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Killer 7 (GameCube) artwork

Killer 7 (GameCube) review

"When one refers to video games as an art form, it usually does not go over well. The intellectuals scoff, the religious right start beating their bibles, and the ESRB draws up another misleading "age rating system." But, the same was once said of the film industry. And slowly but surely, television and video games are turning from "entertainment for the masses" to the preferred art medium of the digital age. And while Killer7 may not necessarily be remembered as a great game, it should be re..."

When one refers to video games as an art form, it usually does not go over well. The intellectuals scoff, the religious right start beating their bibles, and the ESRB draws up another misleading "age rating system." But, the same was once said of the film industry. And slowly but surely, television and video games are turning from "entertainment for the masses" to the preferred art medium of the digital age. And while Killer7 may not necessarily be remembered as a great game, it should be remembered as the first game where artistry was put before playability.

In Killer7, the player takes control of a team of assassins known as the Smith Syndicate. Alternatively known as the Killer7, the Syndicate consists of eight different assassins (why are there eight members in the Killer7? That's just one question that is answered over the course of the game's bizarre storyline). Each member has their own unique skills, and each adopts the surname "Smith," after the team leader, Harman Smith (sort of like the Ramones, only with more violence and less attitude). But here's the real twist: The entire Smith Syndicate is actually made up of the split personalities of a single person. Just who the "real" person is in the Killer7 is another question that is answered in the game's story.

The game is often described as a "Rail Shooter" (arcade classics Area 51 and House of the Dead both being examples of that genre), but that is only partially correct. To be more accurate, the game is a combination of classic Resident Evil gameplay and the rudimentary shooter elements of Rail Shooters. It's true that you spend the entirety of the game on pre-established paths, or rails. There is absolutely no free exploration in this game. However, there are a ton of split paths, or junctions, in the rails. When you reach a junction, you can change paths to explore a different part of the room. Also unlike Rail Shooters, players are given complete control to progress forward or backward as they please.

The enemies in Killer7 come in wide varieties, but are collectively known as "Smiles." This name comes from the permanent smile they get as a byproduct of a brainwashing procedure, which leaves them physically disfigured. Despite their numerous forms, the Smiles all have a singular goal: search and destroy. Once a Smile spots you, they immediately hone in on your position, and explode on contact. For reasons unexplained, the Smiles are invisible to the naked eye, and only members of the Smith Syndicate can see them. To reveal Smiles, players must "scan" by holding down the L button while aiming their personality's weapon. This would seem like an annoyingly tedious and unnecessary wrinkle in the gameplay, but it becomes second nature to scan while aiming very quickly, so it's not as bad as it sounds.

Defeating Smiles is a relatively simple process of shooting them until they die. Each personality is better at killing certain varieties of Smiles then others (and thankfully, you can change between personalities at will). For the armor-clad Protector Smiles, for example, MASK's Grenade Launchers are especially effective. KAEDE, meanwhile, can sharpshoot enemies with her scoped pistol. Most Smiles also have a weakpoint. Shooting this weakpoint will kill the Smile in one hit.

Depending on what kind of Smile the players kill, and how the player kills it, the player will acquire different amounts of blood. Thin blood is used to perform different abilities (such as Kevin's invisibility, or Coyote's super jump). More importantly, thick blood can be turned into serum, which can enhance different personality's statistics and grant them new abilities. This levelling system noticeably enhances the different personalities, and injects a decent amount of replay value for players who insist on leveling the personalities to their maximum ability.

While the Smile enemies are kill-them-before-they-explode enemies, the bosses are another story. Fighting each boss is not so much fighting a boss as it is solving a puzzle, or completing a minigame. One boss requires the player to shoot her more times then she can shoot you, in the space of one minute. Another pair of bosses requires the player to force them to interact with one another to reveal their weakpoints. Most memorably, one boss is even an old west quickdraw shootout.

The different personalities of the Kiler7 aren't just there as a gimmick to have multiple characters with multiple guns. Each personality has a different skill which must be utilized to solve puzzles and progress. Coyote, for example, can jump to incredible heights and is a master lockpick. MASK, meanwhile, is a retired luchadore, and can break through obstacles and rubble that blocks the player's path.

Garcian is the only member of the Killer7 who can bring the other members back to life (and for this reason, you can only change to him at designated rooms). It's here that the game has its roughest spot: to bring a character back to life, Garcian has to run from a specified room to where that personality died, pick up their head, return to the room, and bring it back to life. Now that your personality is alive again, you get to run back to where he died AGAIN to pick up where you left off. DYING SUCKS.

In addition to the personality's innate skills, there are a number of rings with special powers that are used in puzzles as well. Killer7 often takes hits from the critics for having too many easy puzzles. Which is sort of true. But part of what makes them so easy is the numerous NPCs in the game who literally tell you the solutions. Thankfully, these NPCs can be ignored, or don't appear at all in harder difficulties.

Another rather rough spot of the game is the saving feature. There's actually nothing wrong with the save feature, it's just the numerous "Fake Save Points" which appear throughout the game. Saving takes place in a place called "Harman's Room," which appears at numerous locations throughout the game. Inside is Samantha, a maid who is off duty most of the time. But when you find a room where she is on duty, then you can save your game. The "Fake" Harman's Rooms seem unnecessarily numerous, even though you can make Serum to power up your characters in these rooms.

Surprisingly, the story of Killer7 takes place in the past. In the year 1997 (the number seven is a recurring motif in the game), the world was unified in a New World Order. Weapons of mass destruction were destroyed, and air travel banned. The continents were joined by massive bridges, and the United Nations assumed leadership of the world. In other words, the militants were right. With war essentially ended, the only threat left to the New World were terrorists. These terrorists became known as the Smiles. Luckily, the United State government had an ace up its sleeve: The Killer7.

In a plotline that would make Kubrick proud, Killer7 jumps all over the United States (and even the Dominican Republic) as the team takes missions to assassinate different targets. On the way, the Smiths get caught up in a conspiracy between the United States and Japan, a child solicitation Black Market (need an organ? buy an orphan!), a mysterious school that trains preteen assassins, and finally the origins of the Smith Syndicate itself.

Along the way, the Killer7 are aided by Iwazaru, a fanatically loyal servant in a gimp suit, as well as the ghosts of the team's former victims. Also making appearances are Billy Bloodysunday, perhaps the most unlucky spirit in the world, and Susie, a decapitated serial killer who only wants to be loved.

Killer7 utilizes an extremely slick cel-shaded graphic engine, which matches very well with the occasional anime cutscene which is thrown in. It is as visually unique as any other part of the game. Killer7 is fully voiced by professional actors (the voice of Harman Smith is even performed by Dwight Schultz of Star Trek fame), and features an eclectic soundtrack which draws from techno, country, hard rock, blues, and more.

Though perhaps not as long as it could be, Killer7 practically demands to be replayed. Its general weirdness and extremely complex storyline pretty much require the game to be completed multiple times. Maxing all of the personality's statistics takes a while, and each personality does provide very different ways of defeating opponents. Multiple difficulty levels and an additional, hidden personality provides additional reasons to replay. However, aside from the hidden personality, an extra difficulty level and a joke "Hopper8" gameplay mode, there isn't a whole lot more to Killer7. It's essentially the same game over and over, no matter what extras you have unlocked.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 5
Controls: 8 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 2 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 7 out of 10
Overall: 7.8 out of 10

The Good: An incredibly weird and complex storyline are the highlights of the game. Though it is relatively short, it is short enough that it's actually fun to replay it. The game can become incredibly challenging using un-upgraded characters on the hardest difficulty setting. Bosses are extremely cool.
The Bad: The game starts to drag a bit, especially in it's second-to-last chapter. The game is sometimes too weird for its own good.
The Ugly: If you don't appreciate the story or enjoy killing the endlessly regenerating waves of Smiles, then you will probably hate this game. If you play a game once then discard it, then stay away from Killer7. The mechanics of death completely suck. The developers tried to create something cool with death in Killer7. All they did was create something annoying.

Some might ask how Killer7 is art when other games are superior both visually as well as thematically. Well, as any artist will tell you, there's more to art then strokes on a canvas. Art has substance. Art has meaning. Killer7 isn't just a game; it's a work of art.

mrshotgun's avatar
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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