Developed & Published by Capcom
Killer 7 is like that one strange kid you know, who wears his clothes inside out just because everyone else doesn’t.
There isn’t one thing about Killer 7 that’s conventional. Not one single thing. Anything that might sound conventional is done in a completely unconventional way. The story, the characters, the enemies, the graphics, the music, the dialogue, the controls, the gameplay…all are completely off the wall, out of the park insane.
You wouldn’t get three minutes into Killer 7 if you don’t like “different”. From the moment you hit Start, the game swaggers in wearing bondage gear, pisses all over your carpet, gives you the finger, and then invites you out for an interesting evening knowing you’ll agree to go along just to see what it does next.
The only person crazier than the guy who green lit this title is the guy who designed it. Suda 51. That’s his name apparently, and he’s only ever been photographed wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.
If you think Akira or Ichii the Killer were weird, I have no idea how you’d react to this game. Heck, scratch the disclaimer. Whoever you are reading this, I have no idea how you’d react to this game.
If it was just weird though, it wouldn’t be half the game it is. The controls, as weird as they are, work. The music perfectly meshes with the highly stylized visuals. The characters seem at home in this world, and though you’ll be constantly surprised by what you find around the corner, it rarely seems out of place unless it’s meant to.
Games often claim to be “story driven” but very few are as story driven as Killer 7, because the story is what drives you to play the game. Of course, even in telling its unconventional story, it has to tell it in an unconventional way, giving you the feeling that you’re picking up a TV series on its second season. It’s not going out of its way to fill in the blanks but after a few episodes you feel like you’re beginning to pick up what’s going on. You won’t just keep playing to find out what happened next, but to actually work out what the hell just happened.
At the beginning everything seems relatively normal. You’re a hitman going on a hit. But then you literally transform into someone else because a camera points at you. Then you meet a ghost in bondage gear, and people start turning into freakish invisible monsters. By the time you meet the severed head that likes to use emoticons, you’ll either be hooked or taking it back to the store.
You’ll keep playing with the hope of understanding it, even though you know it’s most likely just going to confuse you further. Then you start caring about these characters. Sure you aren’t sure if they really exist in the game’s reality or not, but you want to know more about them. Who were they? What happened to them? As layers of the game seemingly peel away, you’ll hope the answers to these questions are awaiting you beneath.
It’s gaming as art then, but I’ve said almost nothing about the actual game mechanics. The controls are a very interesting approach to old problems that have already been solved in different ways.
Instead of giving the player camera controls like most games, Killer 7 does something very strange with its controls. You press and hold A to move. Your character will run forwards along a prescribed route, until he or she meets a junction. Then, a flick of the thumbstick in the direction you want to go and you’re off again. You let go of A to stand still, and tap B to turn around.
After the graphics it’ll be the first thing to hit you. It feels so different as to be almost unnatural, but you slowly come to a realization. It’s really not that limiting at all. You can still explore all the environments at will, and in many ways it gives you more time to notice the details. It may take away finite control of your character but it makes it very easy to get around.
It can be almost trancelike watching Smith running through the levels. The camera following him, or flicking to artistic angles. Sometimes you’ll even forget you’re playing a game, until something you have to react to happens.
You might be thinking at this point that like most games that don’t let the player control the camera, that you’re going to have trouble seeing the enemies coming because they’ll be off screen half the time.
Suda 51 came up with a very unique answer to this problem.
He made all the enemies invisible.
No I’m not kidding. Even if they’re on screen it takes a real eagle eye to spot them. Problem solved. You know they’re coming because you hear their distinctive laugh, signaling to you that it’s time to go into first person mode.
When you hold down the R trigger, the game switches to a first person view. You can’t move in this view but you have full control over where you look. This is how you target and attack your enemies, but first you’ll have to press the L trigger to scan the environment to see them. The circular crosshair highlights weak spots on the enemies, so for quick kills you’ll need to look them over to find that weak spot and then take advantage of it.
Killer 7 gives you 7 hitmen to switch back and forth between. The “Smith Syndicate” since they all share the surname. Each has their own style, weapon and special abilities, and it’s impressive to see how well developed and interesting these characters are. While you’ll no doubt have your favorite, it’ll probably not be the same as the next person’s, and you’ll use all these characters, and not just when the game requires you to. You can change characters on the fly, or at TV sets in the safe rooms.
You collect blood from your slain enemies (how much you get depends on whether or not you kill them “properly”) and you can use this at TV sets to upgrade various stats for each of the killers. As you upgrade their skills, special abilities will unlock as well. So, you can either put it all into your favorite character, upgrade the character you like the least (since you will have to use them occasionally) or spread the love evenly. You won’t get them all fully upgraded though, as you can only do so much upgrading per level. Since enemies tend to reappear when you leave and re-enter a room (some will reappear even while you’re just stood still) it’s presumably to stop you just replaying a section over and over to max out all your characters.
As for our main characters, you have Garcian Smith, who is in many ways the main character. You always start missions as Garcian, but you cannot switch to him on the fly. You can only change into Garcian at a TV set, and TV cameras will change him into someone else. He features heavily in the cutscenes that set up each mission, so while you’ll possibly spend the least time playing as him, much of the story is played out through his eyes. Garcian is, as he puts it, a cleaner. When you die as one of the other Smiths you’ll find yourself back in the last safe room you visited, in Garcian’s shoes. He’ll then have to go to the place where you died to retrieve their head.
While this can be a little annoying if you’re stuck at a given point, it’s generally a lot nicer and involving than just hitting reload. Dying as Garcian means game over, since there’s no one else who can resurrect the bodies, and generally if you play it cautious you shouldn’t see the game over screen that often. The less time you’re spending saving loading and repeating your steps the better, and for the most part it keeps you inside of Killer 7‘s crazy world.
The other Smiths are a wild and diverse bunch.
Dan Smith is about the only other character who looks and sounds like a hitman. He’s cocky where Garcian is staid, but he certainly gets the job done.
Kaede is the only girl of the bunch, and if sniping is your thing, this bloodstained shoeless pixie is going to be your killer of choice.
Kevin Smith is mute, and relies on throwing knives. Obviously the stealthy one then, but you don’t have to reload throwing knives which comes in handy against certain enemies.
Hawaiian shirt wearing Coyote is your guy for picking locks and making great leaps. His pistol may only take five rounds, but they pack a good punch, and the guy can take a good few knocks before he’ll be laid out flat.
Then you have Con Smith, my character of choice. Small, young, fast on his feet and going akimbo with some fairly weak, but fast firing pistols he’s all about speed. The squeak of his trainers on wooden surfaces is one of the most appealing footstep sounds I’ve heard oddly enough. Con is also totally blind, wearing a headscarf over his eyes. He “sees” by sound apparently.
Last and far from least is Mask De Smith. The Mexican wrestler. A grenade launcher in each hand. They may fire slow, and need to be reloaded after every shot, but Mask is a walking tank, capable of shrugging off what would outright kill weaker characters like Con or Kaede. When something needs breaking…get into that wrestling gear.
There is one final Smith, Harman Smith. Harman is the leader of the Smith syndicate. An aging assassin consigned to a wheelchair, but still toting around his long range sniper rifle.
Even the side characters are oddly endearing, and it’s certainly one of the games biggest strengths. With characters you couldn’t care about, you’d probably grow tired of its quirks early on, but with this bunch you want to see things through. The voice work is top drawer. A surprisingly deep cast rounds out the game and everyone seems to really be going for it, though more than one “quip” from each killer would have been nice, it’s not as painfully repetitive as you’d think.
Once you get used to the movement, it works rather well. The main thing I was worried about was that I thought it would make the levels feel bland and linear…but there’s still a good deal of exploration. Surprising for a game where your character runs along preset paths, but some of the later levels have junctions a plenty and large fairly open ended environments to explore.
The real question is, does it really add anything more other than giving the game a unique feel? I think the honest answer to that has to be no. It lets the game look cool and feel different but it doesn’t inherently make it more fun. Also, occasionally it can be frustrating when you’re hoping to run past a monster ahead of you. You can’t see when and if your character is likely to make an unexpected turn, making avoiding monsters possible, but only once you know the paths on which the characters run. Foreknowledge should not be a requirement in any situation if you ask me.
The shooting side of the game works very well. The enemies may have a surprisingly uniform visual design to them, but all in all they’re a very diverse bunch to fight with, and at their best are inherently creepy, if not scary. You have unlimited ammo, but you still have to reload, and it takes a bit of feeling out. There’s no onscreen display of how many shots you have left in your gun before you need to reload, something that maybe the easier difficulty mode could have benefited from, but it’s hard to criticize the game for it. Counting shots is something you have to do in real life, and in other games, and it never becomes frustrating.
What did drive me absolutely mad though, is that the game refused to remember that I like my aiming inverted, and doesn’t let you change that setting once you’ve loaded your save game. So each time I turned on my cube, I had to remember to head into the options menu, and if I forgot, I had to quit the game to make the change. A very annoying oversight indeed, but one that will only bother people like me who want to push down on the joypad to aim upwards on the screen.
Changing characters works fine, but for something you do a lot it seems as if there are too many button presses involved, especially when the D pad is assigned to the much less useful “change target”. The same goes for using the vials of blood you’ve collected for healing yourself. If you aren’t using every button on the joy pad, why do I have to go into a menu to do something that simple?
One thing you can’t complain about is length. The main adventure is lengthy, with very few moments you’d call slow. Each chapter will take you a good couple of hours and all in all I’d say it’s at least fifteen hours for the first time through. Then you have at least one alternate ending to enjoy, along with some solid unlockable content. I’m not far into replaying it, but I fully intend to go around at least one more time.
It’s not the best game ever made, but there are things it does better than other games, like tell a mature and interesting story of a type I haven’t seen in games before. The controls, whatever they are, work, and aren’t too complicated, just so different as to take a while to adjust. It’s different and I think that was pretty much the goal.
I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention one other issue I had with the controls, though it’s more of an issue I had with the manual and the in game information. X is labeled as a counter attack and the manual tells you how to use it, but fails to mention that it’s not a skill you start with. I died a number of times just trying to get a skill I didn’t yet have to work. Also, as you upgrade your characters you unlock new skills and the game does very little to tell you how exactly to use them. I’m not sure if this is or isn’t intentional, but it is rather annoying having to use trial and error to work out how to use some of these skills.
All in all, while the gameplay mechanics are strange and sometimes flawed, the story is definitely worth the ride. It’s dark, gory, disturbing and blackly comic at times. It’s tense and twisted, but generally not that scary. All the same I doubt anyone would really come away from the game feeling like it wasn’t a horror title.
For me, it’s a watershed title, since it shows that games can tell these types of deep involved and twisted stories. For you it might be less fun than having your teeth drilled. It’s definitely one to play before buying mainly to see how you get on with the controls and movement. If you do, then definitely think about picking this game up.
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