This is bad! Really bad, like month-old leftovers in the back of the fridge kind of bad. Many video games have long lost the sweet taste of excellence, curdling into a sour paste of mediocrity. The gameplay has become formulaic, the plot twists are predictable, and the characters lack any sort of spice or zest. Games are no longer the five-course meals of pure awesomeness that they once were; instead, gamers must wallow through an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of poorly executed concepts served up in unsatisfying portions. But in that seemingly endless line of unimpressive products, there are a few games that stand out among the rest, served up on a silver platter of originality with just a tiny bit of quality on the side. While nowhere such perfection, Killer 7 provides such aspects and treats gamers to an experience unlike any other before it.
You have to admit, it does look pretty cool.
It’s a new day. Paranoia is running rampant throughout the major governments of the world. In order to curb that all too familiar fear of terrorism, the countries decided to dismantle every transportation system that could be possibly exploited. There are no more planes or ships to worry about; everyone gets to travel over massive highways to see the world. The development and use of weapons of mass destruction have been called to a halt, and diplomatic relations among the various nations are at an all-time high. Sure, shutting some of the most convenient methods of travel was a bit overkill, but at least everyone seems to be on the same page. In a historic meeting, the members of the United Nations were poised to sign the ultimate peacekeeping treaty that would ensure the safety of countless generations to come. That is, until the Heaven Smile organization showed up. These new-age terrorists didn’t bother with fancy schemes or complicated procedures; they just got into the UN and blew up everything in sight. These guys made their point clear: terrorism is still alive and kicking. In order to combat the Heaven Smile, the government has recruited a team of elite assassins, known only as the Killer7.
Apparently that green enemy guy is slow.
There’s just one problem, though. This formidable ensemble of hired killers isn’t seven distinct people, but one person with a few issues. Harman Smith is the leader of the team, a decrepit old man confined to a squeaky wheelchair. The rest of the Killer7 lurk deep within the inner recesses of his mind, waiting patiently to be called forth to kick some terrorist ass. All of these characters represent different personalities, each with their own abilities and packing some serious firepower. You’ll get to wield handguns, knives, grenade launchers, semiautomatics, and few other weapons that comprise each character’s distinct arsenal. You’ll get to meet Garcian Smith, a stylish killer that conducts meetings with informants and can revive fallen characters. In case you need some muscle, Mask de Smith’s patented wrestling moves allow him to smash through barricades and move obstacles. Kaede Smith can take her enemies down with a well-placed sniper shot, and decode hidden messages by slitting her wrists and spraying blood everywhere. Picking locks and jumping onto hard-to-reach platforms are left to Coyote Smith, the Brazilian thief extraordinaire. In short, each personality has their own style of fighting and abilities that help progress through the level; beating the game will depend on your ability to use them all effectively.
Man, this game is weird.
That’s right, the future of the free world depends on a disabled geriatric assassin with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. To be fair, nothing in this game makes very much sense. You’ll usually have to infiltrate a building of some sort, methodically searching through various rooms and wandering down long passageways. The game is filled with all sorts of unusual puzzles, such as manipulating certain machines, matching certain patterns, and acquiring objects for later use. Despite what it looks like at first, Killer7 does not operate like the typical search and destroy FPS; the characters can only run along predetermined rails, severely limiting their movement and overall exploration of the levels. However, that doesn’t make the game any easier. Harman’s team will have to face the deadly Heaven Smile, which are basically nothing more than mal-formed zombies with skin problems. Aside from their annoying signature attack and death giggles and massive grins, these Resident Evil rejects have an ace up their sleeve: they explode on contact, taking chunks out of your character’s health in the process. If you hear that booming laugh, you know it’s time to break out whatever weapon you have, turn on your special Heaven Smile vision goggles and take a look around. Your foes will slowly stagger toward you, giving you just enough time to locate their sweet spot (highlighted for easy targeting, no less) and unload some rounds. Should you manage to take one of these down, you’ll be able to collect their blood, which in turn can be used for special attacks, recovering health, and a few other things. Run down the next corridor, hear the laugh, solve a puzzle, and rinse and repeat until you’ve taken down the boss.
Ah, that’s more like it.
Unfortunately, Killer7’s shock value eventually wears down after the first few levels. Sure, watching that dastardly Heaven Smile laugh and walk toward you may seem scary the first few times, but they won’t seem quite so fearsome once you’ve grown accustomed to wiping them out. Also, the majority of the puzzles are no-brainers, offering little distraction from the task at hand. In truth, the game tries a little too hard to be edgy and inventive. The entire cast makes liberal use of several swearwords, including a delightful “**** YOU” whenever you hit an enemy’s sweet spot. Also, the dialogue and cutscenes are chock full of serious themes (suicide, genocide, cult worship, etc.) are offset by epic and over-stylized presentations. Since when can a villain catch a bullet in mid-flight and allow its velocity to escape out of a well-placed window? How can a wrestler’s head be bullet proof? Also, there’s a handful of supporting NPCs that add even more strangeness to the adventure. The majority of your advice will come from Iwazaru, an old man hanging from the ceiling in a bondage harness and red bodysuit. There’s also an eyeless ghost named Travis that will insult the Killer7 team and provide monologues and observations of the various levels and situations. You’ll get special items from Susie, a decapitated head that likes to hang out in cupboards and other cramped spaces. All of these characters speak in utter jibberish, allowing for some decently written lines in English subtitles. However, not even these colorful characters provide enough attitude to keep the game from seeming like a work of art as opposed to an enthralling game.
Indeed, Killer7 looks like a work of art, something that could be found on some Postmodernist’s living room wall. While so many other shooting-themed games strive for realistic and gritty environments, this game takes a wildly different approach. The majority of the game is depicted in a wide variety cell-shaded color, from Garcian’s slick white suit to Harman’s unsightly wrinkles. The buildings are contrasted with shiny surfaces and pitch-black shadows, and many of the interior areas look like something out of a house makeover show. When you take down any enemy, they collapses into a thousand pixels of red that are supposed to represent drops of blood, skin, or whatever else your imagination will allow. While the characters may look like some sort of warped rendition of Japanese anime, you’ll still be able to see the emotion in their face and follow their movements perfectly. Too bad the Heaven Smile goons didn’t get as much attention. While most of the human characters get stylish costumes and shiny weapons, the baddies look like poorly-drawn cardboard cutouts. They’ll even come in a wide variety, ranging from the typical survival horror-esque zombie to miniature flying projectiles, marathon runners, giants, and plenty of other weird mutations. At least the sound effects are right on key, allowing you to hear the assassins’ footsteps and hearing that obnoxious “HA HA HA HA” whenever an enemy rears its smiling face. At least the abundance of ridiculous foes allows you dish out enough ammo and create a bloodbath of apocalyptic proportions.
Eeny meeny miny mo…
Killer7 isn’t necessarily a bad game. It just feels like an incomplete work that got too much artistic style and far too little gaming substance. The gameplay is simple enough; there’s nothing overly complicated about shooting down small gangs of foes or solving easy puzzles. The use of each character’s abilities could have been fleshed out far beyond what the adventure offers. While the enemies may seem daunting and spooky at first, they’re really nothing more than mere fodder for you to use special abilities and upgrade your character. Considering how much of the story is character-driven, it’s a shame that the already confusing plot succumbs to plenty of strange twists as it progresses. At least the cell-shading and overall look of the game works well. However, the over-stylized presentation will either draw you in or leave you unsatisfied. The trick is learning how to look past all the crazy stuff and see if this game offers what you want out of a game.
In the name of Harman…
Seven out of ten