Killer7 (PC) Review – Killing the Competition?
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Grasshoper Manufacture
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 16th November 2018
Suda51, love or hate him and his obscure games. From his earlier works like The Silver Case till his more recent Killer is Dead or the No More Heroes franchise which will soon get a new entry, none of his titles are anything less than bizarre, crazy but ultimately entertaining, for the most part. However, there´s one game, in particular, many regards as his best work, as well as being one of the only games published by a big company like Capcom: Killer7. Unfortunately, it was stuck on the Gamecube and PS4 for more than 10 years, so NIS America´s recent rush to port his earlier works onto newer platforms couldn´t skip this one and we got a Steam version, yes, unlocked framerate, resolution changes and all that stuff included.
Smith is a name we all connect normality with since it´s such a common one. However, did you ever hear of one with 7 personalities? No? Understandable but Killer7 takes this very idea as its foundation. The Smith Syndicate consists of 7 individual personalities, all in one body and working as assassins. We play as all of them, fulfilling their contracts and kill the Heaven Smiles and their leaders.
Sounds crazy? It is crazy, like everything coming from Sud51. At the same time, Killer7 tries its best to hide its plot behind walls of cryptic dialogue and presentation. From cutscenes that tell only the barest minimum, to a red BDSM ghost, who´s our most valuable source of information. However, that´s also its charm: No one familiar with the staff expects anything clear or straightforward and it delivers on this exact assumption. Even years later, its storytelling and premise are still never found again in this exact manner but they still work in their own way, at creating this sinister, mysterious atmosphere you don´t really understand but begin to love at the same time because it´s so unique. In exchange, I still didn´t get a grasp of the full image but was entertained by the dialogues, the catchlines and pretty much everything surrounding its writing and world.
The only thing truly bizarre about its storytelling is the fact it delivers exposition … but only after the events that rely on it. So, essentially the worst kind of timing you could have with your explanations. Unfortunately, this is a common problem and Killer7 never really achieves a balance between bombarding you with stuff or situations you need certain knowledge for an actual background to be able to understand those. It´s like letting a child in the dark without reason, and no, weirdness isn´t sufficient enough to warrant bad game design.
Speaking of bizarre decisions, Killer7´s gameplay is the other part of this bizarre adventure and it doesn´t always feel great. On the one hand, it offers an on-rails shooter, where you can only go into the rooms and floors you´re allowed to while shooting at dozens of enemies. While you have endless ammunition, reloading takes quite a while and it´s not possible to shoot and move, so spacing and hitting the glowing enemy weak spots becomes a necessity.
However, only shooting the same enemies with the same guns quickly becomes repetitive, so there´s plenty of variety … on both sides. For example, every one of the 7 levels features its own set of unique enemies (at least 3-4), that requires a whole different approach, making every new chapter really feel like something completely new. Naturally, though, the biggest twist is the fact you´re actually in charge of 7 characters, hence the name. The Smith Syndicate are 7 killers all inhabiting the same body, yet, their appearance is always unique. So, of course, we can freely switch between them and their different tools, like Coyote´s revolver or Kevin´s ability to turn invisible and throwing knives. It´s a colourful cast, able to accommodate every taste and playstyle, especially since they gain new abilities as you level them up through the blood of killed enemies. Unfortunately, when one of them dies, which can happen quite quickly after 3 hits and without the opportunity to use the newly added healing option in the PC-version, you have to switch to Garcia, backtrack the whole way from your last checkpoint and pick their remains up, so you can backtrack again as your favourite character and continue your playthrough. It goes without saying that enemies respawn of course …
Sounds fun, right? Yeah, not really. Honestly, Killer7 can be quite annoying, especially when it´s not doing what it should and nowhere does it get more obvious than in the adventure passages. None of them may be difficult or requires a lot of thinking, as the game gives you enough hints and pretty obvious tasks but still manage to frustrate you in many ways. Be it the hole in the roof you have to jump through as Coyote but couldn´t since you didn´t stand in the right spot or the half level you have to backtrack to find the solution to a puzzle. The game is clustered with bad design, tedious choices and frustrating level design throughout the experience, which drags down the adventure portion in particular.
A shame because behind this mediocre gameplay may lie one of SUDA51´s most entertaining stories. Featuring once again the so beloved Cel-Shading look in all its glory, now in 4k and 60fps if you´re monitor is equipped to display it. Yet, the true fun comes from the bizarre but great soundtrack, interesting locations, fun enemy designs, visual storytelling and most of all, the diversity. One chapter can feature anime cutscenes and the next talking skulls. In combination with the sound design, it can even create some horror or shock moments, while the mediocre voice acting is truly great on its own, I mean, Coyote says “You´re fucked” when you hit an enemy´s weak spot!
So all in all, is Killer7 fun? Yes, it is, if everything works as intended. If not, it can become a sluggish, annoying ride and that´s part of the experiment. I enjoyed my time, raged quite a lot and took quite a while but it was definitely worth it.
[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]