A Case of Jekyll and Hyde
Many Nintendo fans will often wonder what ever happened to the Capcom Five. For those of you who don’t know, the so-called Capcom Five were five exclusive titles for the Nintendo GameCube that were meant to win back market shares for The Big N and inject some much needed innovation and originality into the industry. As it goes, the titles were Dead Phoenix, P.N.03, Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4, and finally Killer 7.
If you reread the opening paragraph once more, you’ll notice many uses of the word “were” when I speak of the once exclusive titles that were (there it is again) meant to save the little cube that couldn’t. Simply put, this is because Dead Phoenix was cancelled and P.N.03 bombed; Viewtiful Joe, despite its unique look and gameplay (and cult-like fanbase), sold minimally and ceased being a Nintendo exclusive right around the same time as Capcom released the sequel on the PS2; Resident Evil 4, which is selling quite well and has been heralded by many critics as game of the year, will find itself on Sony’s machine by year’s end; lastly, Killer 7, the most mysterious and intriguing title of the bunch, was released simultaneously for the GameCube and PlayStation 2.
While Capcom claims they opted out of their exclusive deal with Nintendo to appease the Sony fans, the fact of the matter is that Capcom simply wanted their titles on a system that people actually play.
All that aside, Killer 7 commands your attention with its striking film noir-esque/cel-shaded visuals and its unique story of a wheelchair-bound, mentally disabled former government assassin with Multiple Personality Disorder who’s been hired to 86 suicide-bombing zombies and their terrorist creator. While the story isn’t as out there as Katamari Damacy, it’s still somewhere in left field.
If you hadn’t already guessed by the title and the fact that the hired killer has MPD, you play seven distinct characters, all of whom are assassins. You can call them either the Killer 7 or the Smith Syndicate, whichever works best for you. Throughout the game you can switch between any of the seven personalities at will; each has their own unique abilities and combat style (Kaede Smith can spray blood from her wrists to reveal secret passages, Kevin Smith can turn invisible to avoid tricky fights and laser traps, etc.), and, for the most part, you’ll need all seven to complete your mission.
Despite its inane, and overly complicated story, Killer 7 really is one of the best games of the year. However, the gameplay, graphics, and audio are almost as schizophrenic as its lead. The words Jekyll and Hyde have never seemed so appropriate.
There is no other game that looks as good as this; I can assure you now you’ve never come across such a refreshing visual style. The range of locations and art direction make-up a large amount of Killer 7’s appeal, but unfortunately every Dr. Jekyll has a Mr. Hyde. In this case, Killer 7‘s beast is its map. Some areas can look too similar, causing the whole “haven’t I been here before” feeling. Add an occasionally frustrating camera to the mix, and suddenly the lavish visuals are nearly undone.
The audio at times can be quite shocking—the strong language, profanity, and the sound effects will raise the eyebrows of even the most hardened horror fans—but it lets itself down after the thin one-liners have been repeated for the [insert overly exaggerated number here] time. Worse still, the Metal Gear Solid-style babble can go on forever, making the already hard-to-follow story even more difficult to understand.
The gameplay however makes Killer 7 one of the most difficult games to judge. While it feels new, it also feels very similar. For instance the simple but occasionally annoying Resident Evil-style lock-and-key puzzles have been done to death by Capcom, but the controls are certainly new (you move by simply tapping the buttons; the analogue stick is never touched). This, however, can be very clumsy and leads to one cheap death after another. The combat is a lot like the MGS series; you have to go into a first-person perspective and blast your enemies as much as possible, and you cannot move while you are shooting or scanning (a la Metroid Prime) your foes. While this serves to add tension and fear, it feels utterly unnecessary. The controls are fidgety and the scanning of enemies can actually be quite painful on the eyes. In truth, it feels overly complicated to cover the fact that the actual gunplay is shallow.
Now I really don’t want people to be put off by this review. While Killer 7 is far from perfect, you have to keep in mind that this is a stab at something different. It has content which I simply haven’t come across before; suicide, rape, pedophilia, racism, and controversial political views are actually dealt with in a far more mature manner then the likes of GTA and its countless clones. For better or worse, Killer 7 is a bold game that sadly seems to suffer from the same disorder as its lead.