killer7 is a very unusual game, and somewhat fittingly it features a very unusual protagonist. It concerns Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound decrepit old man who also happens to be the world’s most successful assassin[s]. You see, Harman has seven alternate personalities which result in not only a mental but also a complete physical change. The motives, in-fighting and back story of these characters and their victims provides much of the game’s narrative and uniqueness.
Taking place in a dystopian future where political unrest and terrorism are rife, murderous psychopath Kun Lan is orchestrating a reign of terror. With the ability to turn ordinary people into zombie-esque walking suicide bombs to exact his will (known as the Heaven Smile), no-one except Harman and his line-up of seven weirdoes can stop him.
Linearity is often remarked as detrimental in videogames, but in truth it suits a lot of genres and games admirably – classics like Super Mario Bros., Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Half Life 2 have all proven this point to wonderful effect. The problem with killer7 is that it is not simply linear in the sense of these titles – it takes the concept to such extremes that it in itself could almost be used as a synonym for linearity.
In each level there is literally only a specified path you can take – you hold X and run along a rail while the camera follows you at a stylish low angle. Often you will come across junctions where you can choose from a few different routes, but for the most part this game is as linear as Time Crisis or The House of the Dead – the only real difference being that here you control how fast you progress.
Your foes – the Heaven Smile – are invisible at first, and can usually only be identified by their insane laughter. When you hear this you must drop into first-person view and scan to locate and reveal the foes in front of you. It’s then a case of shooting the suicidal maniacs before they can reach you and explode, gaining rewards in the form of blood if you hit their weak spot (which is marked yellow). You are unable to move whilst in first-person view, which means if you need to retreat you must spend precious seconds dropping back to third-person, turning around, running away, turning back around then aiming again, which gets more than a little tiring. Whilst this is exactly what you do at times in modern classic Resident Evil 4, this game is never anywhere near as slick or enjoyable to play.
The seven-character dynamic doesn’t bring as much to the game as it could have, with some of them not really offering any incentive over their superior, more durable and better-equipped equivalents. However, you will encounter impassable situations which can only be circumvented with a specific character, such as group junior Con who can fit in small gaps, ex-pro wrestler MASK who can smash obstacles and KAEDE who slits her wrists to break down barriers (!). Further to this, you will only see the Game Over screen when you die playing as group leader Garcian; meeting your end as any other character will see you returned to the nearest save room where you must select a different personality. The only way to resurrect a fallen ally is to retrieve their body as Garcian, in his ever-present briefcase.
The game has a fair number of puzzles which in truth are probably more interesting and satisfying than the combat, although the overriding weirdness has affected this portion of the game too. The puzzles are often a little obscure, but once you get into the mindset of this game things will begin to make more sense (if that’s possible). On the whole it falls into the get item/store item/use item pattern from the Resident Evil games, although here expect items like statues or vases to be replaced by dismembered bodies, decapitated heads, and other equally charming themes.
If you hadn’t already fathomed such, killer7 should also be noted for its adult content. There is continuous bad language, but it’s really the violence and imagery which is most disturbing. The game positively revels in gore and mutilated body parts; indeed your characters are healed with blood you attain from defeated foes, of which you gain more if you are a better and more deadly shot. Due to the fantasy nature of proceedings it doesn’t come across as disturbing as something like Manhunt, but this is still definitely a game to keep away from minors.
The graphics are excellent on the whole, sporting a very distinct cel-shaded look, much like Grasshopper’s more recent title No More Heroes. The soundtrack is decent enough, with elements of synthesised jazz, and the voiceovers and general sound effects are pretty good (excepting some characters who make irritating and repetitious noises rather than anything approaching voiceovers), although it has to be said that the downright weirdness seems to permeate every facet of the game.
I’m all for stylish and off-the-wall games – titles like Rez, Amplitude, Ico or LocoRoco are a welcome breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale medium, however killer7 for the most part just feels like it is being bizarre and gory for the sake of it. Nonetheless, despite this the game can boast excellent and unique styling, a bizarre and interesting story and some of the most unusual and identifiable characterisations from any game. At the very least I would recommend open-minded people try the game to see how off-the-wall videogames can get, if nothing else. It’s just a shame the gameplay itself is so awkward and your navigation around the levels is unflinchingly simplistic.
On the one hand I want to congratulate Grasshopper, to applaud them for making a game that’s not afraid to be different – a title that revels in its oddities, and is so shamelessly, magnificently fucked up. On the other I want to slap them across the face for making a game so utterly unfriendly to play, so doggedly linear and trying so hard to be different that it forgoes almost all substance in favour of style. Which is possibly the ultimate sin any game can commit.