Monday, May 28, 2007

Killer7 Review

      It's rare for any game to transcend the normal boundaries of being a "video game," mere mindless entertainment, and join the ranks of "art." Killer7 is both beautiful and thought-provoking, and it will take you hours and hours of research to attempt to fully wrap your head around the incredibly complex and multi-layered story. It's intriguing. It's confusing. It's vulgar and violent and rude. It's political commentary at its most convoluted, yet gripping nonetheless.

      Upon playing through Killer7, my (and I'm sure most people's) reaction can be summed up in five words: "What the fuck just happened?" Sure, you'll be able to grasp the basic gist of what's going on and some of the symbolism, but this is the kind of game that is going to throw you for a loop and just leave you there to scratch your head. There's going to be Usual Suspects-worthy plot twists that are going to upset the balance of whatever you thought you just started to understand. And by the end, all you'll be able to do is just helplessly babble "...Wait, what? But he... I thought that... And..." Yet I still fully appreciated and enjoyed the story. It's incredibly deep and I'll be very lucky indeed if I can ever fully understand it. It's unlike any story I'd heard before and one of the best. I won't give anything away, but the ending is completely shocking on two levels. The first level you'll think was somewhat predictable but still awesome, but you'll eventually learn that what you thought (as in you'll assume stuff that'll probably be false- trust me) happened in the end didn't. Then shock wave #2 hits you. Amazing.

      The immensely complex story is contrasted sharply by the beautifully simple graphics and admittedly shallow gameplay. The game's presentation will floor you immediately and keep you in awe throughout the experience, making you anxious to see the next environment and hear the next sound effect. Killer7 shows that the amount of polygons your game pushes isn't important unless you've got the art style to back it up, and Killer7 most certainly does. The surreal atmosphere of the game really comes together in some spots and when it does, it's awesome to behold. The game is truly like experiencing a dream sometimes.

      When discussing the controls, most reviews for Killer7 have been completely apologetic. I consider this attitude a huge insult to the game. While the controls will initially seem like an unnecessary hindrance, eventually you'll come to the conclusion that the game's controls simply wouldn't work as well any other way. This isn't the kind of game where you need to be jumping around and strafing like Master Chief. Your enemies (zombie suicide bomber terrorists with a permanent grin) walk at you in a straight line, and you do the same to them. This isn't complex A.I. that you have to deal with. By taking camera controls away from the player, the developers are able to show exactly what they want to show, exactly how they want to show it. They can direct you only to places you need to go rather than letting you waste hours of your life exploring empty rooms. Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto had discussed the possibility of remaking old GameCube games for the Wii, but I believe that Killer7 is the only GameCube game that would truly work better on Wii- the simplistic controls and focus on shooting with little camera control make it a perfect fit for the Wii Remote. If this news story is true, then my prayers may yet be answered.

      The combat is a love it or hate it situation, I think, and I loved it (for the most part). However, I feel that this is the kind of mechanic that grows on you over time. Of course, as with any game, it is not without flaws. For one thing, the enemies all respawn periodically, so it becomes a huge hassle at times to go back through previously explored areas, especially in the later levels where the enemies are more difficult. The combat mechanics are also extremely simple, with the player really only able to run, stop, and then shoot at enemies. It's extremely rewarding to nail a shot at a Heaven Smile's tiny weak point and watching them erupt into countless blood drops.

      Other than the unique art style, one of the most discussed features of the game is the small army of interesting characters you'll control. It's surprising that Capcom made most characters so useful in normal gameplay and not just for specific puzzles, like using Kaede Smith for precision or Kevin Smith to outright avoid some enemies. It's easy to gravitate towards one or two characters, though, and indeed I found myself gravitating towards Dan Smith, the ultimate badass of the bunch, and away from Con Smith, who I only used when it was absolutely necessary. Every character in the game (NPCs included) have incredibly diverse personalities. I grew to enjoy listening to the conversations they were having because it's like the characters love to talk, but never really listen to each other. Almost nothing makes sense, even in context, and after awhile it's just another charming little feature of the game you'll grow to love.

      Besides the art style and amount of playable characters, the thing that struck me the most about Killer7 is how well the game sets up atmosphere. One thing it has been (wrongly) criticized for is how sparsely the soundtrack is used, leaving you with only your characters footsteps. This is actually one of the game's best features. You'll find yourself running down a seemingly empty hallway, with only footsteps to occupy you. You turn a corner and all of a sudden you hear an eerie, high-pitched, maniacal laugh, so you whip out your gun and start blasting away. And when there is music to listen to, it serves a purpose. The area you run through before a boss fight plays beating rave music and will pump you up. When you're running through a funhouse maze in an abandoned amusement park in the dead of night, the upbeat carnival tunes will creep you out.

      Killer7 is very difficult to review because it's a game that should and does speak for itself. All I can really tell you about it is that while this certainly isn't a game for everyone, it's become one of my favorite games.
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