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Killer 7 (GameCube) artwork

Killer 7 (GameCube) review

"With a crazy politically-charged story filled to the brim with bizarre characters, it's a shame the combat is ghastly."

If a game has a good story, often the player can look past its other flaws and issues because they have an interesting tale to experience and travel through. Killer7 is a weird game in this regard since it has an interesting story (while being head-scratching right to the scalp) but has atrocious aiming controls that limits its combat. I’m placed in the precocious position of recommending the game for the experience it has to offer but also thinking poorly of it for its gameplay. It’s certainly a trip to try and deduce just what the hell is going on, but for an action shooter game it simply has no legs to stand on.

The game plays as an on-rails shooter (however the enemies move as they please), switching between a third person camera angle when moving around to first person camera when aiming. Later levels end up quite large, so being stuck on a track helps to ensure that you don’t end up perpetually lost, doubly so with the included map that (on easier difficulties) shows the locations of puzzle elements. Characters move at different speeds along the track, though everyone has their own turnabout maneuver to quickly head in the opposite direction if danger springs up. This about face will be made useful since the third person camera tends to betray enemy locations behind unseen corners, making for many cases where jogging along will result in running right into the arms of an enemy. There are audio cues for when an enemy is nearby, so paying attention will keep cheap hits at a minimum. New sections of track to traverse become available through the solving of puzzles or the unlocking of shortcuts, and thankfully the longer stretches are easier to travel through the use of two characters and their special abilities (which I’ll get to later).

What I find most memorable about Killer7 is its striking art style that looks like an Eastern comic rendered in 3D but with harsh colors and bizarre palettes. The characters and enemies look great in this slick style, however most of the environments are very drab and dull in their appearance, with some rooms having this absolutely strange palette choice where the walls and floors will bleed their textures into a flat color when you look around. With that said, the in-game cutscenes are very enjoyable to watch along with the talented voice-acting, and as an extra treat there are animated cutscenes that I only wish there was more of. Most of the anime scenes don’t have a lot going on in them save the occasional bit of action, but the mature tone of the game and its story made me want more of these animated interludes to communicate more of the plot and the characters, especially with the bonkers concepts the story takes on throughout the later acts.

The different playable characters have their own attributes when attacking; Kevin uses relatively weak throwing stars but he never has to reload, Dan’s revolver hits hard but his reload is slow, Con has automatic pistols but they do little damage and so on. The characters have their own attributes that can be upgraded through the collection of thick blood which is then turned into serum, and each level has a maximum cap of serum that can be generated, making it a good idea to farm before completing the current level. Serum can then be spent on a character to increase their damage, weapon waver when aiming and so on, and after a certain number of upgrades a new talent is unlocked, like firing two bullets at once or new counter attacks. Defeating enemies also collects thin blood which is used to power character skills like Coyote’s powered shot or Mask’s enhanced grenades. Attribute upgrades aren’t that noticeable until the last few chapters of the game, but even for boss fights where one character is more effective than the others, upgrades have a minimal return in terms of easier victory, often being reserved for dispatching lesser enemies more easily. Once the maximum amount of serum has been generated, enemies simply act as a nuisance rather than an obstacle, but luckily there’s Kevin’s invisibility and Con’s super speed which uses thin blood, the former allowing you to walk right through enemies without being detected while the later makes Con’s fast movement even faster to zip across large areas.

A majority of the enemies can be felled by shooting their critical weak spot, an area that glimmers when aimed at. This would make most of the combat a laughable joke if not for the fact that the targeting reticle is more or less a hint as to where you’re aiming, not actually where you’re aiming. For example, Kaede uses a magnum with a scope attached to it which effectively lets her snipe enemies from afar. You would think lining up the reticle with the cross on the target weak spot would result in a confirmed kill, however in most cases the shot fired will strike a limb or miss entirely. This tends to be the case with all the characters where limb or body shots can easily be scored but not the main weakness, this being excluded from a few enemy types whose weak spot is so large that missing them would elicit a groan of frustration rather than curses of confusion. Figuring out the ‘true’ flight path of bullets or knives does not come quickly, only until the later chapters where characters can unlock immediate snap-aiming to an enemy’s weak spot or other limbs to incapacitate them. This is where Killer7 suffers in gameplay, since the actual combat is incredibly poor and downright awful for a lack of better terms. Even the great sound design and colorful displays of violence when an enemy is killed isn’t enough to save the combat when aiming is more or less a guess when going for the quick dispatch. This leads to instances where I systematically remove limbs to harvest thick and thin blood for a lesser gain because it’s more viable than a one-hit kill, and never mind the incredible danger that a mob of enemies carries. If this was meant to be a purposeful design choice, it’s an incredibly silly one that does nothing in terms of enhancing the experience other than implementing an artificial challenge. Combine this with the movement and you end up with a poor rail shooter that is salvaged thanks to two things alone: The story and the characters.

I won’t even attempt to explain the story because while there are overarching plot points of political intrigue, bio-terrorism and a powerful Macguffin called the ‘Yakumo’, trying to figure out the finer details of the story is an exercise in insanity. All you really need to know is that some guy with a ‘magic’ hand can turn people into his puppets or worse, into monster-like terrorists called the Heaven Smiles to cause mayhem and destruction, and the Killer7 are a group of assassins controlled by one man’s psyche to fight back. Got it? Great, because the game certainly doesn’t give a damn if you aren’t keeping track. While I applaud the writing in not being a coddling hand holder, I also often found myself scratching my head in the later chapters on the who’s/what's/how's/when’s and why’s, -especially- for the ending. It’s a confusing storyline to follow, understand and analyze but it certainly is interesting and makes for a fun ride to go along with. The cast only adds more to the ride, from the polar opposite nature of caretaker/harasser Samantha to the stupidly charismatic and disease-prone Cloudman to the creepy sociopathic class act of Curtis to the homicidal ramblings of headless(???) Susie. Voice-acting in the game is generally saved for the seldom viewed cutscenes, however the script is delivered wonderfully during scenes of great importance to the plot - The gusto of the vocal cast can sometimes be a bit cheesy; the fleeting moments before a boss fight with a female assassin in a flaming room comes to mind, but I cannot for a second criticize Cam Clarke’s limited time as Cloudman, camp as his performance may be. I only wish the alter egos you play as got more exclusive screen time and story angles to tackle, since each one could fill entire chapters with their backgrounds; I would’ve loved to learn about Mask’s run as a professional wrestler, how Con turned into such a punk, Coyote’s turn from crooked thief to murderer - Hell, there’s a whole chapter devoted to dispatching an old rival of Dan’s, but we only get bits and pieces of their relation before the showdown. How the alter egos became part of Harman Smith’s psyche and how he has supernatural control of them and how they’re all real people but they’re kind of not and why does he need a TV and oh my goodness stop the rollercoaster of crazy I want to get off. So many elements of the main story are quietly fed to the audience but the greater, finer details are left with so many holes that it could make a Swiss cheese maker blush. I wanted much more focus on the cast rather than political drama with warring nations behind closed doors.

This all leaves me in a hypocritical position; I tend to dislike games that focus on story rather than gameplay, but Killer7 has a -very- baffling, rich story with gameplay so frustrating that the lack of fun it brings tests my patience. Despite not being a fun game to play, I still found myself forcing through each chapter to learn more of what the hell was going on, even though at the end credits there were still more questions than answers and the answers I was given were vague or assumption-based at best. Political drama and supernatural terrorism does sound like a great if not unorthodox combination for a story to tell, but Killer7 could have been much more enjoyable if the gameplay itself wasn’t so frustrating. It’s a shame that the IP for Killer7 is locked away in Capcom’s basement and we’ll likely never see a sequel to this bizarre title, so take my (very trepidatious) recommendation with a very large grain of salt.

Dinoracha's avatar
Community review by Dinoracha (May 08, 2016)

Dinoracha is a world-renowned internet famous Let's Player, voice actor, writer, reviewer, e-sports competitor, masterful stream host and man of the people. These may or may not all be gross exaggerations.

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