Killer7 is an incredibly original game that will be a breath of fresh air to some and just too weird for others
This is normally the part of the review where the plot is explained, but there may be a bit of problem with that. Not that there is no plot, as there is. Not that it is bad, because it may well be the most incredible, intricate plot I've ever seen in a game. The problem is that Sherlock Holmes himself would have trouble making sense of this incredibly twisted game and its politically charged storyline. Regardless, I will make an attempt.
Killer7 puts you in the role of Harman or Garcian Smith. The reason I say 'or' is that you are not really sure which one you are until the end of the game. Either way, Harman is the leader of an assassination squad called the Killer7, consisting of seven killers (for those who can't do the math), eight if you include Harman. We are not really sure if they are simply multiple personalities portrayed by either Harman or Garcian (whichever one you are) or actual breathing beings separate from one-another, but each has earned his or her own place in the squad. As a team, they take on the Heaven's Smile, a terrorist group led by the evil Kun Lan, who has been a rival of Harman's for many years. These suicide bombers have been trying to start a war between the United States and Japan since an international non-aggression pact was created. It's up to the seven killers to put an end to Kun Lan and the Heaven's Smile.
Oddly enough, that actually factors in very little. Only the first and last chapters really deal with Kun Lan at all, the rest being other jobs taken in between, which involve the Smile for no particular reason. A couple of the chapters deal with the strife between Japan and the US, while others revolve around the history of the Killer7. It all comes together in a big way in the final chapter, which you may want to replay just to make sense of it all.
The gameplay makes about as much sense as the plot. The game has you play mainly as the seven assassins, to whom you can switch to at will (aside from Garcian or Harman). All that is needed is to select the character in the pause menu or at TVs in conveniently placed rooms and, after a brief and very cool explosion, you are now that character. Of the six characters, each has their own pros and cons, outlined in the following paragraphs.
The storyline revolves around Garcian Smith for the most part, who will also be a playable character throughout the whole game. His weapon of choice is a silenced pistol, which is fairly accurate but does very little damage. The reason you are going to need Garcian (as well as the reason he is only accessible in the TV rooms) is that he is a cleaner, meaning that if one of your members has died, he can resurrect them by reaching their body and bringing it back to the checkpoint. In other words, if you are really good at this game, you may end up never voluntarily playing as Garcian.
Harman Smith is the other member who factors heavily into the storyline, and you will never play as him in a full-action situation. In fact, you never even get to kill a Smile as him, and he only appears at plot points. This is a bit of a shame, as it would have been nice to use his heavy and powerful sniper rifle to shoot down some smiles from long distance, but alas, that dream never becomes a reality. He is extremely slow, so it would have been annoying to play in lengthy levels as him anyways.
The other six are almost always available, aside from some plot points in levels where you must play as Garcian or Harman. They are selectable from the pause screen once you have awakened them, as some start out asleep in a level until you kill a certain number of enemies. These are your frontline killers, and it is best to get accustomed to them right away.
The character who seems to be the most prevalent of the six minor characters is Dan Smith, a businessman with a hell of a temper. With a powerful revolver, quick reloading times, average walking speed and good accuracy, he is a great character to get used to the game with and the most well-rounded of the group. His special ability, which allows him to pump up his bullets using vials of blood collected, is extremely useful against powerful Smiles. He is definitely the first one you should play as to get used to the game.
Kaede Smith is the only female of the group, and can take some work to get used to. Her weapon is a scoped pistol, making her invaluable for long distance or accuracy work, but her slow reloading times make her tough to use in a tight situation. Her special ability is without a doubt the weirdest, which has her slit her wrists to break specific barriers. She isn't meant for beginners to use in combat, but she is invaluable in later, more open-area levels when Smiles come from a long ways away.
Coyote Smith, while extremely cool, really isn't all that necessary from a gameplay perspective. This former petty thief seems to be basically a clone of Dan, except with higher firing speeds and lower power in his modified revolver. His ability to pick locks and jump really high comes in handy, but the game could have lived without them. While he is a great character from one perspective, from strictly gameplay, he is just too much like Dan to be very useful.
Con Smith is probably the most fun of the group. A blind kid with incredibly fast feet, Con carries two automatic pistols that fire at an incredible pace. His reload times are blindingly fast, and with a vial or two of blood, he'll speed in ways that will make Clark Kent jealous. Perhaps the only thing wrong with Con is that his other special ability is one of the stupidest parts of the game. Apparently, Con has the amazing ability to duck under low surfaces, making it seem the others are just too lazy to get down on their hands and knees. No matter to that, Con is the most insane character of the bunch.
Kevin Smith is an enigma, and not a particularly useful one either. It's easy to say that Kevin is the character I spent the least time playing as. The albino mute uses knives instead of guns to do his dirty work, throwing them in rapid succession (almost comparable to Con's rate of fire) and with no reload times. He also has the ability to turn invisible to sneak past security sensors. He's kinda neat, but he just doesn't become much more than a backup character throughout the game.
Mask de Smith is your tank in this game. Carrying dual grenade launchers, he can blast through just about any obstacle in the game, and with a huge health bar to boot, it is unlikely you will ever need Garcian to revive the Mask. The problem is that his reload time initially sucks (though it is upgraded later on) and he cannot score critical hits (more on that later), but if you are ever in a tight spot, Mask is the way to go.
Overall, the range of characters is pretty good. You will find yourself using Dan, Kaede and Con the most once you get used to the game, with Kevin and Coyote taking a backseat and Mask only popping up when useful. If you ever get bored of one character, switching between them at will is definitely a plus. All in all, great character selection, even if a couple are left out.
The array of characters doesn't end there. Along your journey, you will run into many ghosts of the Killer7's previous targets, whom will aide you along your way. The most prominent is Iwazru, the most unexplained and enigmatic character in the whole game. He is apparently Harman's servant, and will give you advice throughout the game. Travis is the other main ghost, the Killer7's first target who will appear to give you the occasional hint, but is mainly present to provide you with background information about the plot. There is also Yoon-Hun, an informant who will provide you with hints for puzzles as long as you provide him with thick blood, Susie, a disembodied head who will tell you stories of her growing insanity as well as give you certain helpful items, and a kid who will give you hints for bosses. There is another great touch to the ghosts as well, being that after a major character is killed, he or she will appear as a ghost to give you a farewell rant. The ghosts are truly bizarre, but pretty cool as well.
Now that the characters are out of the way, it's time to move on to how the game actually plays. The game is a rail shooter, mean that the analog stick has very little to do with movement. One button will have you run forward, another have you turn around, and the control stick will only be used to make turns at crosspaths. Surprisingly, this works extremely well, as it means you are rarely going to get lost and will never have any camera issues. The weird thing is that, despite the rail system, you still can explore a lot of area in the game, as there are numerous crosspaths to take that will give you different shortcuts, pathways or opportunities. The controls are responsive enough to let you turn on a dime, so you never feel constricted, even though by logical standards you have very little freedom. It is truly astonishing how normal the game feels despite the odd controls.
Even odder is the aiming system. The running takes place from a third person perspective, but in order to actually shoot enemies, you need to switch to a first person view. Enemies are invisible, and will reveal themselves with an evil laugh audible from third person view. When heard, it is necessary to switch to first person and scan the environment to make the enemies visible and shoot them down from there. A couple control issues pop up here, mainly that it can be tough to turn quickly in first person, and a 180 turn that could be used without switching back to normal view would have been appreciated. Other than that, the aiming system works great. It is also worth noting that you have an unlimited amount of shots, besides special attacks that require charging, so you will never have to go around looking for bullets.
The enemies themselves are not extremely difficult to take down, most of whom will go down in a few shots. In fact, it is not until the last stretch of the game that you start getting mobbed down by Smiles. When they are fast and numerous, it becomes imperative to hit them in their critical points, represented by a gold blob on their skin. Hitting this will result in gaining thick blood, which can be used to upgrade character stats, as well as thin blood used in special moves such as Dan's Collateral Shot. Shooting off limbs will also get you a small amount of blood, but simply gunning down the enemy with repeated shots to the body will earn you nothing. This adds another element to the action, as not only are you trying to take them down, you are trying to take them down as accurately as possible.
The problem with all this is that it can get a little repetitive. The same basic principle is applied to most enemies in the game, which is shooting for gold. Situations can often become repetitive as well, with few truly original sequences. Also, after playing for a while, the game becomes pretty easy to coast through. While it is fun to just pummel a Smile to death, it is extremely easy once you get the hang of it. Still, it manages to stay a lot of fun somehow, making it all worth it.
When you aren't killing Smiles, you'll be spending a lot of time running around solving some extremely odd puzzles. The map comes in very handy here, as it will point out the location of these puzzles and what special move or item you are going to need. They all basically have you use a ring acquired from Susie or the special ability of one of your characters to reach a destination. Some are more complicated, which are the ones that Yoon-Hun will often sell you a hint for. They still are fairly easy, and only get difficult when it becomes a memory game. The puzzles don't add much, but they do give you a lot more time running between areas to allow yourself to gun down more Smiles. They usually don't last long enough to become annoying, anyways.
What can get annoying about the puzzles (and moving around in general) is the load times, which aren't too good even on the GameCube (which gives you some idea of how the PS2 version fares). Every time you enter a room, the screen will convert to static while the next area loads. On the GameCube, the times can get up to ten seconds. While it may not seem long, keep in mind that you have to go through them every time you enter a new room. This is odd as there is already a decent load time at the beginning of the level. Why they needed to load every time is a bit of mystery, but it can make running around much more annoying.
At the end of most levels is a boss fight. Before you get there, however, you must get through the Gatekeeper, who will charge you items called Soul Shells (which are received after completing puzzles) as a toll. Then you will go through a small series of halls, with rave music playing in the background. These sequences do get repetitive, but they serve as great pump-ups before a boss. You also get a chance to fight an enemy that you will face in later levels, which is an interesting way to acquaint you with future challenges. It gets your adrenaline pumping, and now you are ready to beat the final boss.
That's when it crumples down a little, as most of the bosses just aren't that good. Only one is a traditional shoot-until-dead boss, with only three others keeping you in the normal controls. The latter mentioned three are pretty good, forcing you to hit specific weak points which prove to be somewhat challenging. The others are completely different, most of which pit you into a duel. These aren't nearly as fun, but they are usually tense, even though the last one is a complete joke. Odder still is the fact that there are no bosses in the last two levels, which is a big letdown. In all, the bosses are a disappointment on all fronts.
If you haven't guessed it by now, the style of the game definitely reflects the general insanity of everything else. Everything is cel-shaded, but don't be expecting anything kiddie in any way whatsoever, or even wacky like Capcom's previous hit Viewtiful Joe. Killer7 looks very gritty and serious despite the graphical style. The characters look incredible, and while they are not lifelike, they do seem to really be living. At times, the cinema scenes will be in full anime, mainly in two specific missions, and these offer a great change of pace. The style here truly adds something great to the game.
If it weren't for the cel-shading, then this would probably have to be the most gruesome game ever created. As it is, the slightly cartoony feel makes it seem much less terrible than it is, though seeing a man tortured by an assassin and seeing his family's dead bodies is still pretty messed up, as are two bosses who throw their brain matter at you. Every time a Smile is killed, they explode into droplets of blood, the same animation that you undergo when you change character, which is a very nice touch. It's all incredibly bloody, so if you don't think you can handle the heat, stay far away from the kitchen.
The character's sound quips are there to make sure you know that this is a very M-rated game. This has to be the most times I've heard the F-word used in a game, and it has never fit better. Just listening to their sayings after they score a critical hit makes it worth switching characters up, though it is disappointing that each character has only one saying (Kevin and Mask have none). Coyote's is easily the best (which is a simple but effective "You're f***ed"), but the others are still fun to listen to, as are their speeches on the TV in the selection screen. The voice acting in cinema scenes is also pretty strong, though extremely odd at times. Then there are the ghosts, who speak in mumbles that we understand via subtitles. This can get annoying after hearing Iwazru say "Master" for the millionth time, but it does a good job of drawing the line between reality and the insanity. All in all, the sound effects are superb.
The music is also incredible. You may not pay attention at first, but it does a great job of setting a scene. The most notable sequences are in the area past the gatekeeper, with the techno pump-up playing, though the rest is a great selection that never falls to using licensed song, instead utilizing a great original soundtrack. It is among the best I have heard this year.
The replay value is there, but isn't really as prominent as you may have hoped. Being able to replay missions through a select feature is nice, but they are fairly long and inconvenient to replay even individually. After beating the game once, you will unlock the special mode Killer8, which unlocks a new character in the form of a younger Harman Smith with a tommy gun, but it may not justify a replay, at least not right away. Regardless, it is a solid 15 to 20 hour game that you will likely want to experience again before too long (especially to try to comprehend the plot), so while a rental is recommended to sceptics of ideas, it is not overly expensive and worth a purchase for those truly intrigued.
In a world of copies, Killer7 is a rare breed. It's a game that defies all logical video game standards, creates something that most have never experienced and wraps it up with a style and plot just as insane as everything else. All of that adds up to make Killer7 one of the most original, innovative and truly bizarre games ever to come along, and for anyone looking for something new, you should not go another minute without this game.