Killer 7 could only come from the mind of game auteur Suda 51, the master designer of [many] oddball titles.Killer 7 is a demented trip through a bizarre, hyper violent, hyper vulgar world inhabited by demonic cult members, suave contract killers, and Mexican Professional Wrestlers with grenade launchers. Killer 7 could only come from the mind of game auteur Suda 51, the master designer of such oddball titles as the No More Heroes series (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii), Lollipop Chainsaw (PS3, Xbox 360), and Shadow of the Damned (PS3, Xbox 360). Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, Killer 7 was released in 2005 by Capcom for the Nintendo Gamecube and Playstation 2, and divided critics with its brash, experimental gameplay and eccentric storytelling.
The seven distinct personalities that fuel the adventure are among the most memorable of any cast assembled for a game. The playable killers are each personas of an aged and ailing, wheelchair-bound assassin named Harman, who has inherited these bizarre characters as aspects of his psyche. Slickly designed and animated, each character has their own abilities, which can be further enhanced by the blood (read: experience points) gained from stylish kills and critical hits.
At the top of the roster is Garcian Smith, who carries a mysterious briefcase and a silenced pistol. Although his abilities cannot be upgraded, he is the only one of the Killer 7 who can revive other personalities after their death. Clint Eastwood-esque Dan Smith curses up a storm as he stylishly cocks the trigger back on his huge revolver. Kaede Smith runs around barefoot and uses her enormous scoped pistol to deal out death from a distance. Coyote Smith wears a Hawaiian shirt, and is a master of lock-picking.
From there, the personalities get more outlandish. Kevin Smith, a British albino, fights with knives and can turn invisible. Mask de Smith is a Mexican luchador wrestler who offers up bodyslams and a devastating grenade launcher. Con Smith is a loudmouth teenager replete with gigantic, gaudy headphones and a pair of rapid-fire dual pistols. When you beat the game, an eighth killer persona is unlocked in the form of a young, virile, Tommy gun-wielding Harman, dressed from head to toe like a 1950’s gangster.
The story is wildly entertaining, and involves worldwide conspiracies, cult leaders, child assassins, and more.All the killers play a little differently, with varying upgrades like powered up shots, flashy special executions, or instant kill shots. The story is wildly entertaining, and involves worldwide conspiracies, cult leaders, child assassins, and the kind of cerebral exposition found in titles like Metal Gear Solid. Though there is a fair amount of combat, there is an equal amount of exploration and puzzle solving, akin to the PC classic, Myst.
It may be jarring to some players to find that movement is severely limited, and that every level plays out on “rails,” as opposed to most games free-range, free camera control scheme. However, Killer 7’s limitation on movement and control allows for an unprecedented amount of visual and artistic flair for camera framing and direction. Though Killer 7 is nine years old, the simple, dramatic cel-shaded art direction impresses.
Though you move around on “rails,” you can still freely aim— though you can’t move and shoot at the same time. Levels occasionally have junctions where you can choose an alternate path or doorway, though the level designs aren’t overly complex. Typically, you’ll enter an area, draw your gun, and scan for any lurking enemies. After carefully dispatching your foes—and you must be careful as your crew of Killer 7 can be killed in just a few close attacks—you explore the level to find a special key, puzzle item, or character you need to progress. The levels range from claustrophobic buildings to more open spaces, though each stage is uniquely and compellingly designed.
The controls in Killer 7 are wildly experimental.The controls in Killer 7 are wildly experimental, and there is no game comparable to the purposefully “deconstructed” control scheme. Navigation is simplistic: one button is used to run, one button to turn around 180 degrees, and one button provides an alternate view to the third-person static camera. Another button press draws your firearm, pulling the viewpoint in to a first person perspective.
The monstrous cult members you face are initially invisible and require you to press a button to scan your view, once you’ve drawn your weapon. Killer 7 creates a palpable tension as you enter a room or area, as you can always hear your enemies before you can see them. Often, your enemy will cackle devilishly, or make some kind of disturbing noise to unsettle you and make you keenly aware of the encroaching dangers.
No other soundtrack or game quite captures the schizophrenic and atmospheric tone that Killer 7 delivers.The audio is both fantastic and fantastical, as no other soundtrack or game quite captures the schizophrenic and atmospheric tone that Killer 7 delivers. The soundtrack varies from downtempo jazz, to manic, thumping techno, to suspenseful, creeping mood music. Acclaimed Japanese composers Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda’s (both of No More Heroes and God Hand fame) phenomenal score achieve a perfect balance between elevating the evocative mood and completely turning video game music on its head. The voice acting is similarly solid and distinctive.
The writing is both purposefully convoluted and complex, as the plot explores political tensions in a growing militaristic world. While it may seem heavy-handed, the fact that Killer 7 even attempts to navigate and explore the ideological conflicts between the USA and the rest of the world is laudable. Developer Grasshopper Manufacture even manages to inject some humor and satire into the mix.
It’s remarkable what Killer 7 accomplished years ago, and it remains a stellar example of the artistic merit of videogames.Because of the Wii’s backwards compatibility, Killer 7 runs and plays splendidly on Nintendo’s white box. It’s remarkable what Killer 7 accomplished years ago, and it remains a stellar example of the artistic merit of videogames, and the fascinating considerations made regarding gameplay design and aesthetics.
Killer 7 undoubtedly will be remembered in the annals of game history for its departures from videogame norms—from its control, to its plot, and its tone. Rarely now are games designed with such a razor-sharp focus and such a thoroughly penetrating conceit. Killer 7 is video gaming deconstructed, and stands firmly as one of Capcom’s great masterpieces.