KILLER 7 / Capcom / Gamecube

If I go to some sort of high-concept movie, I know what to expect. I'll be sitting there passively for a couple of hours being subjected to experimental, weird shit that may or may not work. That's fine; unless the movie's marketing was extremely deceptive, I'm an informed consumer making a conscious choice. Worst case scenario is that I'm out two hours or so and the meager price of a ticket for something that wasn't what I hoped it would be.

It's not the same thing with a game, particularly if you happened to pay $60 for it at retail when it came out and the developer was oddly tight-lipped about it prior to release. There are different expectations for this medium, and also higher standards that come with the much higher price point. It's fine to experiment, it's fine to even subvert some expectations. But the fundamental deal is that we're expecting some sort of enjoyable gameplay experience driving all that. Not the developer's hodgepodge of cooool graphic novel panel ideas they couldn't be stuffed to organize into a coherent story with a half-assed game engine wrapped around it to make it all lurch forward.

Maybe I look at it this way because I run my own content creation small business and am becoming a Capitalist Pigdog in my middle age. People pay me a premium to deliver something they want and can use for their purposes, not for my artistic interpretation of what they order. I know art can't work that way, and it shouldn't, and artists want to be supported by a wealthy patron and just follow wherever the Art leads them. There's a whole discussion to have about how to make that dynamic work when you're first and foremost creating a retail product, and I don't have any definitive answers there. What I can tell you is that when you're creating a retail product of this nature, your end user (who is usually paying pretty good money) usually just wants to relax and enjoy, not wrestle with some horseshit play scheme as they get dragged through somebody's bad art film.

And that's where we end up with Killer7. It just assaults you with obnoxiousness from minute one, hoping you'll stick around and take the abuse (like the inexplicable bondage gimp that serves as this game's Navi) just because it has cool noir cel-shading and ostensibly some deep mystery to unravel. It's bad in a way that I haven't encountered in years now; I can't even remember the last game that I had to quit early not just because I couldn't stand playing it, but it was making me so angry that I was turning it off and then getting irrationally angry about unrelated things.

The setup is all very Tarantino/Rodriguez, a team of vaguely '70s-looking assassins in crisp suits have been dispatched to take down a cult of suicide bombers called Heaven's Smile, and for some reason all the cult members look like Venom clones. While the screenshots might make you think it's an FPS of some sort, it's really more of a rail shooter with very mild adventure game elements. Each area only has certain pre-set "tracks" you can follow, pressing A to move forward and B to turn around and go back. At times, you get prompts to press the analog stick in a direction to hop on a new track. You're usually given free reign to roam through each environment's "chapter", and will have to do some item-finding and backtracking and puzzle-solving as you go.

The meat of the game is the combat, however. The camera is often pulled in on you or sitting at some other inexplicably unhelpful "survival horror" angle, so you'll need to be listening to hear the telltale shufflings, scrapings and chuckles of the Heaven's Smile members. Oh, they're also all wearing some sort of stealth camo and are only barely visible, and can't be hit until you press R to go into first-person aiming mode and then press L to "scan" the screen for them. At that point, you have to gun them down before they make their way over to you, or they'll suicide-bomb you and you can only take a couple of those before your character eats it.

Designer Suda51 was clearly influenced by Pulp Fiction, grindhouse movies, comic books, the Aum Shinrikyo cult's terrorism campaign in the mid-90s, and Hideo Kojima's games. That could have been a great soup base for a game, but what came out here is just an incoherent mess that's an amazing pain to trudge through.

Gameplay mechanics aren't always explained, but when they are it's through the needlessly slow, unskippable dialogue of the bondage gimp (I have no idea why Suda thought the "Master! We're in a tight spot!" thing was such a great bit it needed to be repeated literally 100 times throughout the game). The game's challenge is entirely centered on the aiming being incredibly fussy and wavery, and the necessity to shoot varying "weak points" on the cultists before they can sprint over and overwhelm you. The problem is that with the wavering aim, it's far too easy to accidentally shoot off the limb that the weak point is on - that just takes away the weak point and forces you to pump tons of bullets into them to kill, which will get you killed any time there are multiple enemies or just a particularly fast or close one.

This is all before we even get to the obscure "puzzle bosses." You know what, "puzzle" isn't even appropriate for some of them. The second boss requires you to just shoot her more than she shoots you within the space of a minute, but there's absolutely no indication about this other than losing once. And that actually ends up being one of the less obnoxious ones on the whole; most of the later fights involve either shooting some fussy little thing, moving in some fussy little pattern, or por que no las dos.

With most of these critically acclaimed games that I end up not getting, I'm left either bemused or confused. I actively hated Killer7 right from the start. I resented being dragged through its slow, pointless, weird-for-the-sake-of-weird exposition. I was enraged at how they didn't even make the barest effort to implement a responsive basic movement or aiming system. I was infuriated at how easy and frequent the cheap deaths were and how much time you're expected to waste trudging through areas all over again every time it happens.

You've got me pegged, game

The game is objectively clumsy and painful to play. It just is. The only reason to bear with it is if the style and the off-the-wall story clicks with you. Which, to be fair, it does seem to with some people. To get an idea of how you'll feel about it, take a look at this plot examination and see if that sounds at all appealing to you. Horses for courses and all that, but it just sounds like pretentious overwrought nonsense from the jump to me.

I think the true legacy of Killer7 is as one of the earliest demonstrations of how thirsty as fuck the gaming press has tended to be for legitimacy and some kind of artistic street cred, prefiguring the whole indie scene explosion of this sort of thing (when Braid was released) by several years. The positive reviews for the game always seem to mention the shit gameplay, but attach an inevitable " ... and here's why that's a GOOD thing, sweaty!" rider to it. Well, it really isn't. It's a design failing, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. If you enjoy the experience anyway and this whole Frank-Miller-meets-MSX-visual-novels thing tickles your wavelength, hey, nothing wrong with that. Just don't be out here shitting on other people for not "getting it", because there really isn't much here to get. It's not a deep experience, it's just dark-tinged pop culture ephemera held together with the gameplay equivalent of twine and Gorilla Glue.

Links :

* I was amazed to find NeoGAF back in its pre-insanity days mostly agreed with me
* A well-written dissenting opinion

Videos :

* Gameplay Video