Killer 7 (GameCube) review
"Killer 7, the latest offering from Capcom, is created by the all-star trifecta of Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Shinji Mikami, and the visionary developer, Suda 51 along with his Grasshopper studio. For nearly 4 years now, screenshots have trickled, speculations have been all over the place and the face of the game has slowly changed. Now the game is here with almost as much mystique as before. With its eye-catching style, emphasis on cinematics and unorthodox game play, you will probably wonder how it al..."
Killer 7, the latest offering from Capcom, is created by the all-star trifecta of Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Shinji Mikami, and the visionary developer, Suda 51 along with his Grasshopper studio. For nearly 4 years now, screenshots have trickled, speculations have been all over the place and the face of the game has slowly changed. Now the game is here with almost as much mystique as before. With its eye-catching style, emphasis on cinematics and unorthodox game play, you will probably wonder how it all adds up.
Overall, this game is exactly what it promises to be: it delivers a surreal, eccentric story in a very fresh style. One might call it artsy or pretentious, but in reality, Grasshopper studios has made something that further stretches the definition of a video game. Where as many games shout "me too,” K7 clearly shouts "not me at all" at every twist and turn. It really blew away my expectations with its finely tuned minimalist approach. There are no high scores, rare items, rankings, stats or anything like that. You collect blood by killing enemies and use it to power up your characters as you solve puzzles and untangle a complex story. Naturally, this simple approach has some obvious repercussions, though not many.
On the technical side, the high level of artistic flair is the most obvious aspect of this game. In a time where developers are pushing the technology to create a photo-realistic experience, Grasshopper Studios has decided to use a very dynamic cel shading technique. It isn't soft on the eyes, but in motion, it is absolutely beautiful. The screenshots don't even come close to doing it justice. As your character runs through out the various locales, the background finely adjusts to your every movement, creating a very cool dynamic shading effect. This makes K7s world constantly morph in an exaggerated fashion: objects in the distance often don't look like anything, but as your character moves towards them, they come sharply into focus with pointy edges. This plays off of the basic palette, minimally detailed backgrounds and characters, giving the whole game a dreamy, schizo feel.
The in-game action is just as slick. As you blast away at smilies, circles of blood swirl in the air before you collect them and when you run out of bullets, a quick 2 second reloading animation happens before you jump right back into action. This is all feeds the intensity and is very, very rewarding. The only drawback to this simple style is that at times when exploring a stage, you may feel a bit disoriented, as the occasional scene will look familiar. Fortunately, the game has a color-based navigation system and map that cures this, for the few times you run into it.
The cut scenes, without saying too much, are especially intense and are a great reward at the end of a level. They occasionally flip to a darker, hand drawn anime style, but most of them use the in game graphics. I guess this is the time to say that the "M" on the cover is for real. Some of the content is especially intense with suicides, people shooting themselves in the head, the abuse of helpless old people and all kinds of other racy stuff.
The solid sound and music work well to compliment the graphics. The soundtrack has the perfect assassin/psychological/paranoid vibe to it with some quirky songs every now and then to match an equally quirky moment. Each level in the game is in a different locale and has a soundtrack to match. In a level that takes place in Texas, you have some cool spaghetti western music, while in a government office building you have some funky spy music to get you psyched. One thing I was extremely thankful for, that many games don't do, is that each time you go into a new corridor or area of a level, the music slightly changes its theme, so you don't have to listen to a 3 minute loop for a couple hours straight. Big points for this.
The sounds and voices are what you would expect--sweeping synthesized sounds, huge gun shots, that terrible Heaven Smile laugh and some very strange dialogue. Each characters personality really comes through in their one-liners and they are quite infectious. On the other hand, this is also where some sound annoyances arise. Plain and simple, the characters repeat some of their catch phrases too often. They are good, but you will get sick of hearing Kaede say "Hurts doesn't it?" every time you shoot an enemy in a critical spot or "Look, I'm a cleaner" every time you turn on the TV in the save room. Also, when you talk to NPCs, their voices are layered over with modulations that make them sound pretty grating. It does lend to the atmosphere and you get used to it, but there are other methods they could have used which would have been less irritating.
The game play has two sides to it: a fun shooting side and an innocuous puzzle side. To sum it up, it's a hybrid of 3rd person exploring and 1st person shooting. The control scheme is completely original, but very intuitive and is second nature after a half hour or so. The big difference in control is that you can't go anywhere you please. Some people have outed K7 as a "rail" game, as if this was a drawback. This is far from a bad thing, since it relieves you of any artificial freedom and allows you to get right down to business.
While in any one of K7s many interesting locales, you encounter sets of puzzles. They are your typical lock and key fare with a side of fetching. The fire ring lights the candle, the water ring puts out big fires that block your way etc. etc. etc. Each character has a little ability that also can solve puzzles but these aren't all that different from using a ring. The sound of a guitar going out of tune pops up when you are faced with one of these and the answer will be immediately obvious after you have learned each characters abilities. These puzzles reveal special bullets, which you collect and use to get to a boss fight. They are forgettable, but not a nuisance, thanks to the streamlined controls of the game. By the second chapter, I never had to use the map or really even think of what to do to solve a puzzle. If you can imagine playing Resident Evil, but only having to hold down a button to quickly find keys and use them in their appropriate locks, you have a clear idea of K7s puzzle aspect. Not exactly MENSA material, but fun enough. Luckily, the puzzles are just little vehicles for the shooter segments.
Earlier, I said that it runs on 1st person shooting, but K7 relies on sharp shooting rather than traditional fragging. So you're running around and while you are on your way from point A to point B, you hear a laugh. You enter first person mode, scan and voila, a group of ten ugly mofos are slowly but surely making their way towards you. Time to fight. K7s action is very cool, very fun and even a bit deep. Prioritizing and timing are key and as the levels progress, new smilies with new properties emerge in larger packs. This is also where switching between the seven personalities, which you can do in the pause menu, comes in handy-- each character has a different feel in combat and it is up to you to figure out their different abilities in order to decide which one is the right one for the situation.
You also earn blood i.e. experience from each fight which you use to upgrade each characters attack properties. Hitting critical points on enemies can double the amount of blood you earn and is essential if you want to level up your characters. Overall, the fun factor in this set up is sky high. It takes a few good dynamics and puts them to work. Each wave of enemies is different and each one is a little puzzle in its self, especially in the later levels when any combination of 25 different types of smilies could be coming at you. The boss fights are especially interesting. Each one is a minigame with some very memorable characters: a team of Power Rangers called the Handsome Men, the stereotypical anime character Ayame Blackburn, the evil Angel Princess and Andrei Ulmeyda, the highly suspect mayor of a town in Texas.
The only thing holding this aspect back is that it could be a bit harder. You essentially have 7 lives, but after each personality dies, Garcian Smith, the cleaner, is sent out to pick up the body, which he can resuscitate with full health for no charge at the last save point. The only way to get a game over is to have Garcian die. Occasionally you get into a jam where the potential for him to die is present, but in my play through, I never saw the game over screen. In the games defense, there really is no need for a game over because the main point is to unfold the story.
K7 is in the niche pack along with many other extremely creative and fun games that nobody buys for some odd reason. The story is extremely confusing and I believe the reader is better off not knowing anything going into it. Some basic guidelines-- Harmon and Kun are old friends but bitter enemies, pay attention to the politcal story, and pay attention to Garcian. Yep, that's three stories to keep track of. If you are a fan of bizarre, paranoid schizo thrillers with the oddest characters you will ever meet living in a hyper-precarious world, you'll love this.
The whole first disc had me on the edge of my seat. The beginning of the second disc was not quite as exciting at first, but luckily the INSANE climax starts up quickly and lasts for a long time. The puzzles are the weak link as far as the game play goes, but the shooting will make up for it. The boss fights are a lot of fun, the controls feel intuitive, and the style is nearly flawless besides a few sound issues. There are no glitches to speak of and the load times last no more than a few seconds. It is obviously a labor of love and a game like this shines in a sea of cookie cutter games.
Of course, at the end of the day, the game is essentially a vehicle for the story, which is mostly good but has its flaws. The story is told in episodes and while you may feel like you get the pieces, you will surely wonder what the hell the whole thing is all about in the end. It comes as no surprise that Killer 7 has a whole bunch of high quality complex ingredients, but not enough simple substance in the story to leave you feeling satisfied after the final episode is complete. There are multiple plots going on at once and while the ending is very exhilarating, you will realize that you just don't know enough. Thus, my biggest complaint about Killer 7 is that you are expected to put together too many loose pieces at the end of the game. Even after you do that, you have plenty of spare parts lying around that seem like they should have been part of the whole.
Luckily, I take pleasure in this kind of torture and had a fun time putting it together, but it is a bit too complex for it's own good. A few extra details to flesh out the story would make this game a total lock, but as it stands, the denouement is unusually half-baked. As much as I like that, I also kind of dislike it, and so will many other people. A second play through will help put it together and if that isn't enough to get you to play it again, there are extras like the extra difficult Killer 8 mode and unlockable characters. If you make it through Killer 8, you get rewarded with Hopper mode, where the Heaven Smiles are turned into grasshoppers! How strange....Anyway, this is a truly solid piece of work and like many of the niche games of the past, I hope it has a few sequels or becomes a huge influence to other devs.
A solid, disturbing 8 out of 10.
Community review by apossum (July 24, 2005)
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