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Killer 7 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Killer 7 (PlayStation 2) review


"Walk This Way"


Originally intended by Nintendo to expand their GameCube third-party catalog with exclusives... until Capcom saw potential sales figures with the PS2... the Capcom Five project was definitely a unique moment in video game history. Birthing titles such as the whimsically wacky Viewtiful Joe, as well as the highly-praised Resident Evil 4 and its by-product, Devil May Cry, Capcom was on fire when it came to creating unique IPs for the medium. Though, the last of the Capcom Five to be released, Killer7, was the most unusual of them all. Directed by Suda51, his eccentric style is splattered all over this action-exploration game: colorful, foul language, graphic, unfiltered violence, a surreal approach to directing, and it's all wrapped in a minimalist, cel-shaded visual style that feels like it's trying to be more than just a gimmick.

Not surprisingly, the game's overall tone made an impression on audiences, and in turn, was responsible for propelling Suda51 and his development team, Grasshopper Manufacture, into the global spotlight.

As the title implies, you're in control of seven killers, but there's a catch: six of these assassins are already deceased, and they inhabit the body of a person who can "revive" the dead. Each have their own distinct characteristics and powers, such as a thief who opens locks and jumps to high ledges, a short, speedy fellow with duel pistols, and a former masked wrestler that can blow away walls with his grenade hand-cannons. "Split personalities," as one faithful servant implies. A servant that happens to be dressed head to toe in a latex outfit, gagged, and tied to a rope that literally leads nowhere. He's the hint guy. There's another hint guy for solving puzzles, but he requires blood points gathered from defeated foes. However, he'll flip you both middle fingers and call you a loser for actually paying.

Not strange enough for you? Well, you casually talk to dead people between combat and puzzle-solving, chit-chat with a decapitated head before she gives you helpful rings, and you always walk in on your master's BDSM activities. The game has a ridiculous backstory, as well, which involves world governments banning flight travel and the Internet in order to combat terrorism.

Then there's the matter of how combat works. Normal opponents are invisible and, if they get too close, will explode and cause considerable damage. You can use a "scan" ability to make them solid and susceptible to pain, but you'll need to rely on audio cues and faint body outlines to thwart these charred-like creatures. It doesn't sound too difficult, until you realize the steps needed just to cause damage: know where they are, hold a button to switch from "third-person" to first-person view, click the scan button in the correct direction in first-person mode, quickly kill them before they explode, and reload if you missed enough times. Not to mention, there's different enemy types to contend with, which include joggers, armored foes, and ones that immediately warp in front of your character if you miss their vital areas.

Adding to the challenge is the unusual control scheme, especially with first-person aiming mapped to the left analog and reloading set to the right stick. Also, you navigate areas using tank controls in literal straight paths, which is made a bit awkward due to constant Resident Evil-style, Dutch camera angles. There's definitely pressure involved when contending with your opponents. But over time, after some fumbles in the first chapter, you get the hang of the scheme... mostly; it's not overtly complex, just requires a different mindset from the norm. The funny thing? The odd control set-up was deliberately planned by Suda51, as a way to give gamers a new way of playing and thinking.

I will say, there are genuine moments of tension when battling enemies under this system. Even once you get used to the button combination and controls, as well as realizing most creatures move slowly, they can still be unnerving, especially since two simple explosions, back to back, can kill or mortally wound. Health items are a thing, but using them comes with a catch. You'll need to hit a glowing circle randomly placed on each creature, and not only does a successful hit automatically kill each foe, but fills up test tube health items. Oh, and the ability to upgrade your assassins with more strength, speed, and what not. Essentially, nearly every aspect of combat in Killer7 has some form of consequence or reward. Every action you make counts for something, in some way.

Though, with how much imagination was put into Killer7, I do find it amusing that the core design is basically a simplified dungeon crawler template with a smidgen of classic Resident Evil; you're restricted to on-rails movement where you can move in "straight lines", with occasional branching paths, and you need to uncover items to "solve" puzzles that usually result in placing said items in obvious spots. Now, the thing about dungeon crawlers is that, if done in a wrong or sloppy manner, they could easily be repetitious headaches. Killer7 has gone down this path. Very ironic, considering nearly every aspect of the game tries to be creative and inventive.

It makes me wonder if the development team, and Suda 51 specifically, was hinging on players being too engrossed by the visuals and overall weirdness to notice how game design stops being interesting past the first chapter. You just go from room to room, grabbing items to unlock pathways in other rooms. Shoot, one chapter literally takes place in a hotel where you go through multiple floors to check rooms... There's not even much thought put into this concept, since the map screen marks areas of interest, and worse, outright tells you which assassins to use in certain spots. The latter is very bizarre in itself, since the latex hint guy, who appears in certain areas in each chapter, also tells you what to do in these locations. They're not even difficult "puzzles," either: use the wrestler to destroy cracked walls, use the thief to jump to high spots, and so on.

It feels insulting how they thought I needed so many hints...

Now dump some irritating issues on top of the redundant level design, and Killer7 starts becoming a test on how much you're willing to tolerate before you stop playing altogether. Aiming can be a pain, especially for those small glowing areas, basically due to movement with the analog stick being very sensitive; there's no sensitivity adjustment in the options, so you're screwed. Enemies constantly spawn and respawn, but the problem is, in some cases, they do it right next to you. I shouldn't have to emphasize how annoying this is considering the steps needed just to shoot someone. Worse, there are moments where enemies obviously respawned... yet the game won't load their models right away, meaning you can't even scan them!

By the time I reached the latter half of Killer7, I was over it. No amount of blatant silliness, plot-related weirdness involving politics, or Super Sentai parodies were enough to lift my spirits. However, the visuals did succeed in keeping my eyes amused throughout the joyless journey. The minimalist, neo-noir touch was anything but "simple," due to the consistent, clever use of shadows and different shades of varying colors. The style made it feel as if I was in dream-like settings, which is surprising, considering surroundings consisted mainly of basic hallway designs. But the gameplay; I think, for me at least, what made Killer7 so frustrating to play towards completion is this: it unintentionally trapped a unique idea inside a mediocre title. In many cases, that's worse than experiencing an extremely glitchy and buggy product. At least you get to laugh at those games.

2/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (June 11, 2018)

Was originally planning to submit my Sonic 1 review on Sonic Mania Plus' July 17 release date, but... yeah, that backfired.

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