It's one of the most unusual, politically charged, and thought-provoking video games since Metal Gear Solid.
- Mind-melting plot and story sequences will make you talk
- Impressively stylized presentation
- Lengthy adventure offers added replay value
- Outstanding soundtrack.
- Mature-themed content sometimes feels forced
- Simplistic action and puzzle-solving can get tedious
- Some noticeable shortcomings in an otherwise-great presentation.
You'll just have to shoot first and ask questions later in Killer7, Capcom's self-proclaimed "surreal action adventure game" that lets you "step into the mind of an assassin." This is appropriate billing for a game that wears its edginess on its sleeve and might well leave you feeling cold at first, between its seemingly nonsensical storyline and its surprisingly simple mechanics. However, if you bear with this rather lengthy journey through to the bitter end, you'll be aptly rewarded as your mind is sent reeling. Killer7 is greater than the sum of its parts. It's pretentious and can be frustrating or tedious at times. And it's also one of the most unusual, politically charged, and thought-provoking video games since Metal Gear Solid.
The title Killer7 refers to the name of the squad of assassins you control throughout the game. Apparently employed by a sharp-witted, crippled old man named Harman Smith, the Killer7 may be just the one man and his seven split personalities. At any rate, it seems the Killer7 have been charged with eliminating a terrorist threat called the Heaven Smile, which takes the form of various monstrous creatures that tend to blow themselves up while laughing hysterically. They're suicide bombers. And the world seems to be crawling with them. They're initially almost invisible, but the Killer7 members may scan their surroundings, causing Heaven Smile's operatives to materialize. In the game, you'll navigate through various environments, gunning down dozens of heaven smiles from a first-person perspective while also solving various puzzles and piecing together the storyline.
Killer7 unfolds confusingly and initially comes across like some sort of Japanese take on Fight Club and Memento, with some shooting sequences thrown in for good measure. Turns out there's quite a bit more to it than that. Central to the plot is a near-future political struggle between the United States and Japan. As you learn more, you start to notice what seems an awful lot like a heavy-handed political commentary on today's state of affairs. And in short, while the game deliberately seems to leave itself open to interpretation, it's safe to say that Killer7 is filled with metaphors. Different characters, themes, and situations are deeply suggestive, making little sense in the context of the game but nevertheless causing you to think. Killer7 juxtaposes this sort of feel with no shortage of absurd humor, including lots of poking fun at American and Japanese pop culture. This is subversive stuff. So just when you start taking Killer7 seriously, it throws some goofy humor your way, abruptly lightening the mood as if to keep you from getting closer to the game's version of the truth.
In other words, cappuccino-sipping, turtleneck-wearing academics looking to uncover all the hidden meaning and intention in all sorts of "works" would probably have a field day with Killer7, which has so many arbitrary stylistic flourishes in it that it ultimately seems intent on being a stupefying modern art masterpiece as much as a game--more power to it. Some of the game's posturing comes across as embarrassing, especially since the English dialogue you'll be reading throughout (all the ghosts of the Killer7's past speak in haunting gibberish, subtitled for your convenience) contains a number of elementary typos. But there are just so many simultaneous layers and subplots always going on in this game that it's sure to spark a lot of charged discussion among those who've played through it. Once you've spent the 15 to 20 hours necessary to get through the game for the first time, you'll be able to go back into the experience with a whole new perspective.
Of course, you might not want to. While it's impossible to extricate the story from the gameplay in Killer7, if judged purely on its merits as a fun-to-play video game, Killer7 comes up a little short. Your character can only move along a set path: You press and hold a button, and off he (or she) goes. This is very strange at first. Why doesn't the game just let you run around wherever you want to? For one thing, the locked paths enable a lot of pretty-looking cinematic camera angles that would be terrible for gameplay purposes. And for another thing, this technique makes it so that your characters never appear lost. They always seem to know where they're going, even when you don't know where you're leading them. It's an interesting trade-off that, in the end, makes sense.
Another button lets you turn around 180 degrees so you can run back from whence you came. You'll also often come across junctions--say, a perpendicular hallway--and then you get to decide whether to continue running in one direction or the other. As you proceed, you'll frequently hear the heaven smiles' maniacal laughter. This is your cue to switch to first-person aiming so you can scan the environment. You'll spot the heaven smiles shambling toward you and may fire at will. Each character has a different weapon with its own characteristics, but regardless, the shooting action boils down to sniping. Your foes tend to have weak points--possibly on their thighs or elbows, not just their heads--that cause them to die instantly if hit. So you'll try to steady your aim and take those shots, even though a lot of the shooting takes place at relatively close ranges. The heaven smiles are creepy looking, and the first-person shooting has a pretty good look and feel to it. Still, it can get to be fairly monotonous, especially since backtracking through environments will often mean having to face exactly the same array of heaven smiles each time you go through the area.