15th Jun 2005 | 15:54
There's a pretty simple way to explain why Killer 7 is one of the weirdest games we've ever played. There are plenty of extremely complicated ways to explain it, too, ways that would frazzle your synapses and twist your melon. But we'll start with the simple explanation.
Although Killer 7 is essentially a third-person action game, you don't use the analogue stick to move your character around the screen. You hold down an action button and your character moves along automatically, on rails. When you reach a junction huge navigation shards slice into the screen, offering you a choice of directions. You pop the analogue stick in the direction you want and you're off again.
Sounds a bit weird, doesn't it? And let's be honest, it sounds a bit rubbish. But it's actually not. One of the strangest things about this exceedingly strange game is that after only a few minutes of play it all starts to make sense. And that's when you start to get worried...
Originally planned as one of Capcom's heavily-hyped GameCube 'exclusives' (Viewtiful Joe and Resident Evil 4 were also in the line-up), Killer 7 is now set for PS2 and Cube, and is actually more notable as being the next game from Resident Evil 4 producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi. In many ways it's a similar proposition - survival horror, restricted camera angles, static shooting gallery-style combat - and in many ways it's very, very different.
Let's start by listing some of the truly mental things we saw in our preview playtest. A ghost in a gimp costume who gives you advice. Another ghost who also gives you advice who wears T-shirts with slogans like 'Sexual' and 'Mad Chester'. A talking decapitated head in a washing machine. A nightclub lobby that offers access to the end of level boss. A trailer trash blonde who beats up her handicapped employer. And when your character dies you end up in a quivering, bloody doggy bag. Pretty mental.
The visual style doesn't help either, although it certainly doesn't hurt Killer 7's unhinged appearance. A slick and stylish mixture of manga-inspired drawing and cel-shading, the visuals are truly original and pretty damn impressive. The thing is, they look pretty rubbish in screenshots, but once you're immersed in the viciously blocky world of the game you'll love them.
Multiple Personality Disorder
And then there's the premise. You play Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound assassin with seven other personalities jostling for position in his head. Therefore, you actually play eight characters in total, and you can switch between them at any time.
Harman is confined to his wheelchair, but wields a ruddy great anti-tank rifle. Garcian is the leader of the other personalities, and is the only character that can bring dead personalities back to life. Kaede Smith is a self-harming vixen with a Desert Eagle. Con Smith is an ultra-fast blind lad with twin pistols. Coyote Smith is an agile thief and lockpick. Mask de Smith is an ex-wrestler with grenade launchers. Kevin Smith is a knife expert, and Dan Smith is a wise-cracking, Magnum-wielding mentalist.
While the list of characters is complex, combat is very simple. As you travel around the levels you'll hear a terrifying cackle. That signals that a Heaven's Smile is about to attack. See, a bio-terrorist called Kun Lan has unleashed a virus that turns people into smiling zombie timebombs that will run at you and explode in your face. Oh, and they're invisible. The only way to stop them is to stand still, scan the area with the shoulder button, and shoot them before they get too close.
The viewpoint shifts to first-person when you do this, changing the game into a Resi 4-style shoot 'em up. Plugging the Heaven's Smiles will slow them down and eventually kill them, or hitting their weakspot will instantly explode them into a shower of blood that you can then capture and use to upgrade your characters' skills.
Like we said, it's a very simple system - and we worry that it might be too simple. Once you're in first-person mode the action is little more than a point-and-click shooting gallery. The saving grace may be the fact that Killer 7 is always chucking new enemies, new shooting challenges, and new bosses at you. Time will tell if the finished game does that enough to keep things consistently fresh.
The range of characters adds both a nice bit of variety to the action and an effective puzzle mechanic, since each character not only feels significantly different but also packs a special ability. For instance, Con is ultra fast, reloads quickly and has super-effective hearing; Kaede can open magical portals by self-harming and spraying her blood around; and can blast through damaged walls with his grenade launcher, but suffers from long reloading delays.
Puzzles vary from simple little side quests that can only be completed with the appropriate character to the type of logic tasks that the Resident Evil series is so famous for - ranging from the ridiculously easy to the brain-mushingly intense. One early puzzle had us setting off a sprinkler to get the water system flowing, then flushing the toilet to force an item to pop out of the blocked pipes.
Aside from the optional tasks progress does feel very linear, especially when you add in the 'on-rails' control system. But, like Resident Evil 4, we have a feeling Killer 7 may be able to pull off its linearity by creating an extremely satisfying game experience. From the early levels we had the chance to play it's clear that this is a game stuffed full of fresh ideas from a presentation, storyline and character point of view, but relies on extremely simple old-school gaming concepts to keep the player happy. And it seems to work.
Method to the Madness
The thing is, Killer 7 is not too weird. It's pretty messed-up, for sure, but there is a hefty chunk of method to its madness. This combined with the witty, intelligent and sometimes downright cool Tarantino-esque scripting and storyline, ensure that Killer 7 shouldn't be so mental that you want to chuck it in the loony bin.
At the end of the day, behind all the ghosts in gimp costumes, the self-harming heroines, the cackling zombies, and the doggy bags full of dead characters, Killer 7 is actually a very normal game. So don't let the weirdness put you off - if you let yourself get used to the strange world of Killer 7 when it hits PS2 and GameCube this September, it might just start to make sense to you...
And that's when you'll start getting worried.