Review: Killer7 (PS2)
Release Date: 7/7/05
Let me begin by asking you a question. Do you think that video games are a form of art?
I’m willing to bet that many of you who consider yourselves gamers would say that yes, games are a form of art. And why shouldn’t they be? There is so much creativity that goes into creating a game: developing the story, conceptual sketches, graphics rendering, music composition, and level design. Each of these, in and of themselves, is a form of art. Therefore it makes sense that a video game should be considered art due to the sum of its parts.
Of course, there are many people who do not consider games to be art. A medium for expression, yes, but not actual art. They consider it to be just a form of entertainment to be taken at the same value as the Skee-Ball arcades in various theme parks. To that I say, if music and movies and books, all of which are for entertainment, can be considered art, then why not video games which contain so many aspects of those mediums?
So what does that have to do with Killer7? Well, if you ever had any doubts in your mind that a video game could be art, then this game should surely erase those. With its stylized cell shaded graphics, bizarre storyline, and mix of action and puzzle solving, you can tell that this game has been a labor of love for the developers.
However, as with any art form, there will be those who appreciate it for what it is, and those who consider it just another piece of tripe. And Killer7 is one game where the lines between art and trash really begin to blur.
Ok, here’s the story in a nutshell… you play as Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound assassin who also happens to have seven different distinct personalities – Dan, Kevin, Coyote, Mask, Kaede, Con, and Garcian. The really strange thing is that each personality also happens to have its own body, with its own appearance, attitude, weapons, and special abilities. Along with his multiple personalities, Harman’s mission is to track down and assassinate the crime boss Kun Lan, who is responsible for releasing a particularly nasty group of pseudo-invisible creatures called Heaven Smile.
Or at least I think that is what the main story is. To say that the game is confusing is an understatement. Within the first fifteen minutes of playing you’ll start to feel like someone slipped you a dose of acid. Keep playing for another few hours, and if you can manage to make heads or tails of what is going on, you will have been in much better shape than I was.
Adding to the craziness level is a strange subplot involving a conflict between the U.S. and Japan and a strange child smuggling ring, your mysterious helpers from the dead, a TV set for switching personalities, talking heads, and various other oddities. I’ve got to say… whoever it was that came up with the idea for this game was clearly on some good shit.
Unfortunately everything is thrown together into a convoluted mess, and an otherwise intriguing story suffers because of this. And by the end of the game there are a ton of loose ends, unanswered questions, and bizarre revelations. Original, yes. But does it make sense? Sadly, no.
Story Rating: 4/10
And here is where the “video games as art” intro really comes into play. Killer7 looks and feels like it stepped out of the pages of an underground comic book. It’s dark, gritty, and incredibly stylized using cel shading for everything.
Because of this, it is very hard for me to give the graphics a solid rating. On the one hand, the textures and poly counts are well below what this generation of systems is capable of handling. For that matter, we could have probably seen this on the PSX. On the other hand, it’s supposed to be that way. The designers wanted lots of straight edges, jagged shadows, and pixilated effects. And to this end, the designers achieved their goal admirably.
So how should I score?
It comes back to art being relative. My favorite painting is Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, and while I absolutely love it, you might find it to be bland and boring, perhaps preferring something more abstract, like Malevich’s “The Aviator”. I can tell you now, I love Killer7’s visual style. If I had to rate it based purely on my appreciation of it, then I could easily give it an 8 or 9.
On the other hand, speaking from a technical standpoint, the graphics are well below standard. And even though they sport low poly counts and very simple textures, moments of slowdown and lagging are incredibly common. Early in the game you stumble across a library, at which point I could barely move in the first person perspective. Frame rate literally slowed down to about ten frames per second, give or take a few. And that, quite frankly, is unacceptable, especially in a shooter style game such as this where speed and accuracy can mean the difference between life and death. Loading times are also incredibly long, all things considered, and I have no idea why I should have to wait twenty seconds between areas when a game like God of War can look awesome and barely have any loading time at all on the PS2.
In the end, the graphics are just okay. Visually stunning, yet technically bland, with way too much slow down and overly long loading times.
Graphics Rating: 5/10
The sound in Killer7 is a mixed bag at best. It sports an awesome sound track, but really drops a few points in the sound effects and voice department.
The music is easily one of the best parts of the game. It tends to change with each area you enter and there is a ton of variation in what you will hear. Everything from blaring techno beats when fighting boss characters to softer, almost haunting, melodies when sneaking around in the shadows. Combine this with the games striking graphic style, and you really do have a piece of art on your hands.
Unfortunately the remainder of the games sound is borderline terrible. Sound effects from using the various weapons are adequate, but lack any real variety. Each character may have a different weapon, but most of them sound the same, with the exception of Mask Smith’s grenade launchers and Kevin Smith’s knives. The Heaven Smile enemies you encounter tend to make strange laughing noises that are really creepy at first, but later become more annoying than anything with little variation.
The voice work for the main characters is actually pretty good. Each version of Smith has its own voice actor (except Kevin who doesn’t talk), and they each have their own accents and style of talking. Various other major characters don’t sound quite as good, but they are adequate at the least. Unfortunately the good voiceovers end there. For that matter, all the voiceovers end there. Any supporting character you run into, including the mysterious back-from-the-dead Travis, and strange helper Iwazaru, have “voices” that are akin to the teacher in Charlie Brown. Only much, much worse. It’s basically a mixture of garbles and grunts pushed through a synthesizer. And it is way too common for my liking. I suppose you could call it part of the games style again, but in the end it’s downright annoying.
Overall you’ll probably enjoy the sound track, but the remainder of the sounds in the game are pretty disappointing.
Sound Rating: 3/10
4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
Killer7 plays a lot like a rail shooter. Only not…
Controls are fairly simple, if a bit frustrating at times. Because you are locked on a single path, you use up on the control pad to move forward, and down to turn around… at which point you need to push up again or else you’ll just end up doing 360s. When you encounter a fork in your path, you’re given the option of which way to go, and then you continue along the rail. While moving you will see your character from a 3rd person perspective. However, in order to shoot an enemy, you need to hold down the R1 trigger which puts you in a first person mode. At that point you use the X button to fire and the left analog stick to aim.
Because of the way combat is set up you can’t really dodge. The best you can do is use the triangle button to lock onto a target and fire away until it dies. If it happens to run into you, it explodes and you take a hefty portion of damage. But before I forget, remember how I mentioned that the Heaven Smile enemies were basically invisible? While holding down R1 you can use the L1 trigger to scan the area. This will allow you to actually see them, and their glowing gold weak spots. A single charged shot to this area is enough to take down most enemies you run into. And remember the laughing I mentioned earlier? That’s how you know an enemy is nearby. As soon as you hear laughing, pop into first person mode, hit scan, and start popping caps.
Death is handled in an interesting fashion, as when a character dies you proceed to take control of Garcian, the cleaner of the group. Running back to the area where you died allows you to collect your severed head, which is conveniently left in a brown paper bag. However, if you die as Garcian, the game is over.
The remaining portion of the game involves collecting blood from the Heaven Gate creatures and solving various puzzles. Blood collecting allows you to upgrade each of the Smith’s special skills and abilities, making them more deadly in combat. Puzzle solving ranges from item collection to picking locks to other odd tasks. However, the puzzles in this game are far from difficult. The first one you run into involves lighting a series of candles in a particular order once you have found a fire ring. Each of these candles also happen to be numbered one through five. Now take a guess at which order you are supposed to light them in. Yeah, it really is that simple.
And the difficulty of the puzzles doesn’t really increase from there. For that matter, the game is so good at giving you hints and tips that you can barely even call them puzzles. They become basic tasks that need to be completed in order to progress through the various levels.
And that’s honestly it. Run around on a rail, shoot baddies when you hear laughter, and complete various tasks. It tends to get pretty monotonous after a while. And with the odd control scheme, it also tends to get a little frustrating at times.
Control and Gameplay Score: 3/10
The game has a few unlockables, but otherwise very little replay value.
Beating the game on either Normal or Hard mode unlocks an extra mode called Killer8. This basically acts as a Very Hard difficulty mode, and allows you to play as a young Harman Smith who wields an old style Tommy gun. Very Hard mode is identical to the other two modes, except weak spots are no longer visible on the Heaven Smiles and the amount of blood you can collect is reduced. You also get no hints or directions.
If you manage to complete Killer8 mode, you’ll unlock Hopper7. Hopper7 is a single level of Easy mode where all the Heaven Smiles look like people wearing giant plastic grasshopper heads. Kill them, and watch the fountains of green blood go spurting across the screen.
Seriously. I’m not making this shit up.
Other than the extra modes, there is very little reason to come back to the game. No other unlockables that I could find or bonus material. And honestly the additional modes aren’t all that fun… they just happen to offer a little more challenge if the earlier difficulties were too easy for you.
Replayability Score: 4/10
If it wasn’t for the quirky control scheme and periodic slowdown, this game would be cake. Enemies are mostly mindless automatons that slowly lurch at you and have little variety, and puzzles are so incredibly simple that they just become another thing to do as opposed to something that makes you think. The only thing making this game hard is how well you can aim your weapons.
Translation: If you play a lot of first person shooters, this is going to be a breeze.
However, Killer7 does do a decent job of increasing the difficulty as you move through each level. This mostly involves increasing the number of enemies that you need to shoot, or having them move a little faster. But when you start upgrading your characters these tougher enemies become just more cannon fodder, with only the bosses offering any real challenge.
Balance Score: 2/10
I have to give the developers some credit here. The game is definitely unique. It’s just a pity that the story is so convoluted and the gameplay and controls are so poor and repetitive.
The blend of rail shooter with puzzle solving is an interesting combination that could have succeeded marvelously if a little more attention and detail had been paid to it. And it’s obvious that the developers were going for a particular feel and style, which they certainly accomplished with the graphics and music.
Unfortunately the various elements that inhabit the game have all been done before, and done much better. I can name a dozen better shooters and several more adventure/puzzle games. But still, none of them are quite like Killer7.
Originality Score: 7/10
Killer7 is definitely one of those games that you are either going to love or hate. As such, you will either become immediately enthralled with it and want to see where the story takes you, or you will get disgusted and throw your controller at your television.
Honestly, after my first two hours with the game, I was in the later category. Although on repeat playing I was able to begin to appreciate the game a little bit more for what is was. However, that still didn’t make me want to play it more, and if I didn’t need to review it, chances are I wouldn’t have come back to it more then two or three times.
Of course, mileage may vary.
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Capcom has been working on this game for over four years now, letting out little bits of information slip at a time. We even previewed Killer7 back in October 2004. So there has been a certain amount of anticipation going into this game.
Combine that with its striking visual appearance and obviously mature gameplay, and quite a few people are going to be interested in giving this one a shot. Fans of first person shooters should find some enjoyment here, as will those looking for a different take on the genre. Adventure and puzzle solving gamers will probably be intrigued at first too, but I think they will walk away disappointed with the ease of problem solving.
Appeal Factor Score: 7/10
Well, the game is definitely art. It’s visually stunning and literally feels like you are playing through a comic book with a great accompanying soundtrack. Unfortunately the developers decided to focus so much on the aesthetic properties of the game that they lost sight of the control and gameplay. What results is convoluted mess with moments of sheer brilliance tossed in.
It would have really been interesting to see some extras on the making of this game, and I would love to hear where the ideas and concepts came from. A little clarification on the main storyline would be handy as well, as many questions are left completely unanswered. I don’t know if they are setting this up for a sequel, but I suppose anything is possible. I just hope that if they decide to take that route, they take the time to flesh out and enhance the gameplay. And for the love of all that is holy, get rid of the annoying noise that makes up the majority of the “voiceovers”.
Sadly, in the end, all the promise and potential that the game had was left in the dust, and what is left is a below average shooter with incredibly simple puzzle solving. As unique and original as the game may be, it just can’t quite fight its way to being a truly good game.
Miscellaneous Score: 3/10
Appeal Factor: 7
Final Score: 4.0 (Poor)