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Killer 7

Developer: Grasshopper | Publisher: Capcom
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 07/07/05 | Genre: Action

killer7 had people guessing ever since it was first unveiled way back in 2002. We were still guessing when it was shown unplayable at following two E3's. It will have players guessing until the very end, and most likely, it will have them guessing even when the credits are rolling.

killer7 is one of the strangest games that I've ever played. The game's designers certainly seemed unafraid to delve into any subject matter they deemed fit. The game is set in an alternate reality, one in which all of the world's nations are at peace with each other. Their only threat is a terrorist organization called Heaven Smile. The Heaven Smile use some sort of biologically engineered suicide bombers to carry out gruesome attacks. The killer 7, a mysterious group of assassins, is contracted to deal with the threat.
I don't want to spoil the plot, because it gets much stranger and more complex than that. Many supernatural and sci-fi elements are involved, which only serves to further confuse things, but in a good way. Harmon Smith is the leader of killer 7. The twist is that he has seven separate personalities that do most of the dirty work. This is not just a psychological disorder. It's something that Fox Mulder would want to take a look at. When Harmon changes personalities, they are actually manifested physically. Each one has unique capabilities useful in tackling assignments. Each one of Harmon's split personalities, which I'll collectively just call Smith, seems to have his or her own motivations and view of the world. killer7 must have the most creative story and presentation ever seen in a video game. It certainly provides a major motivation to complete the game.

This is one 'M' logo on a game cover that should be heeded by potential players. killer7 received its "Mature 17+" rating for its explicit depictions of violence and coarse language, but what really makes the game only suitable for mature gamers is the context they're set in. killer7 contains some very disturbing subject matter beyond just the blood and gore you'll see on the screen. It can also be quite thought provoking. I'm not saying it's the avant-garde, hyper-intellectual political commentary that some are making it out to be. It's more like the rare anime masterpiece. At any rate, there are a lot of fun discussions happening on internet forums regarding the true meanings, hidden themes, etc. in killer7's plot. There are certainly interesting things to talk about once you've seen everything in the game.

Nearly every aspect of killer7's presentation is top-notch, which really counts in such a story-driven game. You'll witness the bizarre events and characters through both traditionally animated cut scenes as well as through the real-time engine. The real-time engine is beautiful too. The game uses cel-shading to emulate the look of a flat shaded graphic novel. It's practically flawless in execution. The camera angles, colors, and "set design" provide some memorable scenes. Capcom has some great artists in their studios. Animation is also great with just one flaw. During gameplay, when Smith reaches point at which he can no longer move forward, his character model will just continue running in place. It doesn't really degrade the experience at all. It's the only flaw in what is otherwise a perfect visual presentation. That just goes to show you how good the game looks and moves both during gameplay and cut scenes.

The same can be said for the game aural presentation as well. The music is mostly for ambience. It's not very melodic, but it sets great tone for each area of the game. A few tracks are sure to stand out more than others, but they're all well suited to the game's environments. Excellent voice acting brings each Smith and all of the other side characters to life. The cut scenes would just not be anywhere near as entertaining if the voice acting was second-rate. Kudos to Capcom for putting together a good cast. There are plenty of sound effects keeping the game environments lively, as well as providing important cues for the player. Again, there's only one flaw in what would other wise be a perfect aural presentation. Each Smith has a catch phrase he says when he kills an enemy in one shot. Since you'll be trying to get one-hit kills against enemies as much as possible, you'll be hearing this phrase over and over, and it does get annoying. It would have been nice if they had multiple phrases, or just didn't say their catchphrase every single time. Again this flaw is really detracts little from the complete sound design of the game. It's also worth noting that the GameCube version has marginally sharper graphics than the PS2 version and loads significantly faster.

Many fans of killer7 are calling it a piece of art, and I would definitely agree if we're assessing the game's story and presentation. I've got no problem saying that it's artistic. The game's writing, visual art, acting, and music are all excellent and extremely creative. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about killer7's gameplay design. Most fans of killer7 consider it to be a game for connoisseurs, a game with sophistication that most people just can't appreciate or understand. I expected the same thing. I approached the game in the same way. I knew that it was more of an adventure game than a shooter. Many people thought this game was mainly an action game with lots of shooting, and many of those people have been turned off by killer7's slower paced puzzle mechanics. However, I knew what I was getting into, yet I thought I would enjoy the game much more than I actually did.

I'd say that killer7 is first and foremost an adventure game with shooting elements. I'd compare it with Myst before I'd compare it with Resident Evil, for example. Myst isn't the best comparison, but it's familiar to most gamers. killer7 plays like this type of adventure game because your primary objective is to solve puzzles that allow you to move on to the next area. Players move through the game's levels on fixed paths ("rails"). These paths may branch. So for instance, you may reach an intersection in a hallway and have the choice to go left, right, or straight ahead, but you can not move about the environments freely. You can only move back and forth along these fixed paths. Eventually you'll come across some obstruction (such as a locked door), and you'll have to figure out how to remove the obstruction and proceed.

This is where killer7 fails as an adventure game. Nearly all of the puzzles are obvious and way too easy. In fact, most of the "puzzles" aren't really puzzles at all. They're just key hunts. You'll simply need to explore every path in the level until you find an object that will unlock the door or otherwise remove an obstacle. You usually don't really have to solve anything. Also, each Smith character has a unique ability that may be used to solve environmental puzzles. For instance, one character can pick common locks, and another character has a superhuman jumping ability. These abilities are always used in the same way, and it's obvious when to use them. So the character abilities don't really add any interesting puzzle mechanics to the game. To make things even worse, the same type of puzzles are reused in different levels. killer7 is an adventure game, but I'd use that term loosely. You're really just moving along each path until you collect object necessary to proceed. There are very few actual puzzles in the game, and the few that exist are too easy and uncreative.

Unfortunately, killer7 fails as an action game too. The game is normally viewed from a third-person perspective as you move along the fixed paths. At any point, you can hold the R Button to enter the first-person aiming mode. You can move your aiming reticule in any direction you wish, but you can't move your character's position. You'll need to enter the aiming mode when you hear the creepy laugh of a Heaven Smile. Heaven Smile's members are basically zombie suicide bombers. They'll move toward Smith and explode. So you'll have to take them out if you want to proceed. The shooting is actually kind of interesting at first, but it quickly becomes monotonous. Each character has a different type of weapon that will be best suited for different situations. Kaede, the lone female Smith, has a pistol with a scope that allows her to snipe enemies from a distance. Con Smith has two pistols that he can fire rapidly. The other five Smiths have their own unique weapons that will come in handy depending on the situation. The first type of Heaven Smile you'll encounter are slow, shambling zombies. You need to kill them before they get near you and explode. You'll always be looking for their weak point, indicated with a yellow spot, as hit there will cause an instant kill. You don't have ammo to worry about, but it will save you some time that's crucial when facing multiple attackers. Killing more enemies more efficiently will net you more blood, which is used as a currency to upgrade your Smith characters. Upgrades will improve the speed, accuracy, and power of your characters, which will allow you to kill enemies more easily.

As you progress through the game, new variations of Heaven Smile will be introduced. Some are faster, some are smaller, some move in different ways. However, it all starts to get repetitive after a while. One of the main reasons for this is because you can't move your own character and all of the enemies are simply moving straight towards you. So there's not really any variety or strategy to be employed. You're just trying to point and shoot at weak spots. It can get tedious especially since many areas have respawning enemies. Each level also includes a boss fight. These are a bit more exciting and action-oriented, but if you're old enough to play the game, then it's nothing that you haven't seen plenty of times before. The boss fights are typical pattern-based challenges in which you try to hit the enemy's weak point while avoiding damage yourself. The problem is that it's been done before and it's been done better.

If you head over to RottenTomatoes.com, you'll see that reviews for killer7 are all over the map. Even the content of the positive reviews and the negative reviews can be inconsistent. Different positive reviewers seemed to like and dislike different things about killer7. Likewise, different negative reviewers didn't seem to always agree on what elements of the game they didn't like. You'll also see the phrase "love it or hate it" used a lot. I don't feel that way about the game though. I don't hate killer7, and I don't think it's a "love it or hate it" experience. I think killer7 could have been an excellent game if it only had more creative, more challenging puzzles. As it is, it's mainly a vehicle to present a really creative story. It's like an anime in a video game shell. You may want to play the game just to experience the crazy storyline. I'm giving this game an average score because I know some players will enjoy it. However, I'm betting that most players will find the actual gameplay to be quite tedious.

There are certain types of gamers out there who can really appreciate a game's story even if the gameplay isn't all that great. Those are the type of players that love killer7. In fact, a couple of the positive reviewers explicitly state that they didn't find the gameplay all that fun, but the presentation of the games plot won them over. I'm just not that way when it comes to games. I can recognize and appreciate the intriguing fiction presented in killer7. Excellent visual and aural art made it very compelling. However, in the end, I found the gameplay quite boring. I didn't have fun at all and I was really only playing to see what happens next. I would have been much happier just watching the game as a cartoon or something, and in my view, I can't call that a good game.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 09/20/05
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
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Screenshots for Killer 7

Jak X: Combat Racer

The Giant Beauty