Review – Killer7 (PC)

It didn’t take me long to realize why, despite all the praise showered upon it by fans, Suda51’s Killer7 never gained mainstream popularity or critical acclaim. When your main companion is a man hanging from the ceiling like a puppet wearing bondage gear, there’s going to be some people who don’t quite mesh with it. Hell, I consider myself open to new experiences and Killer7 quickly made me question many of my life’s decisions; namely what exactly happened in my life that led to me talking to a disembodied head taking refuge in a dryer because it’s comfy. Who spits at me and then tells me to turn the dryer back on and go away.

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Otherwise an impeccable port, the Options/Graphics menu is different.

Raising the bar on the seriously weird is the signature of any Suda51 game, and as what is often hailed as his best game, Killer7 is no exception. From the story that makes Metal Gear Solid look tame and sensible, to the over the top violence and gore, to the casual use of disturbing and unsettling imagery which is helped in no small part by the minimalistic environment design that really makes things stick out. Again, I must mention the creepy hanging bondage man. The point is that Killer7 doesn’t pull any kind of punches and in fact acts as if everything is totally normal and YOU’RE the weird one there.

The gameplay tries to be just as unique as its setting and characters and while it succeeds in flying in the face of modern conventions (both now and in 2005), it does have a few minor issues. It plays essentially as a rail shooter. There’s no free movement or exploration, you spend the whole game moving either forward or backward (you can look behind you, which helps a bunch) along pre-determined paths through the maps. You do choose routes at junctions, which open the areas up to make exploration a factor, but it can still feel limiting at times. Overall though it helps fuel the unsettling atmosphere by adding a feeling of claustrophobia by being unable to move how you want, something which could have gone disastrously (and for some people will feel as such), but for me it aided the tense of the game.

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You’ll meet all sorts of nice people on your journey.

At any time you can hit the right trigger to enter FPS mode where you can attack using the weapon of your current Personality (more on that later), or just use the camera to look around if you wish. The shooting gameplay is very solid, controls were responsive, and hitting the weak spots on enemies to have them explode into Blood was fun instead of frustrating. Enemies do respawn in basically the same places every time you leave a room and then re-enter, which can make things start to feel repetitive as you kill the same enemies in the same places multiple times every time you enter the room. However, the progression system linked to Blood collected from defeated enemies makes it not a complete waste of time as those extra enemies could gain you a new skill point.

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At intersections, or inside of rooms with multiple interactable options, a branching path to choose between. It grows quite natural as moving forward and using the thumbstick (or mouse) is enough to choose, making movement fluid.

It’s not all about combat though, exploration and puzzle solving is a significant factor of advancing through the game. At the core of the system are the 7 different Personalities you’ll get to play as, each with their own unique weapon, upgrades, and skills, and the ability to switch among them at any time. You’ll use their abilities to solve classic Resident Evil styled puzzles, usually by finding items to be used on other items which in turn unlock something to pass and so on. It’s actually quite an engaging part of the game, and you’ll quickly pick up on which Personality can do what, making puzzle solving much less obtuse then Resident Evil‘s and solvable without a google search, for the most part.

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Hidden throughout the levels are letters dropped off by carrier pigeons. I think we can all agree they are a great reward and not at all unnerving.

Killer7 is the kind of game that defines what a cult classic is. Off the wall story and characters which push the envelope far past what a lot of people are normally comfortable with combined with unique gameplay that may have some rough edges, but make up for them by feeling unique. This may be a remake of a under-performing console from over 10 years ago, but in today’s gaming market it looks and feels just as fresh as the day it was released. A game that not only deserved, but needed a port worthy of it, and I’m glad to say that it lives up to it.

Graphics: 9.0

This is a great example of cel-shading done well and does much to hide the limitations of the GameCube. Environments and models are minimalistic in detail, but instead of feeling cheap it helps add to the game’s unsettling atmosphere. The upscaling to modern resolutions is well done and retains the original quality without any blurring or distortion that sometimes happens. It’s a visually great port of a strikingly designed game.

Gameplay: 7.0

Though the weakest link of the game, everything is still solid. Movement is along set rails, with the option to go forward or back and choose alternate routes when your path diverges. While movement is third-person, you shift into first-person for gunplay and this is smooth and responsive. Though it can take a while to get a handle on, movement and combat mesh well together. The puzzle solving aspect is well done as well, very much in the design of earlier Resident Evil‘s in the sometimes completely illogical way they are set up.

Sound: 10

Sound is perhaps the most important factor in setting up an effective atmosphere. Though not a horror game explicitly, Killer7 does a better job than most to use sound to make you feel like something is terribly wrong.  From the gurgling noises for dialogue, the haunting shriek or a cackle whenever an enemy is detected, and the ominous soundtrack in the background, it’s fantastically unsettling.

Fun Factor: 8.5

The first hour with Killer7 is more confusing than anything else. The tutorial gives little more than the most basic controls and then you’re tossed into the game. Once you get it down though, the story starts to untangle itself and the combination works well. It’s clear why this became a cult classic and more than deserving of a port of this quality. Still, the game does suffer from a bit of repetitiveness in that the first hour plays just like the 10th, but the combinations of fun gameplay and an off-the-wall MGS styled story more than makes up for it.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Killer7 is available now on GameCube, PS2 and PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Killer7 was provided by the publisher.