Gamestyle Archive Intro: Gareth takes us back over this Gamecube classic from Capcom, which is already in the archive with the GC version. This review dates from July 2005, over 10 years ago – how times flies!
Not so long ago, Capcom announced five games that they said would bring back gaming innovation to the industry. First up was the rhythm-action styled shooter PN.03, and then came the sublime slice of description-defying slow-motion brilliance that was Viewtiful Joe. These two gems were followed by, what many people feel to be, the best game of the generation – Resident Evil 4. Somewhere along the way ‘Phoenix’ sadly bit the dust, and now after months of rumours and smoke and mirror shows we have the last instalment… killer7.
killer7 is set in the year 2003. A terrorist group know as the Heaven Smiles are causing death and destruction across the globe using strange demonic laughing bombs. The only solution to combat them is Harman Smith and his seven highly skilled assassin personalities. It is fair to say that the plot starts out obscure and confusing, gradually feeding you information about both the killer7 group and the treachery that is going on in the governments of the world. It is only during later sections of the game that things begin to tie up a little more coherently.
The first thing that strikes you about killer7 is the game’s neo-noir tinged anime style; truly there has never been a title presented with such gloriously detached visuals. To begin with it can be hard to feel part of the playing experience as the game keeps you at arm’s length with the obscure visuals, meaning many gamers will see nothing to relate the on screen experience to. After a while the killer7 ethos begins to wind its way into the subconscious, and once you have become accustomed to it, you realise there is actually an interesting game underneath it all. Separating the visual aspect of the game from the gameplay is impossible. Capcom’s title turns what we perceive a game to be on its head.
killer7 is as much about what you are taking in visually and sonically as it is about what you are doing. Controls are simple: press one button to move forward along a pre-determined path and another to turn 180 degrees. That’s essentially it. At junctions you can choose which route to take by moving the analogue stick (something that can be awkward). Combat involves holding R1 to move into a first person perspective then pressing L1 to scan for enemies; once discovered, they can be shot at. It works like an on-rails light gun game, but with a controller, and after a while will become second nature to you.
More so than most titles, killer7 is a game you have to become accustomed to – mainly due to it being rather obscure. It requires players to re-evaluate how they use their gaming skills and many may become frustrated early on. Really you need to make it through the first mission before you will know if you like the game or not, and for a lot of people that may require too much effort. Once the first mission is out the way you should find that thinking in the ‘killer7 way’ is as instinctive as double jumping or duel wielding. Helping players along is a very useful (if spoiling) map that shows the location of objects, save rooms and where each member of the killer7 will be needed to use their unique abilities in order to proceed. It does take some of the adventure aspect away from the title, having everything pretty much laid out for you, but there is so much for your overwhelmed senses to take in that most will be glad of it.
Each level varies nicely in terms of location and enemy type so there is always something new to see and explore. Your personalities can also be levelled up with the blood taken from fallen Heaven Smiles, giving them new skills along with the usual health and power upgrades. Couple this with the excellent cut scenes that appear during and between levels and you may find you just have to know what happens next. The further you go into the stylish-yet-twisted world, the more interesting it gets and the more accustomed to it you become. It is fair to say that killer7 has probably turned out pretty much exactly how the developers wanted it to. There are definitely no broken controls or gaping flaws outside of the player’s inability to gel with the subject matter or not being able to adapt their skills to it. It is hard to imagine any way the game could be changed to make it better; there simply has never been anything like this before. It is testament to the development team that it actually works when, for long periods of time, no one could quite work out how on earth there was going to be any actual ‘game’ in there.
With the PS2 version come a few technical problems however. The console shows its age at an ever increasing rate these days, so it was always going to struggle with a title initially designed for the Gamecube. The visuals have not really suffered at all but, no doubt as a result of this, there are long loading times. This would not be so bad but every new room or section you enter triggers a four second (at least) loading screen. As you will need to move back and forth a lot to change personalities and use objects this can become annoying. The PS2 version also suffers from bouts of slowdown during combat; this is both very noticeable and highly off-putting. Luckily it only seems to occur after a shot has been fired so at least it will not trouble your aiming when you are under pressure. The best thing we can say about it is that you get used to it and it does not detract from the experience too much.
Overall, Capcom has delivered another unique title that makes us think about gaming in a different way. No doubt hardly anyone will buy it (much like the other members of the ‘big five’) but that is their loss. killer7 represents an original and highly risky concept that could have gone horribly wrong; but due to the skill of the development team we have a highly innovative and visually visceral title that pushes both our senses and the boundaries of what we consider a game to be. We can only hope Capcom keep making such wonderfully unique titles long into the future. There is no denying that it takes some getting used to, but give killer7 a chance and you just may grow to love it. Chances are though, with reduced loadings times and no slow down you may love the Gamecube version more.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10