildoers. There is a lot of death, gore and generally stylized unpleasantness. I was treated to everything from implied sex and invalid abuse to human taxidermy. One ongoing story is that of a severed head which keeps appearing to help out the Killer7. This started out amusingly, but progressed to be a sad story indeed. Even with the manga styling, this is not a game for the imaginative gamer who is shy of (or should not be exposed to) violence.
The focus of the action is based on shooting, with lots of blood to be harvested depending on how accurately the player targets the enemies. Attacks are done in a first-person view when the cackling laughter cues indicate the approach of a Heaven Smile. And the Smiles are present with good variety. Different weak spots or required tactics ensure it's not a mindless bash-fest for the gamer. The need to collect and conserve blood (which can charge shots or heal the Killer7 personas) adds a little more strategy. Also, thick blood can be converted to serum and used to upgrade the personas' stats, giving a bit of a RPG feel to the proceedings.
The game isn't overly difficult, although I think gamers without steady hands will be at a disadvantage until they are able to strengthen the personalities appropriately. There are many puzzles scattered through the game, and these tend to fall in three categories: memory-based, having the correct object to activate some element, or using the right character to reach an unavailable area. I had a definite sense of satisfaction in solving these puzzles, most of which were straightforward or intuitive. I was glad they weren't overly complicated, which kept the streamlined feel of Killer7 intact. Even the boss fights are like puzzles, in that they are based mainly on determining the correct actions to take in order to obtain a successful outcome for the player.
The game isn't without warts, or what would likely be angiomas in the world of Killer7. The biggest debate is likely to be about the control scheme. The three-dimensional world is not free-roaming where the player can wander at will. Rather, the gamer moves along set paths by pressing a button to move "on rails," with the options to turn around and to select from branching paths. It sounds confining, but in practice it was refreshing. I felt able to focus on story exposition and solving puzzles with minimal fuss. When combat was required I could participate in a visceral fashion that didn't involve trying to find the best location and angle to fight effectively. On the Playstation 2 version there were frequent load times, and although each load was brief, I found the frequency of them jarring. My main complaint was a few spots where the sound cue that heralds Heaven Smiles didn't seem to occur. These events didn't impinge upon my enjoyment of most of the game, but they did cause a couple of particularly aggravating moments.
I shut off the game after completion and wondered, Was this a triumph of that eternal fight of style versus substance? Killer7 has a look and feel that isn't quite like anything else out there. It treads new ground based on older sensibilities and demands to be taken on its own terms. It has a complex and mind-addling story that would make Hideo Kojima proud, combined with slimmed-down gameplay that Tetsuya Mizuguchi could have authored. It seemed fresh to me. The story had enough twists to keep me enthralled to the end, which didn't require an epic forty-hour time commitment. There were elements of strategy in the shooting, but it wasn't a first-person frag-fest. I would say that the emperor wears its bloodstained new clothes quite well.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
Parents will probably not want to buy this for children, due to the violence, foul language and sexual situations.
Fans of stylishness or strangeness should immediately buy this game, as it fulfills both of these.
I feel that Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers will have a struggle, because the laughter cue that signals nearby enemies has no non-audio equivalent.
Jason concludes his review by suggesting that Killer7 resolves the so-called battle of style versus substance. Insofar as this resolution refers to a balance between its imaginative visuals and storyline, I agree. But videogames also rely on gameplay, and with its repetitive shooting and trivial puzzles, Killer7 is less than successful in this regard. Luckily, however, everything else works so brilliantly that the gameplay problems merely frustrate rather than thwart an otherwise extraordinary experience.
The cel-shaded look and trance-like audio form a strikingly edgy and elegant whole. Jason's description perfectly captures the bold minimalism that permeates the game, from the chapter start screens that require the player to guide a laser sight over a black silhouette of the level's antagonist and blast it into a spatter of red dots, to the "game over" screens that consist of stark renderings of the characters' agonized faces that would look right at home in a contemporary art gallery. As hyper-stylized as it is, however, the creative visuals don't come at the expense of the story.
I found myself more deeply fascinated with the multilayered and metaphor-filled plot than Jason was. In one sense, the story revolves around the battle between Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound assassin capable of summoning seven unique personas, and Kun Lan, the leader of a group of cackling zombie-esque suicide bombers known as Heaven Smile. In a subtler sense, the narrative spirals in on the mysterious origin of Garcian Smith, the only one of Harman's personas who can revive the others and the one who receives the assignments that comprise the game's chapters.
Whether searching a remote Texas town for a corporation owner and religious cult leader who deliberately infected himself with several deadly viruses or tracking down a comic book artist in the Dominican Republic whose creations predict real-world events, the game's missions never fell short of bizarre. If this sounds a bit confusing, then think again, because in actuality it's extremely confusing. Yet, as the narrative unfolds, previously baffling material—a letter delivered by a carrier pigeon, the enigmatic words of a dead child—starts to make (a little) sense, and trying to understand and interpret everything serves as a fun and interesting challenge.
Unfortunately, Killer7 falters in the gameplay department, and I think Jason gives it more credit here than it deserves. The static first-person shooting delivers a few thrills—there is a beauty to the ribbons and tendrils of blood that spray from the freshly dispatched Heaven Smiles—and the seven playable characters' unique guns and shooting styles add variety. But the enemies are too numerous, homogenous, and—worst of all—predictable. The resultantly tiresome gunplay proves far too tedious to last the 15-hour-plus length of the game.
The puzzles, which often involve choosing a specific item or character to open a path or overcome an obstacle, seem more artificial and contrived than they would in the context of a less unusual title. Especially inane is the incorporation of rings with elemental properties—wind, water, etc.—that the player uses to do things like blow away a curtain or put out a fire. While such clichéd devices might stand up to a scene involving an Asian assassin dressed in Hasidic garb and a supernatural terrorist exchanging cryptic dialogue over a metaphorical game of chess, when we consider that the two opponents may not even exist in a literal sense, it's time to think beyond ring collecting.
However, even with its imperfections I feel inclined to regard Killer7 as something of a flawed masterpiece—a game that, despite overstretched and tedious gameplay, remains well worthwhile because of its striking comic book-inspired visuals, trancy techno soundtrack, and fascinatingly complex and outlandish story.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.