Killer 7 has to be one of the most stylish and weird games to come out in a long time with the combination of its unique visual style and near insane storyline making it reminiscent of something from the old Liquid Television show on MTV. Beneath the visually appealing facade also lies a pretty good game as well which combines elements from other great games as well as adding its own unique spins, which makes Killer 7 a game that somewhat breaks the mold from the norm.
Killer 7 drops you into the action without revealing any of the storyline leaving you to learn more about the characters as well as your enemies as you progress. You play as an agent (or is it agents?) named Smith who works as a team of assassins under a man named Harman Smith. The hook here is that Smith isn’t really one person, but rather a set of personalities that can change on the fly using the medium of television, each with their own special abilities and weapons. They’re sent out to “diffuse” a political issue between the UN and Japan. By “diffuse”, I really mean to assassinate anyone who might tip the scales in favor of either side. Unfortunately, there is a group known as “Heaven Smile”, who are known for their perma-grins, which have made things difficult for everyone and serve as your primary enemy.
Dan Smith is the most well rounded of the bunch as well as the best dressed. He uses a revolver and can charge up bullets to unleash a powerful demon shot. Coyote Smith uses speed to his advantage and he can also jump high to previously unreachable spots and pick any padlocks that might block your path. El Mask De Smith is a former professional wrestler who wields dual grenade launchers and uses his brute strength to lift any heavy objects that get in the way in addition to blowing holes in walls to reveal new paths. Con Smith is the fastest of the group and fights with dual pistols and can fit into small openings and areas. Kevin Smith fights with knives rather than guns and can turn invisible. Kaede Smith uses a rifle with a scope and can absorb blood to get past certain barriers found in the game. Garcian Smith refers to himself as the “cleaner” which means he can retrieve the heads of any personality if they’re killed and bring them back to life. Last but not least, the wheel chair ridden Harman Smith carries the biggest gun of them all and is mainly used at pivotal points in the game. You can switch between personalities at any time during the game and while some levels might not have certain personalities available, you can “wake them up” for use once you hit a save spot or find a television.
Now that the Smiths are out of the way, let’s take a look at the gameplay which feels like a hybrid of Resident Evil 4 and House of the Dead. You run by pressing the A button and any paths that may branch off of your current path will display (based on their location) on the sides of the screen. You can choose any branching path by moving the analog stick in the direction of the corresponding path. While this control scheme circumvents any issues with camera angles, you’ll find that choosing a path branch can be difficult especially when there are two or three that are really close to each other. These controls can also cause you some unnecessary damage since you won’t be able to see any enemies lurking around corners or if you need to run away to get some distance from the always advancing Heaven Smiles.
Since the Heaven Smiles are nearly invisible to the naked eye, you’ll need to scan the environment around you to see them. They’ll usually give themselves away by echoing a laugh or through an introduction in a cut scene. When you draw your gun, you’ll enter a first person view where you’ll have to scan to get a visual and to enable you to cause damage to them. There are about twenty-five different types of Heaven Smiles you’ll come up against and some force you to use certain strategies or characters to take them out. Other enemies have weak spots that will reward you with a one hit kill if you’re able to hit them. Some of the harder enemies you’ll find can only be killed by hitting these weak spots, like the Backside Smile which you’ll have to shoot protrusions on its arms repeatedly to spin it around and get a shot on the weak spot on its back or the Giant Smile which charges at you and can only be killed by shooting its one eye, that is, when it’s open. You’ll quickly learn what techniques and characters are best for each type of enemy you face, which in later levels causes frequent personality changes that take away from the flow of the game.
Boss battles are par for the course as they tend to break from tradition like the rest of the game. Sure, the traditional boss battles are here, but some have some pretty crazy twists on them. You can take some bosses down in one hit; it’s only a matter of getting that one hit in that’s the hard part. Other battles will have you square off in timed duals where whoever gets the most hits is deemed the winner. You’re even meant to lose some of the fights as means to further the story along.
You collect blood for every enemy you put away. Shooting limbs or heads off will garner small amounts while shooting weak spots will award you significantly more. Some characters require blood to charge up their special attacks and can also be used to recover health when you’re wounded. When you find a TV, you can create thick blood which you can use to increase your characters stats such as power, critical hits, speed, etc. There are some drawbacks to this where you can only convert a certain amount of blood in a level before the blood machine goes on the fritz and closes down.
Puzzles and scavenger hunts make up a large part of the gameplay. A lot of levels will require you to collect soul shells which are required to get to the level boss by means of solving puzzles. In addition to the soul shells, you may need an odd engraving here and there to actually get to the required puzzles which means a lot of exploration as well as backtracking are encouraged. You’ll often times find yourself thrust into a situation with little or no direction on where to go, which can cause you to waste a lot of time going back through the levels to figure out what you might have missed. Puzzles vary in difficulty and while most are easy, some will require multiple attempts like in one level which you have to take note of a number of billboards and answer questions relating to them only to hit a question that asks “what question number is this?” and after a scream and some pulling of hair, you return for another try.
Another integral element in solving puzzles are the rings you’ll find in each level. Each ring has an element or ability such as time, wind, or fire that you can use to solve certain puzzles depending on their context. You can use the fire ring to light candles or the water ring to fill a vase with water, it’s pretty self explanatory.
The storyline of Killer 7 is often times confusing and outright weird but equally as intriguing when you start to learn the intricacies of the Smith clan and Heaven Smile. Some of the most intriguing and weird parts of the story come from the number of secondary characters you’ll come across. Quite possibly the weirdest of the bunch is Susie, a dismembered head you’ll find in the craziest of places. You’ll also encounter Travis, a guy with no eyes who obviously does his shopping at Hot topic that will give you his own insight on the storyline and nothing much in terms of help. Yoon-Hun will give you hints in addition to putting you down as a means of increasing his own self-esteem in exchange for blood. In addition to these characters, you’ll come across more and more strange characters such as children in bloody clothes and headless business men, which only adds to the weird charm of the game as a whole.
One can’t talk about Killer 7 and not mention the unique visual style the game exhibits. If you can’t tell by the screens, the game uses a unique cel-shaded and almost minimalist art style, shading techniques that work really well with the story, characters, and mood of the game as a whole. There are also a number of great effects in use such as particles when an enemy explodes after being hit in a weak spot. There are no frame rate issues here, no matter how many enemies and characters are on screen, the frame rate will remain strong.
One surprising element is that the game boasts a large color palette and if you think the game is mostly sterile gray environments with splotches of red blood, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. There are also a good variety of environments here with the usual drab looking buildings, a sushi restaurant, and a small town in Texas, just to name a few. Each boasts a great visual style that compliments the look of the game nicely. The clothing of each character also changes depending on the level they’re in, or when certain power ups are collected, there are entire costume changes.
Cut scenes use the in-game engine as well as hand drawn, fully animated shorts to illustrate major portions of the storyline. One small issue with the major cut scenes is that some are inconsistent with the art style of the game and go full-on anime.
Sound matches the visuals pound for pound, meaning the aural experience is as good, and dare I say, maybe even better than the visual presentation. Secondary characters all have a voice box effect that is quite creepy, though it can get a tad annoying when there’s a lot of dialog being spoken by them. While it may seem like a cheap cop-out to avoid using dialog, if you listen closely, the dialog is really being spoken and you are able to pick out certain words which are very cool. When characters actually speak, the result is a mixed bag. The Smiths are all done really well, notably Garcian and Harman who have the most speaking parts out of the group. Other secondary characters sound a little awkward when delivering certain lines.
The game’s soundtrack is great as well and sets the mood appropriately, though at points when you’re on approach to the level boss, the music that plays seems like a mixture of J-Pop and house, which really doesn’t seem to match up well, but it’s only for a short while.
In addition to the voice effects and soundtrack, you’ll also get a lot of crazy ambient noises, especially in Garcian’s house which will make you stop playing and listen just to find out what’s going on in the next room or upstairs.
Killer 7 is like an abstract painting. It comes across as an experimentation of art and sound that succeeds in making a truly unique experience, especially when the over-the-top storyline is taken into account. You’ll be spending a lot of time taking it in too since the game can clock in at nearly twelve to fifteen hours on the first run through and even then, you might want to play through again just to further understand the story and catch things that eluded you the first time. There are also extra gameplay modes that are unlocked for even more replay value. Like a good movie, Killer 7 is a game that’s so intriguing, it demands for you to go further into the game to learn more and come back to catch what you might have missed. The elements of Killer 7 definitely break from the norm and offer a breath of fresh air in this time of graphical trends and clones of better games. Let’s only hope that this kind of experimentation will carry over into the next generation.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media