Release Date: 14/07/05
So as the final project of the 'Capcom 5' arrives, we finally get to play Shinji Mikami's surreal thriller, arguably the most ambitious of the five efforts, now also available on the PS2. According to the team, the game engine was largely "tacked on" after the storyline was finalised, and for large sections of the game, it appears to play second fiddle to the storyline. This, it seems, has got a lot of people with their knickers in a twist. "But you only press 'A' to move!" seems to be the main gripe, but, thankfully folks, I'm largely going to skip all of that shit, because, well, I'm going to assume you're not a complete idiot.
The visuals are sumptuous. Shadows cover the eccentrically colourful, yet pure and angular surroundings. Everything looks so plain, and yet so rich at the same time. It's a visual overload. But the audio trumps it and is perhaps the standout aspect of the game for me. It's little surprise to learn that the official soundtrack has just hit the shops in Japan. There is a pleasing array of meaty SFX and speech samples that accompany the excellent music for each level. From the neat character quips ("This is too easy"), to tiny pitter-patter of rain on a wooden overpass, to the different footsteps noise each character makes, the spot effects are just really neat. The music, as with the theme, is disorderly and minimal, but so perfect. One particular track (mission two) reminded me of several Japanese filmic scores, such is the quality of the music production.
It takes a few levels to get really settled with the controls, that much is true. Early stages seem fiddly and unfair. At first, you'll fumble into enemies, miss hit points and end up continually smashing your head against the wall trying to break apart the illogical and downright stupid puzzles. But eventually, you'll cruise the areas with silent poise, moving from one room to the next, picking off enemies with ease, blowing limbs off for breakfast, reload, scan, who fucking wants some? It's just a shame then, that everything moves at a somewhat stuttered pace: it's 2005 and we still have loading times? With continued play, it doesn't become an omni-present factor as it did initially, but it's a grumble nonetheless. The controls are refreshingly simple. Press a button to move, another to aim and a third to shoot. Soon though, you have counter attacks and special moves to worry about. The shooting parts form the majority of the gameplay, the running about bits just look cool. It's satisfying, but largely undemanding. As I mentioned, Killer7 is about a story, a visual and aural mind-fuck.
Problems. Despite the range of characters available to the player, it's unlikely and mostly unnecessary that they will feel the need to switch between them all unless required. The voice acting is excellent in some parts but weak in others, and I can't help but wonder if it would have been less jarring if the NPC's you encounter had 'spoken' to you, rather than the unpleasant babble-talk that you have to read.
The subject matter didn't sit completely comfortably with me. There's a lot of mindless violence, talking to the dead, guns in mouths, that sort of thing. At times it's quite distressing, but its comic-book nature eventually wins you over, and by the end, that astounding end, I was genuinely gripped. Killer7 is definitely among that rare breed of game that gets better as it goes along. After finishing the main story, there are unlockable 'harder' versions of the game, as is customary with Capcom games ("play again, but this time in your underpants!") but they don't offer much beyond going over the confusing storyline once more, hoping to notice something that you didn't the first time around.
When it's all too painfully obvious games are becoming increasing tedious and, well, just plain fucking boring, here is a game with an uncompromising vision: a wondrous mix of comic-book cool, ultra violence and psychological horror that's wrapped up with in alternative aesthetic and minimal auditory. It's ironic, then, that Killer7 is ripped apart for being linear, when in fact, everything else shows it trying to be as non-linear and non-conformist as it possibly can. And for that it should be applauded. Play it, make of it what you will. It's destined to become a cult classic, that's for certain.
UPDATE, Aug, 2007: You know what? As time's gone on, I've really felt I gave this one too harsh a score. An 8 or 9 is perhaps what I'm feeling now. The penultimate sentence in the review only resonates stronger with time - this is a classic modern videogame, with probably the most interesting, brilliant storyline of any game I've played. I urge you to pick this up, especially as now it will be lounging around in the bargain bins of your local game emporium.