Killer 7 Feature Preview

We get an exclusive hands-on look at Capcom's most unique GameCube game ever.

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Killer 7 has been the center of much attention since it was first announced nearly three years ago as one of the Capcom five, a quintet of unique titles slated to hit Nintendo's then-fledgling platform. The ensuing years have seen some of the games released to much acclaim, like Resident Evil 4 and Viewtiful Joe, or to indifference, like P.N.03, while others have been cancelled, like God Hand. But of this group, Killer 7 was the biggest mystery. While the other titles were, for the most part, easy to categorize into existing genres, no one knew what to make of Killer 7. The impressive visuals conveyed a wicked sense of style, and the involvement of Capcom wunderkinder Hiroyuki Kobayashi and Shinji Mikami and director Goichi Suda certainly presented the promise of something special for the 'Cube. However, it wasn't until last year that details on the game's blend of third-person action and first-person shooting were finally revealed. Since that time we've gotten more information on the twisted story and we've seen it in action, but we haven't had the opportunity to play it until now. After spending some quality time with the game and exploring the first few chapters of the deeply atmospheric adventure, we've come away intrigued, mystified, and surprisingly satisfied by the downright trippy experience offered by Killer 7.

The multiple Smith personalities are about as varied and deadly as they come.
The multiple Smith personalities are about as varied and deadly as they come.

Killer 7 tells the tale of Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound assassin who is basically an army of one thanks to his unique brand of multiple personality disorder. Unlike average folks with MPD, the voices in Harman's head come with bodies and highly useful skill sets that lend themselves to his line of work. Team Smith is tapped by the government when a global peace effort is derailed by a terrorist attack on the UN by the mysterious Heaven's Smile, a new terrorist force led by the evil Kun Lan, a former rival of Harman's from back in the day. While this sounds like an episode of the TV show 24, except for the multiple personality bit, the adventure is anything but straightforward. It seems that Harman killed Kun Lan 30 years ago, but, as evidenced by Kun's return, there's more to the villain than meets the eye. Besides looking pretty great for someone who was supposedly dead for 30 years, Kun has come back packing a wicked power: the "God Hand." Besides sounding cool, the supernatural power makes him a terrorist-production factory of epic proportions. Anyone unlucky enough to be touched by Kun's God Hand loses their mind and runs amok. As if this weren't bad enough, the newly crazy are essentially walking time bombs that blow up around people. Oh and they can cloak themselves, effectively becoming invisible. Good times, eh?

Despite these daunting odds, Harman and company are charged with plowing through the hordes of Heaven's Smile and stopping Kun Lan from sending the world into anarchic chaos. While it's true Kun Lan and explosive minions are a formidable menace, Harman is hardly a pushover, despite whatever preconceived notions an elderly man in a wheelchair may call up. In fact, Harman has a surprisingly robust support system for his adventure. Besides his seven personalities, who we'll get to in just a second, Harman will be aided by a surprisingly useful assortment of non-player characters that include real people--a few more than he has rolling around in his head--and friendly ghosts.

Garcian Smith is the only alternate personality able to communicate with Harman.
Garcian Smith is the only alternate personality able to communicate with Harman.

As helpful as the game's supporting cast is, your biggest allies will be the Killer 7 of the game's title, which refers to Harman's varied personalities. The seven personas are a diverse bunch that represents a varied sampling of race and gender. Although Harman is the main man in the game, he can't actually mingle with all his crew. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of Garcian Smith, an African-American man who is the only member of the seven who can communicate with Harman. Garcian serves as a de facto leader of the personalities and takes on a few duties. Besides setting up gigs for the crew, he's also the only personality who can revive the others if they fall in battle. Although he packs a solid enough pistol, which is an efficient silencer, he's best kept out of the line of fire, if only to ensure you'll be able to keep from losing the team on a mission.

The Ultimate Tag Team

Dan Smith is a more action-oriented assassin than Garcian, supplementing his powerful revolver with "demon shells," regular bullets he imbues with power that do a hefty amount of damage. Kaede Smith is a scantily clad young lady who packs an automatic with a scope. Her special ability relies on her own blood, which she uses to solve puzzles and break barriers. Con Smith is a young, blind hoodlum who wields dual pistols. Con's lack of sight has afforded him stellar hearing, which lets him find hidden areas as you explore. His small size also lets him get into areas where the other personalities can't go. Coyote Smith is a thief who wields a modified revolver and possesses several useful special abilities. He'll be able to pick any lock he comes across, perform superhuman leaps, and unleash powered-up shots from his gun that cause serious damage. Kevin Smith (no, not that one) is a sunglass-wearing, knife-wielding killer. His cool pair of shades is more than just for show though, because when he takes them off he becomes invisible and intangible, making him the go-to guy for missions that require stealth. Last but not least is Mask de Smith, a mask-wearing killer with a decidedly Mexican-wrestler flair. Although he may look laughable, the dual grenade launchers he wields aren't to be mocked. The ranged damage caused by the weapons is excellent for crowd control. Better still, the muy macho brawler is the most physically resilient member of the crew and can take more than his fair share of punishment. Mask de Smith's special ability, a nod to his wrestling ties, lets him bust through obstacles in spectacular fashion.

Puzzles and stealth tactics will be the least of your worries during many missions.
Puzzles and stealth tactics will be the least of your worries during many missions.

Although such a large cast may make you think that managing them in the game will be an unwieldy experience, it's not actually the case. Killer 7 makes use of a solid mission-based chapter system that's pretty straightforward. You'll be given a goal or goals at the start of each mission, such as killing a set target, clearing out a set number of enemies, or retrieving an item, and be sent on your way. You'll start out with a default member of the seven, but you can switch to any of the available members of the team on the fly as needed. The levels will provide all manner of challenges, ranging from hordes of enemies that need putting down to more cerebral trials that require you to suss out puzzles in order to progress.

While all this sounds well and good there is one hitch to the experience that may be a sticking point for some players. At first blush, Killer 7 will likely appear to be some kind of rail-shooting, action hybrid that's plain simple. However, if you spend some time playing through its dark, unsettling chapters, you'll find that the experience isn't as shallow as you'd expect. Mind you, we're not saying it's the deepest thing you'll ever play, but if you hang tough through the deliberately paced early areas there's a good amount of appeal to uncover. While it's true you'll be going through the game on rails--you'll simply have to hold down the A button to move forward and press B to turn 180 degrees--there's still a good amount to do. Your path through the locales will feature branches you can select when you're at junctions by pressing the analog stick in the direction of your choice. You'll use the X button to open up a map that will let you orient yourself and provide clues to some of the challenges that await you. These rail sequences will form the core of your exploration in the game as you look for new paths and items you'll need to use to clear obstacles or solve puzzles. Your journey won't be easy though, as the hordes of Heaven's Smile are lurking in every corner.

The first-person combat mode lets you lock on to enemies if you're a lousy shot.
The first-person combat mode lets you lock on to enemies if you're a lousy shot.

Your foes are basically invisible, and, like many unhinged psychos, they enjoy a good laugh as much as the next guy, so you'll often be clued in to trouble by the sound of their eerie cackling. When that happens, you'll have to stop and press the right trigger, which initiates the combat mode. Your view will change to first person, with your targeting reticule being controlled by the analog stick. You'll have several context-sensitive options when in battle, depending on your proximity to your foe. When your enemy is a good ways away from you, you'll simply target and fire at him. If you're a lousy aim, you can quickly hit the B button and lock on to a target (using the D pad to cycle in between multiple enemies if needed). Once you've settled on an enemy, you'll simply use the A button to fire your weapon or attack, depending on what you're using. If you're using a gun, the C stick will let you reload on the fly, or you can wait for it to happen automatically. You'll use the Y button to use a particular character's special skill or adjust the level of his charge shot. If, as is sometimes the case, you aren't able to take out every foe before they're on you, the X button will let you perform a counterattack. The catch is that you'd better hope you've whittled down your enemies' health to the point where the counterattack will kill them, as your foes don't spend too much time on melee since they enjoy exploding.

Blood Banking

As you take out the hordes of foes over the course of your mission, you'll collect their blood (why not, right?), which you can use in a variety of ways. Over the course of your adventure you'll come across rest stops in the form of Harman's Room, a hub area where you can save your game, interact with some NPCs, perform some character maintenance, and make use of the blood you've been collecting. Blood in Killer 7 will come in two main varieties: thin and thick. Thin blood will be stored in a slim test tube that you'll see in the pause menu. You'll use it to restore your character's health or to use their special abilities. Thick blood needs to be made into serum when in Harman's room. You'll use the serum to increase four attributes for each character: power, speed, waver, and criticals. Power affects how much damage attacks do; speed affects how quickly your weapon fires; waver affects aiming and shot accuracy; while criticals affect how often you'll get critical hits or one-shot kills in. Besides those core stats, Kevin and Mask will each have one unique stat to increase. Invisibility will affect how long Kevin can stay invisible while range affects the blast radius of Mask's weapons.

When he loses the shades, Kevin becomes invisible.
When he loses the shades, Kevin becomes invisible.

Although none of the above offers the depth of an RPG or action game such as God of War, it keeps Killer 7 interesting enough to where you probably won't be bothered by the rail aspect of it. There's a good amount of strategy and puzzle-solving to be done as you manage the team during a mission. At the same time, the thick blood-serum upgrades let you customize the personalities to your liking, although you probably won't want to put all your serum in one basket, given that you'll need every member of the team at some point on your adventure.

The visuals in Killer 7 are one of the game's most striking features, thanks to a stylish art direction. We really can't go on enough about how much the slick visuals do for the experience in the game. The shaded look of the characters and environments, coupled with the various special effects used to complement them, are all artistically outstanding. We also appreciate how functional the visuals are in certain situations. For example, when you're in Harman's room you'll be able to access a TV that serves as your party management and blood interface. Each character will have its own channel while the blood channel will let you create serums. You'll even have a measure of interactivity when flipping channels. For example, when Garcian has retrieved one of the members of the team after he's fallen, you'll have to mash the A button to restore him to life via a bit of virtual CPR. The visuals all possess a very impressive sheen that's obviously been honed as the game has come together. The cinematics that move the story along are a stylish collection of disparate art styles and narrative techniques that call to mind the spirit of the Animatrix DVD (in a good way, mind you). You won't always know what the hell is going on, but you'll have to appreciate the enthusiasm and downright disturbing imagery flung out there. We confidently say that no one has done or will likely ever do the bizarre things Killer 7 does in its cinematics on the GameCube.

Killer 7's cinematics can be a little confusing, but there's no denying their collective sense of style.
Killer 7's cinematics can be a little confusing, but there's no denying their collective sense of style.

The audio in Killer 7 provides a strong complement to the visuals with a moody collection of sound and music. The voice in the game is sounding better than the last time we heard it, and it is stronger than the average offering from Capcom. We're especially taken with some of the choices made for the stylized voice of some of the NPCs who assist you, namely a Voldo from Soul Calibur-like gent named Iwazaru, who speaks in unintelligible gibberish that's equal parts robot and nails on a blackboard. The voices for the rest of the cast work well, with each personality having a distinct and sometimes a profanity-laden charm. The creepy laughter from the Heaven's Smile crew is suitably eerie, as are their death cries. The various weapon fire you'll hear in the game is satisfying, as are the explosions from the Heaven's Smile crew. The music is a quirky mix of tunes that range from standard action fare to more experimental tracks to effective silence.

Based on what we played, Killer 7 is something of an enigma. On paper the gameplay sounds rather bland and uninteresting. After all, how long could a rail shooter hold your attention? However, once you factor in the multiple personalities, bizarre story, unique gameplay, and stylish visuals, the game ends up possessing a surprising amount of appeal. Though the game will not likely be for everyone, as evidenced by its M rating, it's certainly looking like one that's worth some of your time. At a time when the GameCube offerings are thinning out, we're pleased to see a meaty two-disc adventure coming out for it, especially one that's not afraid to take some chances. Killer 7 is currently slated to ship this June for the GameCube and PlayStation 2.

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