There's no doubt that people are going to be divided on Capcom's unpredictable, stylized and sometimes downright psychotic new adventure game, Killer 7. The title, from director Suda 51 (a man who incidentally wears a Mexican wrestler's mask in every photo we've seen of him), is a bizarre journey into a surreal world where nothing is exactly as it seems and profanity, sex and bloodshed are commonplace. This is a particularly difficult game to review because its Achilles heel is its awkward control setup, which feels archaic by today's standards. And yet, despite this issue we're confident that players who adore old-school adventure games like Myst and Snatcher will enjoy -- maybe even love -- Killer 7 for the very same reasons. Capcom has delivered a game with a bold vision and an intriguingly "out there" storyline that is bound to keep players guessing until the very end.
- Neo-noir adventure game designed exclusively for older players
- Protect the world from a looming terrorist threat
- Third-person "on-rails" exploration-based gameplay and puzzle-solving mixed with first-person shooting
- Play as seven deadly assassins, each with a unique skill set
- Collect blood and upgrade each assassin's individual skills to enhance ability and unlock new moves
- Stylized cel-shaded visuals
- Anime-style cut-scenes help drive the compellingly bizarre storyline
- Rated M for a reason: an overwhelming amount of violence, profanity and sexual themes; this game is absolutely not for kids
- Around 15 hours of gameplay
- Single-player adventure
- Requires two memory blocks for saves; up to seven saves per memory card
- Two-disc game
- Does not run in progressive scan or 16x9 widescreen mode
Unafraid to be Different
Whether gamers ultimately love or hate Capcom's unique new adventure game, we expect that most will at least tip their hats and give the developer credit for trying something truly different. The videogame industry is filled with so many me-too clones of games that Killer 7 -- erupting with style, mood and undiluted craziness -- arrives like a crisp breath of fresh air. If Killer 7 were a movie, it would be an art house film or perhaps a cult hit, destined for midnight viewings by a dedicated fanbase. And like a typical cult movie, not everybody is going to get it.
The truth is that we probably shouldn't like Killer 7. It breaks the number one rule in game design, which is to put gameplay before everything else. Readers who followed the title's long development cycle will know that Suda 51 focused primarily on the execution of the storyline and visuals. At one point well into the project's creation cycle, we asked the producer how it played and he told us he didn't know because the studio hadn't yet decided. Gameplay mechanics, specifically related to control, were clearly a secondary focus for Killer 7 and sometimes that shows.
Yet, when we ask ourselves if we're having fun while playing the game, the answer is most certainly yes. When we ask ourselves if we're impressed, the answer is undeniably yes. And if we ask ourselves if we're intrigued by what's to come, there's no way around it: the answer is yes. We're positive that a lot of players are going to feel exactly as we do about Killer 7, just as we're quite sure there will be plenty who despise the game from the very moment they discover exactly how it functions.
Through gorgeous, exceptionally stylistic anime-influenced cut-scenes we learn that Killer 7 is set in an alternate timeline where the world has achieved total peace and prosperity. In an effort to obliterate terrorism across the globe, the great nations of the world have shut down all air transport and every network terminal. Meanwhile, intercontinental expressways have been built, bridging oceans and connecting countries. But just when all seems well, a new terrorist threat shows its ugly head. An organization calling itself the Heaven Smile after its soldiers, zombified villains who grin and laugh before they explode, wages an attack at the UN World Security Treaty.
Fearing for the safety of the nation, the United States contracts the Killer 7, a group consisting of the world's seven deadliest assassins, to discover what evil force is behind the Heaven Smile and eliminate it. The Killer 7, led by Harman Smith, a weak old man in a wheelchair, possesses almost god-like powers and each of the group's assassins is able to use special abilities in order to get the job done.
Harman seems able to conjure these killers into the physical world directly from his mind. Kaede Smith, the only female member of the organization, can slit her wrists to spray blood that reveals hidden passageways, and she's a sniper. Con Smith, a techno-loving blind boy, can run at mach speeds and wields dual automatics. Mask de Smith, meanwhile, is able to perform wrestling moves, break down barriers and use his powerful double-grenade launchers to explode tougher enemies. Kevin Smith, the albino, can turn invisible and hurls throwing knives at enemies. Capcom's artists are some of the best in the business and they have once again worked their magic. Where some games struggle to define a single character, Killer 7 features seven, and all of them are well crafted and intriguing for different reasons. Gamers will want to become each one, which is good because it's a requirement.
How it All Works and Why Some of it Doesn't
We feel that we'd be doing readers a disservice if we didn't adequately explain how Killer 7 works, and why it's fun despite some fundamentally flawed controls. The game consists of three different play types. The first is third-person exploration and this is undoubtedly the area that some critics will have the majority of complaints about. For some strange reason, Capcom opted not to enable full freedom control during exploration. Rather, members of the Killer 7 follow branching pathways. They are on semi-rails. When the A button is pressed, an assassin will run forward on a set path. When the character approaches an intersection point, branching pathways will be represented with icons on the screen. To change directions, players simply continue to hold the A button and then use the analog stick to select the path. And that's all there is to it. The control is primitive in nature and a positive step backward. True analog precision is lost altogether, but worse: environments that appear to be in 3D cannot actually be explored in such a manner because the characters follow a set path. As a result, the setup feels archaic and unrefined by today's standards. On top of that, because the camera switches cinematically after a new pathway has been selected, simply moving through an environment can be jarring and disorienting. Only after gamers learn to use the compass and map features in the game will they always have a firm bearing on their direction and their place in any given level.
Gamers who therefore go into Killer 7 expecting traditional controls are going to be in for a whopper of a disappointment. However, readers who know what they are getting themselves into will probably be able to quickly adapt to the setup, as we did, at which point it becomes little more than a functioning means to an end, a way to drive the other gameplay types and -- perhaps more than anything else -- to connect the storyline pieces. Truth be told, the control configuration isn't particularly poor -- bad control would suggest that a game is difficult or clumsily played. Killer 7 plays just fine. The setup is just so radically different from the norm that it's hard to accept, especially for traditionalists.
Intertwined with the exploration aspects of Killer 7 are various puzzles, which revolve around both environments and the abilities of assassins. These challenges are for the most part original and engaging, with a few exceptions. During one level, the assassins must prove their allegiance to a religious figure. In order to do that, gamers need to closely examine a series of posters that show the man in various positions and then pass a quiz based on the entire display. It took us two times, but we got it and the puzzle proved both refreshingly different and satisfying. On the other hand, in another stage we spent more time than we should have trying to guess the password to gain entrance to a locked door. At our wit's end, we tried a word that was written seemingly in random on the t-shirt of a ghost we encountered earlier in the level -- and to our surprise, it worked. Sometimes, the puzzles -- as though ripped from a Resident Evil game -- can be frustratingly obscure. Still, even these rare illogical challenges are entertaining just because they are so far out there.
The other selection of challenges is every bit as enjoyable. Gamers will need to use the abilities of their assassins to advance. For instance, laser trip wires may prevent the Killer 7 from moving forward without triggering a door to be slammed shut. But by using Kevin Smith and turning invisible, the group is able to glide by the lasers unnoticed. Meanwhile, Coyote Smith, who is able to pick locks, can also jump extremely high, which makes him the perfect choice for scaling rooftops and soaring into ceiling holes. Part of the challenge in these tasks is figuring out which character to use and there is a chunky sense of accomplishment when the job is done.
The final gameplay type is every bit as important as the others. Gamers can tap the R button at any point to jump into a first-person view, where their selected assassin can target Heaven Smile characters and blast them to smithereens. Assassins cannot run around in first-person view -- they can only aim and shoot, which is more than enough to keep players busy, trust us. A tap of the L button brings up a scanner display, which reveals previously invisible Heaven Smile enemies. Afterward, gamers can go to work targeting specific body parts and shooting off limbs in a grizzly and frighteningly agreeable display of exaggerated gore. Sometimes, foes show off critical spots, which if shot will cause them to immediately explode.
There's more depth to this mode than initially perceived, too. There are two goals in first-person view: the primary is to simply destroy the Heaven Smile and the secondary is to collect their blood. After an enemy dies, its blood is automatically absorbed into an assassin's two blood vials. Thick and thin blood types are separated. Thick blood is transformed into serum, which can be used to enhance ability and secure upgrades for characters. The system is not exceptionally advanced, but nevertheless it adds an intriguing character-building element to the game. Players can upgrade the power, speed, waver and criticals of their assassins, which in turn enables each person's gunfire to be more powerful; their movement, firing and reloading speedier; their aim truer; and their critical hit point shots more accurate. Thin blood, on the other hand, can be used to immediately restore health to a killer who has taken heavy damage from the opposition. There's a welcomed level of strategy to managing both blood types.
Everything flows together nicely with only a few noticeable hitches. The so-called boss fights in the game aren't always overly demanding, which is sometimes a complaint. Many of the Heaven Smile creatures can be killed with a single bullet and oftentimes their weak spot is divulged before the encounters. Still, the game at least challenges players to figure out different methods of beating these bosses. In one level, the Killer 7 must face off against another assassin in a battle to see who can shoot the other more. At the end of a pre-determined time limit, hits are counted and the person with the most successful bullet wounds survives while the other dies. It's not exactly a groundbreaking approach to duels, but nevertheless the scenario is sure to stand out in the minds of players. In other situations, the assassins must figure out a boss's pattern and then select the right person to attack it. Kaede, who can snipe long distances, comes in very handy during these situations. In stark contrast, some of the boss matches are so obscure that it can be frustratingly difficult to figure them out. For example, we spent way too much time dueling with a headless businessman before we realized what we needed to do to finally beat him, and the game offered absolutely no hints or help whatsoever, which is unfortunate. Where it Truly Shines
Killer 7 screams presentation from beginning to end and it's the game's totally out of control storyline, complemented by a cast of oddball characters, that makes the overall experience so inspired. The adventure oozes style, thanks in large to a wholly unique cel-shaded graphic technique that successfully blends the traditionally cartoony approach with very adult themes. Although the title doesn't support progressive-scan or widescreen modes, the visuals are nevertheless outstandingly unique and polished. The style is boldly different and in turn refreshing. Our only real gripe in this regard is that there are quick, but still jarring screen fades when characters enter new rooms or levels. Meanwhile, excellent voice acting and music set the mood. When Garcian Smith talks, he sounds exactly like the bad-ass that he is and he's easy to like. Unfortunately, some one-liners are repeated too often during critical hit shots.
We can't stress it enough: kids should not play Killer 7. Not just because there's an M on the box, but because for once that M really means something. There's much more than blood and guts in the game. Everything from the design of puzzles to the subject matter is designed for older players and it's really that simple.
Killer 7's storyline dabbles in terrorism, viruses, the illegal trafficking of children, the sale of harvested human organs, schizophrenia, and more. And Capcom has not pulled any punches in order to appease parents. The game is brutal. During cut-scenes, characters point-blank shoot innocent victims directly in their shocked faces, spraying blood in every direction. Heads are exploded and decapitated. Body parts fly in every direction. Just about every character has something eye-poppingly profane to say -- sometimes with racial implications. And there are cinematics that feature full-blown sex sequences.
The story successfully drives players. It's so psychotic and unpredictable that it becomes mesmerizing. As the killers advance through the impressively varied levels, which range from abandoned warehouses to Texas streets and futuristic landscapes, more and more off-the-wall details are unraveled. The game greatly rewards players who keep at it with beautiful cut-scenes that become more prevalent and help illuminate the plot. The cinematics are anime-inspired and just as stunning as they are weird. It's because of these well-done sequences that the game weighs in at a hefty two discs.
Gamers needn't worry that the story ends too quickly. Killer 7 will last the typical player about 15 hours and some may spend slightly longer with the adventure. The title will keep most in a perpetual state of bafflement or intrigue during the entire quest.
Capcom's adventure is at its pique when gameplay transitions to story and pieces of the puzzle are unlocked. In that sense, it's an adventure game in the truest sense and one that is sure to seem almost nostalgic to anybody who has ever played titles like Myst.
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