The Killers

20 May

(This review was written after having completed the GameCube version of Killer7. Aside from references to the GameCube controller’s buttons, the review is also valid for the Playstation 2 version of the game.)

What do you say about a game like Killer7; a complex, politically-driven thriller complete with over the top violence and disturbing, social commentary (and originally being a Nintendo exclusive, no less)? Most would call it “edgy for the sake of being edgy” and leave it at that, while others would call it “ahead of its time.” Which is it, though? Is Killer7 a superficial game that uses shock factor to garner undeserved attention, or is it an inspired work of art that gives us a glimpse of what games could one day become?

It’s a little bit of both, actually.

Throughout the game, you are in control of the elite assassin group, the Killer7, who are actually the seven personae of a wheelchair-bound old man named Harman Smith. Each member of the group has the surname “Smith” and wields their own unique weapon and abilities to aid the group during their missions. They range from a suicidal sniper who slashes her wrists to destroy invisible barriers with a geyser of her own blood to a softhearted luchador who commands Herculean strength and dual-grenade launchers. There’s also a blind teenager with exceptional hearing and fast feet, a blade-wielding mute who can become invisible, two hotheaded rivals with custom magnums, and a sophisticated suit with a mysterious suitcase and the ability to revive his fallen comrades.

Meet the Killers

Here come the Smiths.

The plot of Killer7 is scattered and often nonsensical, but the overall story can be gleaned from the first two missions. The game is set in an alternate future where tension is growing between the U.S. and Japan after a global attempt to end terrorism is beginning to crumble. The Killer7 are assigned to eliminate various political figures in an attempt to affect the outcome of these conflicts. Standing in their way is a mysterious man known as Kun Lan; Harman Smith’s old rival. His army of Heaven Smile will occupy you throughout the entire game. Each level is populated by the invisible, zombie-like creatures. Their presence is announced by their laughter. To see a Heaven Smile, you must press L while facing one that is in range. Most have a glowing yellow spot on their bodies that instantly destroys the Smile when hit. Defeating a Smile gives you blood which serves as both the game’s currency and experience points. You can use blood to perform special abilities, receive hints, or earn upgrades for a persona’s combat skills.

The entire game is set on rails, allowing the personae only to move along predetermined paths. Holding A moves the persona forward along the path. B has the persona turn around. When the persona arrives at a junction in the path, each possible direction is highlighted with a short description. Pointing the main analog stick in the direction of a new path and holding A sends the persona down that path. Holding R brings you into a first-person view of the persona with his or her weapon raised. The main analog stick allows you to aim and pivot. A fires the weapon and reloads if the weapon is empty, though you can also press the C-stick to reload. Ammo is infinite

Most missions require you to solve small puzzles or collect various items to progress. Plot and side information is relayed to you by the ghosts of people killed by the Killer7 and Heaven Smile. In between, you’ll be pitted against various Heaven Smile, each with their own unique attacks and weaknesses. You have access to each persona during the missions, but some cannot be channeled at first and require a certain amount of kills to be awoken. Personae can be changed on the fly for a small blood tribute or for free in the safe rooms scattered throughout each area where you can also save your data and allocate skill points. Changing personae is necessary since levels often require unique abilities to progress. For example, a room guarded by security lasers requires you to slip by using Kevin Smith’s invisibility. Like most games that require bits of puzzle solving to progress, half the fun of Killer7 is in figuring out how to overcome each challenge on your own. Unfortunately, it can sometimes turn into a source of frustration as well if you can’t figure what to do. The ghosts often give hints, though, ranging from blatantly obvious to mindbogglingly vague.

The main appeal of Killer7 is most definitely its style and presentation. The minimalist, cell-shaded graphics give the game’s environments a very unique feel. Some areas have such little detail that the wall and floor blend into each other in a beautiful way. This is never a problem, though, thanks to the unique control setup the game uses. Having to move on rails prevents you from getting lost or having to manipulate the camera to observe your surroundings. The on-rails system seems to complement the game’s main effort of relaying a complex, yet interesting story. You are indirectly guided through the game on rails, receiving information from the recently departed along the way. The camera angles highlight what you need to see and are often unique shots that you don’t see in typical games. One common shot is at ground level facing the front of the persona. It doesn’t even show you where you’re going, but it works. If worst comes to worst, you can whip out your weapon to scan your surroundings if need be.

Killer7 is not for everyone. The story is convoluted and hard to follow as well as overly violent. Kaede Smith’s contribution to the team is to slash her wrist in order to present a ghost wearing bondage gear with a geyser of blood. In return, the ghost will shatter barriers in Kaede’s way. The game’s dialog is ripe with vulgar language. Coyote Smith mumbles “F*** you…” every time he pulls off a critical hit on a Heaven Smile. You can gun down five Smiles in a row, landing a critical hit on each, and you’ll hear the F-bomb every time. It can get excessive, but the language is understandable and welcome in the cutscenes. Just don’t go into Killer7 expecting to understand everything right away. You may even have to play through the game a second time (you might even be enticed to do just that thanks to a neat unlockable earned for beating the game.)

Rest is good for the blood

Blood is both the currency and experience points in Killer7.

The game’s biggest flaw is that it’s not as much fun to play as it is to experience, but to the right player, that’s really not a problem. You may get frustrated with reoccurring Smiles and having to revive a fallen persona over and over or trying to figure out a confusing puzzle, and you might not always feel rewarded after defeating a difficult boss. The fun in Killer7 comes from understanding a chunk of the game’s plot while appreciating the game’s unique visuals and controls. It comes in playing the game in a way that you’ve never played any other game before. The later parts of the game become so surreal, yet immersive at the same time that it becomes difficult not to respond in gasps during sudden revelations. Killer7 can affect you like only games that were designed with an amazing amount of thought buried ever so subtly beneath their surface can. It’s a unique gaming experience that will probably never be replicated, even by its spiritual sequel, No More Heroes.

Killer7 does go over the top for the sake of going over the top, but it is also a vision, seemingly ripped from the future. The unique mix of bizarre storytelling, minimalist graphics, dark theme, and innovative gameplay and controls will probably never become a mainstream convention in video games, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see Killer7 down the road. Whether or not it will directly influence game designers of tomorrow, Killer7 is an excellent example of where games can go and how we have years and years of innovation ahead of us. Just go into the game with an open mind and an extra brain since the one you’re currently using is about to get blown.

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One Response to “The Killers”

  1. yosemite hikes May 20, 2010 at 3:13 PM #

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