Killer 7 (PlayStation 2) review
"Sadly though, much like its overly complicated story, Killer 7's action comes across as a schizophrenic hodgepodge of ideas, never once living up to the sum of its parts. It's clear that Suda 51 wanted to create something artistic, something that stood out from the crowd and defined itself by what it was, not what its contemporaries wanted it to be. Noble aspirations aside however, Killer 7 rarely manages to excite."
With this introduction, I had originally planned to examine the mystique that has surrounded Capcom's Killer 7 these past four years... that however won't be necessary. I mean really, you already know it's a shooter, and yes, it's most certainly bizarre. Furthermore, you're probably also aware of how Killer 7 was designed by Production Studio 4's Suda 51, a self confessed madman in love with the idea of games becoming art. But is that what our favorite pastime really needs? Regardless of your perspective on such matters, it seems that Suda 51 has answered the question for us, and its by judging his latest creation that we can respond with an affirmative, hell no! For you see, a bucket of warm poo could be described as a post-modern masterpiece, yet as cool and trendy as that may be, chances are nobody will want to play with it. Art and games, games as art. Perhaps like religion and science, we should have just separated the two...
"Why is it that when we talk to God we're said to be praying, but when God talks to us we're schizophrenic?"
When an artist is given carte blanche to do as they please, one of two things will inevitably happen. Either they'll create something truly revolutionary, or through personal indulgence, a new niche is formed that only an inner circle of fans will ever appreciate. Killer 7 is almost the latter. We've got assassins, angels, dead yakuza and pigeons named Pussy. And if keeping a track of all that wasn't hard enough, there's also the wraith-like terrorists "Heaven Smile" to worry about as well. Confused? Possibly, but at the core of all this is a simple rivalry between two men, one the world's greatest assassin, the other a red eyed devil of chaos. And what's the catch I hear you ask? That much is easy. The wheelchair bound assassin Harman Smith has seven different personalities, and it's only by using each of them in turn that players will be able to stop the current wave of terrorism in its tracks... how very topical indeed.
As weird as all that may sound, Killer 7 makes for an even stranger game. At first glance it appears to be a third person shooter, only players now find themselves limited to a strict, predefined path through each stage. The "A" Button will move you forwards while the "B" button turns you around, and outside of the occasional fork in the road, that's all there is to it. Perhaps then Killer 7 should be seen as an "on the rails" style shooter, a fitting tag had it not been for the first person perspective used when shooting up the aforementioned terrorists. Of course, Suda 51 isn't done yet, and further complicating matters are a handful of basic puzzles that have Resident Evil written all over them.
Sadly though, much like its overly complicated story, Killer 7's action comes across as a schizophrenic hodgepodge of ideas, never once living up to the sum of its parts. It's clear that Suda 51 wanted to create something artistic, something that stood out from the crowd and defined itself by what it was, not what its contemporaries wanted it to be. Noble aspirations aside however, Killer 7 rarely manages to excite. You trudge down one long corridor after the next until a maniacal laugh announces the presence of another Heaven Smile. A scan of the area then reveals the location of the next threat, and a single well aimed shot to it's sweet spot disposes of the menace. Rinse, wash and repeat. Another corridor, another garden, another empty street, blast that sweet spot and move onto the next. To be sure, Killer 7 doesn't really evolve much from there...
Still, credit where credit is due. With 7 main characters to choose from, each with fully upgradable weapons and specialties, there's plenty for players to explore. The bare-footed Kaede Smith hunts evil with a sniper pistol, slashing her wrists at times to expose messages or clues hidden amongst the background. Mask de Smith meanwhile packs a pair of meaty grenade launchers, capable of putting down even the biggest of threats. The list goes on, an array of eccentric personalities serve to fill out Harman Smith's repertoire of violence, each oddly limited by an overly restrictive game engine that dictates who you must use and when. Ah yes, contrary to what may have been said, there's very little freedom for players to enjoy. You'll need Coyote Smith to pick locks, Kevin Smith to sneak past threats, and should one of them bite the big one, Garcian Smith to come in and scoop up their remains.
Yet through it all, it's hard to hate Killer 7. Sure it's a disappointment and maybe I'm just not getting it, but where art is concerned, it basically boils down to a matter of preference. Do you prefer a da Vinci or a Suda 51? A da Vinci-style shooter could well have been more accessible, yet you've no doubt seen such things before. Killer 7 on the other hand offers an alternative, a world of cel-shaded graphics and hyper-stylized violence. Heads explode in a fine mist of crimson gore while the Heaven Smile often resemble freshly skinned corpses, exposed arteries, membranes, gooey foot falls and all. And though the load times are excessive, they're certainly tolerable to an extent. Of a far greater concern however is the frame rate that takes a hit whenever the screen begins to fill, ultimately shattering the illusion Killer 7 so desperately wants to create.
Which quite nicely brings us back to square one: art for the sake of art, getting in the way of our games. When a developer such as Suda 51 attempts to convince us his vision is right, one would hope he's at least made a convincing argument... something that Killer 7 has failed to do. Be it the simplistic gameplay or its confusing plot, what we have here is a fundamentally flawed experience that'll be easily forgotten inside a few months. Oh, Killer 7 has it's moments, its many boss encounters for instance are all highly memorable. But for every wow there's a dozen disappointments, and they're what players are likely to remember the most. Forget the hype, put the last four years of expectations behind you, and avoid Killer 7 if you're expecting the future. Those that don't will find the experience lacking...
* Killer 7 has a distinct "adult" feel about it
* With 7 characters, players have a lot to sink their teeth into
* Upgradable character attributes offer an element of strategy
* Memorable boss encounters
* Hyper stylized visuals lend Killer 7 a unique persona
* The soundtrack definitely sticks with you after the experience
* Overly repetitive gameplay
* Not a single part of Killer 7 feels fleshed out enough
* Forget the freedom Capcom once talked about, Killer 7 is linear to a fault
* Slowdown becomes a problem from time to time
* Long load times can become tiresome
* Art house gaming? Please stop...
Staff review by Michael Scott (July 02, 2005)
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