Killer 7 (PlayStation 2) review
"Killer 7 is like coming across a one-legged dog at a circus freak show."
Killer 7 is an ambitious experiment in merging video games with contemporary art. Despite its efforts and intentions, playing Killer 7 is like coming across a one-legged dog at a circus freak show. Itís wormlike torso rolls and writhes about the floor of a cage. You can hear its compressed lungs in every wheezing pant as it frantically paws for a toy hopelessly out of reach. You know it should be put out of its misery, but instead you stare, transfixed by morbid curiosity.
By 2003 of an alternate timeline, the world had come close to being a political utopia. Nuclear weaponry and energy has been outlawed, cross-continental highways distribute resources on a global scale, and terrorism has disappeared. That same year, Kun Lan struck the United Nations using his Heaven Smiles. Formerly people, Heaven Smiles are grotesque monstrosities with the power of invisibility, whose mottled skin stretches over bomb-implanted bodies. Refusing to be held captive by fear, America has called upon its top assassins, the Killer 7, to stop Kun Lan and his creations.
Not actual people, the Killer 7 are psychological extensions of their wheelchair-bound controller, Harman Smith. They exist one at a time, switching places through TVís and video cameras. Whether it be the masked wrestler with grenade launchers, the cocky thief, or the blind teenager who shoots pistols like Uziís, each personality has a unique background, weapon, and ability. Garcian Smith is among the most important, collecting the heads of fallen associates in paper bags to resurrect them later. Keep Garcian alive and death is just a temporary nuisance. Along the way youíll gather advice from a collection of ghosts, such as the bondage-gear clad Iwazaru, the eye-less Travis, and even a head in a dryer. If you havenít realized it by now, logic only goes so far around here.
Killer 7 is both a track-based shooter and puzzle game. Movement is restricted to going back and forth along preset pathways that branch off to interact with the environment. The movement system works, but feels like such a throwback to Ultima dungeon crawls that the limitation is a constant frustration. Sadly, the puzzles have a tacked on feel. Many require use of the personalityís different special abilities. Kaede Smith can absorb blood, Mask de Smith can break through weakened walls, Coyote Smith can pick locks, and so on. Most of the other puzzles are Resident Evil-esque, nonsensical item combinations. Somehow, needing medallions to move library bookshelves hardly seems like a sound architectural decision.
Though you explore in third-person, combat takes place in a first-person aiming mode, but you need to ďscanĒ the area first to reveal the Heaven Smiles, including ones that appear mid-battle. It takes a dump truck of bullets to take the Heaven Smiles down before they get close enough for a suicidal explosion, so the key is to hit marked critical points, which kills them quickly and releases blood to purchase upgrades for the personalities. Given that Killer 7 is a track-based game, and that shooting critical points with the analog stick is akin to threading a needle with your toes, Iím lost as to why there is no option for the Gun Con. As if scanning werenít enough useless repetition, you are also forced to see a third-person cut-scene every time you reload. Mask de Smith and Con Smith need to reload every few seconds, so playing with them almost seems like punishment.
Killer 7 spent ages in development surrounded by mysterious hype, so it is disappointing that its strongest points have nothing to do with the play mechanics. Drawing parallels to modern issues in politics, religion, and international relations, the plot is intelligently thought provoking. The cel-shaded graphics, usually associated with a cartoonish presentation, create a menacingly surreal and engrossing atmosphere. Itís like the distorted psyche of Harman Smith has collapsed the boundaries of fantasy and reality. The soundtrack is a mix of free-form jazz and eery ambient noises that have an unsettling ability to pry at your emotions. One moment it feels like an ultra-cool episode of Cowboy Bebop, and the next, youíre expecting something to emerge from the TV.
For all intents and purposes I should have left this attraction behind, but I kept going back to sneak a peek at the atrocity. With its confusing limitations and overburdened emphasis on ambience, Killer 7 feels more like an interactive David Lynch film than a game. Recent years have seen a serious push by some developers to have video games recognized as an art form. I applaud the efforts of developers like Rockstar, who interject elements of sociological importance into their games, but titles like Manhunt and the Grand Theft Auto series also excelled at providing immersing gameplay. Perhaps in the future Killer 7 will be praised for opening video games to a new level of artistic expression, or more likely, itíll be poked with a stick for a few days before being put to sleep.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (October 18, 2005)
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