After an unusually prolonged period of development, Killer 7 has finally made its way to stores. Announced back when Capcom was pledging to inject the Gamecube with some much-needed exclusive mature titles, the current situation has changed somewhat.
First of all, Capcom's games didn't stay exclusive for long. Viewtiful Joe and its excellent sequel are on the PS2, and Capcom's crown jewel, Resident Evil 4 is due to come out on Sony's system in October. However, the revocation of system exclusivity doesn't really hurt the game. In fact, if you're a Gamecube owner, you'll end up with the better-looking incarnation of this title, and you'll enjoy faster load times to boot.
Games like XIII with its cel-shaded graphics, and Doom 3 with its creepy, immersive environment have already covered adequately two of the more unique traits of Killer 7. Thus, Capcom's production crew decided to take the title in a different direction to distinguish itself from other first person shooters on the market.
This is not a first person shooter.
Nowadays, games for adults are under more scrutiny than ever before, thanks to a certain mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Similarly, Killer 7 is unapologetically filled with violence and sensuality. You'll certainly see far more of the former than of the latter, but this is not a game that was created to placate media watchdogs or meddling lawmakers.
It's almost as if the game was developed five years ago, sealed within a time capsule, and then resuscitated into a different world.
On the Earth of Killer 7, international warfare has entirely vanished. This isn't to imply that violence has decreased in any way; in fact, the Heaven Smile terrorist organization presents perhaps a larger threat to mankind than any war fought in our history. Not much is known about their motives, but their violence and savagery is topped only by their ability to inspire true terror in their victims.
Something about Heaven Smile seems almost supernatural, and the impotence of traditional law enforcement agencies against the group calls for drastic measures. The government reluctantly requests the aid of the mysterious team of assassins known only as Killer 7 -- a team that is even more threatening to some than Heaven Smile.
Early on, players learn that Killer 7 is not actually a team of disparate members, but merely the distinct physical incarnations of one man's multiple personalities. Not much is known about their master, the elderly, wheelchair-bound brains behind the team. As with everything in this story, there's an interesting history to be revealed here. The plot is laden with twists and duplicity, sorrow and catharsis, and of course, a healthy dose of bloody action. In Killer 7, the plot is reason enough to play the game.
That isn't to say that the graphics are not good; on the contrary, they're excellent. Cel-shading has been done before, but instead of the whimsically colorful, beat-driven animation of Jet Set Radio, the visuals of Killer 7 can only be described as game noir. It would not be going too far to say that this is the Sin City of the videogame world. The style is unusual, but once immersed in the graphics, it's hard to complain about them in any way.
Character animation is particularly impressive, with the personality of each member clearly shining through their on-screen avatar. Kaede Smith -- the only female member of Killer 7 -- is a skilled sharpshooter who stealthily pads about on bare feet. It's amazing how much of an impression of Kaede is created simply by the way she moves in her tight bloodstained dress. From the self-assured cockiness of Dan Smith, to the proud movements of Mask de Smith (a Mexican pro wrestler), or the unsettling criminal motions of Coyote Smith, each character is animated with fluidity normally reserved for the most detailed fighting games. This is not typical of a shooter or action-adventure title.
Sound is also top-notch. As with most modern games, there is rarely a constant background music playing. The music that can be found in Killer 7 is worthy of a soundtrack (although it's mostly techno), and it only shows up when it's appropriate for the setting or when it's needed to emphasize a particular dramatic scene.
Voiceovers are presented in whatever language that is appropriate for each character. Sometimes, this is English or Japanese. Other times, it's an odd form of English that's almost entirely nonsense. This alternate English is tossed in to make the game even more disturbing, and it works well towards that end. Surprisingly, all of the voice acting is executed extremely well. After having to shelve the American version of Final Fantasy X thanks to the goofy English voices, I can appreciate good in-game voice recording.
Sound effects are extremely important in the game. Since the Heaven Smiles are invisible until you scan an area for them, this is the only way that you'll be able to take them out before they blow you up. This is not a game that you can easily play with the sound off, so either invest in some comfy headphones or only play it when you aren't going to bother others with the noise.
The strength of the title's storyline, graphics and sound is fortunate for Killer 7, as there's a good chance that many people would otherwise turn it off, instead of getting used to the unusual gameplay mechanics.
It's not a hard game on the easier difficulty setting, and the puzzles are tricky, but no more so than what would be expected in any of the Resident Evil titles. However, it has an unusual control scheme that makes it more of an adventure on rails than the first person shooter that it looks like in still images. Players can either walk forward by pressing A, or turn around by pressing B. The Z button is used to look in the opposite direction of movement, while the R button triggers a shift in the game's perspective into a first person view. All of the fighting takes place from this first person viewpoint. When a fork appears in the pathway, the analog stick is used to select a path.
While the restraint imposed upon players by the game can be annoying at times (it certainly takes some time getting used to), it adds to the cinematic quality of the title greatly. Each scene looks exactly as the game's designers want it to look, and thus every scenario is very stylish.
Ultimately, Killer 7 is a game that is meant for adults, but not because of the violence or the sexual imagery. Instead, it's the complex plot, sophisticated voice acting, and just plain disturbing ambience of the game that makes it something that only mature gamers will be able to fully appreciate. The controls are not tailored for jump-in-and-play fun, but instead, they are geared only towards those who feel that the story is worth adapting to the methods used to navigate it.
I'd wager that most people will feel as if this is a title very much worth playing. Those that don't won't necessarily hate it; they'll just ignore it altogether. Sin City might have been too successful to serve as an appropriate analogy for this game. Instead, I suspect Killer 7 will end up like Dark City. Dark City was an imaginative sci-fi noir film starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland and Jennifer Connelly. It was uniquely disturbing, intellectually appealing, but financially unsuccessful in theatres.
Just like Dark City, Killer 7 will earn the respect of those who are mature enough (or perhaps weird enough) to appreciate it. It's essentially an art-house game. If you'd like to experience a non-traditional game, and you're a fan of horror and mystery, then perhaps Killer 7 would be good for you. Otherwise, I hear Madden '06 is selling very well this year; maybe you should just stick with something safe.