Killer 7 review
Seven Ways To Kill
Unusual. That's one word you could use to describe Killer7. Published by Capcom, who have brought us the likes of Resident Evil and Street Fighter, this game explores other directions that make it stand out from the crowd.
Cel-shading has been around for a while, and Killer7 uses this technique for its visuals. For the most part it is quite successful in its approach too. The different characters in the game all look fantastic, with a lot of work gone into the designs and the use of shading is very effective. Unlike other games that use the style (like Wind Waker) this game manages to pull off a very dark atmosphere with its appearance quite befitting of the themes presented.
The animation is slick and well executed. Naturally there are the obvious motions like characters reloading their weapons, the classic shambling walk of the zombie-like enemies and the recoil actions of firing. There are some nice touches here and there, like watching a traitor enemy run like a madman. Special effects are impressive too, like blood from enemies draining into your onscreen gauge, explosions that seem to distort the air around them and the scan effect all work nicely.
Level layouts are mostly good, with some solid construction and interesting layouts and designs. Sometimes though they do end up looking a little unfinished with too much blandness (especially in the first level of the game) but ultimately it isn't too bad a detraction and otherwise it all looks good and stylish.
The music arrangement mostly consists of the kinds of atmospheric tracks that sit in the background humming along while the action takes center stage. A couple of tracks really do end up pumping out at full blast, but not enough to make it awesome but altogether a nice collection that boosts the game.
Voice acting is pretty spot on, with some excellent choices for the characters. The idea to distort the voices of the dead people helps to mark the difference, and the lines are delivered with a sense of impact that works. I do feel there is too much emphasis on 'edgy' swearing though (I noted 3 playable characters yelling *bleep* everytime they hit an enemies weak spot).
The story is as mature as you'd expect. The world had supposedly attained a state of peace only to be hit with a new wave of terrorism in the form of the Heaven's Smiles. These suicide zombie bombers have caused fear to rise, but there are also political manoeuvres in action. There's also the Killer7 assassins and their roles in proceedings. One thing though is how confusing it can get. The smaller stories that make up the big ones are interesting, but it can be hard to follow at times and the end game scenes really made no sense at all.
So onto the gameplay. To put it simply Killer7 is a rail shooter, which may sound odd but just read on. Your chosen character is locked to a 'rail' in the level. Holding X will cause them to run along this set path, meaning they effectively chose their own route through. Triangle lets you turn around and backtrack, while certain points give you multiple paths to pick from. In essence it causes the game to run along a linear path. There might be branching paths to take but the setup usually means you end up taking all of them, as puzzles later on might require an item from a different path. You can't really explore but it does help to focus things on the action and puzzles. In fact, I am somewhat impressed by the level design. There is a lot of complexity to them and while you're not given the freedom to explore it is still good to dash through them fighting and solving puzzles.
If at first you don't succeed, try using explosives!
The enemies of the game have an odd way of attacking. Essentially you're fighting a horde of suicide bombers who shamble towards you on sight and blow up near you. Some of the enemies are a little too samey in following the whole 'shoot them until they're dead' approach though. Technically they do have weak spots to hit, but the hit detection seems a little iffy here so it's often easier just to unload everything into their bodies. Some enemies change up the formula, like the phantom smiles that will warp right next to you if you miss their larger weak spots or one enemy that you have to spin around to reveal its weak spot (or blow him up with Mask if you want).
The combat is decent but I do feel that certain elements could be done better. The stop-go nature can't really be avoided but the style does mean it feels somewhat awkward. In order to fight you have to stop and hold R1 to enter first person mode and aim your weapon. Then you have to scan with L1 to reveal the enemies (because they start off invisible - only a laugh signals an enemy is nearby), which can be a bit annoying to spot enemies although since the triangle button will lock-on a smile it's not too bad. Strategic escapes aren't really an option though because that involves letting go of first person, pressing triangle to spin around, running a bit, turning back around and taking aim again. With the lag it means you're more likely to get hit before you can manage it.
Thankfully the enemies do present a good challenge. Even when facing singular baddies you might have some trouble, but then bring in the groups. When you can mow down 3-4 smiles in the same timeframe is when you've gotten good. Bosses tend to involve a bit more and some of them can be quite excellent. Fighting down Ayane (twice) is an excellent sub-boss fight.
Killing enemies results in collecting blood. Thick blood is used to upgrade stats while thin blood is for special techniques and healing yourself. More blood is earned for blasting body parts off or hitting that weak spot.
One feature designed to mark the game higher than others is the seven personas concept. There are 7 playable assassins in the game. Normally you wouldn't use Garcian except for certain sequences, but he does have a special talent that alters the usual game over scenes. Here the game only true hits a game over when Garcian dies. If anyone else dies then you are taken back to the last Harman's room you visited, and by getting back to the kill spot as Garcian you can revive the fallen comrade. Interesting but later stages make this quite difficult as Garcian can't receive upgrades like the others can.
The other 6 are your main characters. Each one has their own weapon style and special talents. Dan has a revolver and can fire powerful collateral shots. Kaede can zoom in with her sniper scope and destroy certain barriers with a shower of blood. Each of these characters have stats that can be upgraded too, but ultimately it feels too unbalanced. I tended to find myself only using Dan and Mask for most of the game - only switching to the others when I needed their specific talents. There just isn't that much incentive to use the others. Kaede and Keven are too slow to work and Con has little health to spare. Technically there's nothing wrong with Coyote but he seems more like a weaker Dan so there seems little point. Better balance between the personas would be nice.
Upgrading a character can be done at a Harman's Room, scattered throughout the different levels. Thick blood can be converted into serum here, which in turn is used to upgrade the stats. Most personas have the four stats of power, speed, waver and critical, although some trade one of these for another (Mask has range instead of critical). Boosting these can also open up special skills, like the amazingly useful counter skill or the down attack. You can also gain advice on playing the game here and some of these rooms (but not all) allow you to save the game.
The Con is on.
The characters also play a role in puzzles, although this isn't that great. There are times when you need a certain character's skill to proceed, like picking a lock. Unfortunately all this means is switching characters, doing an action and switching back. Changing takes some time so this is not as good as it should be. It seems to be more incentive to switch to the others than a solid game mechanic.
There are other puzzle elements, like the classic fetch item concept. Naturally those aren't much of a puzzle. Rings also play a role, as these are collected and then used but this is also clumsy. Changing rings takes up more time than it should and so cycling between them to see if they work is a bore.
In terms of puzzle concepts otherwise there are indeed some ingenious puzzles, like code words hidden cleverly. Too often the game seems to feel a need to spell everything out for you though. A cracked wall calls for the talents of the grenade launchers of the Mask, but just in case this wasn't obvious you often have some major hint by a NPC or an onscreen description and even an icon on the map screen (which isn't really there on the harder setting, but seriously why ruin the concept on the normal setting?). More puzzles like the later ones that don't try to ruin everything would be nice but a decent collection.
Killer7 is a pretty challenging game and it has a decent lifespan to it. Six levels may not seem like much but it takes some time to get through them. You can even challenge yourself with a harder setting.
Final conclusion is that Killer7 looks the part and while I did have fun blasting through it I feel that the game does fall short. Every area has good points but also notable flaws that really should have been worked out. It's a good game and different to most, but you'll have to bear with some flawed concepts.
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