The ever-expanding collection of retro games being remastered and ported to newer systems has opened a window of opportunity to NIS America’s latest endeavour, killer7. Originally published for GameCube and PlayStation 2, the PC release of this dark adventure rekindles the classic elements of mystery, action and trepidation with beautiful, stylish cel-shaded graphics.
Discovering the Catalyst
killer7 tells the story of a group of elite assassins hired to take down a crime syndicate known as the “Heaven Smile.” What is seemingly a simple story becomes far more twisted with the fact that the group of assassins is actually one man – Harman Smith – who is able to take on the appearance and personality of multiple people. Furthermore, Harman appears to interact with numerous ghostly figures, which guide him and continuously give warnings about the Heaven Smile and their ulterior motives.
Amidst this alternate timeline of history, an established world peace is being threatened by fiends of an unholy nature. Harman Smith stands at the centre of the chaos, and it is up to us to discover the secrets of the Heaven Smile by finding clues, talking to witnesses and exploring lairs in an intensely vivid fight of good and evil.
If there’s one thing that drew me into the world of killer7, it was the mysterious and bizarre story that compelled me to discover more and more. Though the perplexing narrative design may confuse some players, many will find that the surreal environments act to challenge players to question what is really going on in the plot. killer7 presents one puzzling scene after another, with NPCs speaking in riddles and vague terms most of the time. However, there is such deliberate detail in the dialogue and environments that keep adding more elements to what we understand of the story, and those who enjoy exploring and piecing together complex layers of narrative will surely enjoy what this title has to offer.
Pulling the Trigger
One of the common issues ported games tend to encounter is the translation of console controls to PC. Whilst this killer7 port offers keybind options aplenty, the shift to a PC title doesn’t feel as smooth as it could have been, often making it difficult to understand the controls and how to access or change them. Whether it was with a controller or a keyboard, getting through the tutorial was difficult for me when buttons were labelled with their native GameCube allocations, and often didn’t respond due to the same button doubling up for different actions.
Navigating the awkward and static camera angles, clunky aiming controls, and minimalistic interfaces are also some of the challenges confronting a new player like myself. The game tries to alleviate this by setting a rather forgiving pace to the game, slowly adding in mechanics, giving you warnings, and then ramping up the action sequences further into the story.
Once the player does accustom themselves to the controls, killer7 offers a vastly different type of combat system. Adding to the survival-horror feel of the game, enemy targets will appear invisible on-screen, where the player will only be made aware of their presence through a rather creepy audio queue. The player must quickly scan the vicinity to reveal the zombie-like monsters coming to attack them and defend themselves using their arsenal of unique weapons. I found this style of combat reminiscent of classic Resident Evil games – intuitive, yet tactical.
Playing the Part
One of the aspects that make the game even more interesting is swapping between Harman’s distinct personalities. This allows players to try combat with different weapons, specializations, and abilities, as well as giving us diverse options on who we want to be. Each personality has their unique taunts, attitude, style and history, further adding to the mystery of who we are as a character in this wild story.
Exploration in this game is made to feel rather linear, however, and though there are several routes to explore, the protagonist is often limited to moving in one of two directions. Most of the challenge is found navigating to the appropriate rooms in a particular order, finding or activating key items, or unlocking areas via certain characters. In a sense, it is basic puzzle-solving found in most action games, and whilst it is a good break from the action, I personally feel that the exploration of environment in a 3D setting could have been explored more.
Perfecting the Art
The major highlight for this release, however, comes down to the graphics. Clearly a selling point for the original game back in 2005, the developers have not overlooked the visuals in this PC adaptation. Every scene has been brought up to modern standard, making every character and environment sharp, well-defined and polished like a diamond.
The artistic style of killer7 is definitely one that can have a significant impact on those who experience the game. It is abstract, surreal, contrasted, and defies all normal design conventions. Somehow, all these visual elements encompass the game so well that nothing, yet everything, feels out of place. It is directed beautifully and the tiniest of details constantly makes one wonder what is lurking in the shadows or what significance it has.
Evaluating the Outcome
Director and designer Suda51 spares no subtlety when adding his personal touch to games. killer7 may have been one of his most creative projects, and with the initiative to rekindle this classic title, NIS America have brought us back a thought-provoking game with much to appreciate.
If there is one thing to cherish above all else with killer7, it’s the throwback to a different era of gaming. An era where simple story ideas could grow into something complicated and deep. An era where clever direction, design and art made a larger impact than graphics ever could.
Though this story of war, assassination, and disposition is not for the faint of heart, it will indulge those seeking a deep and dark universe. killer7 is a nostalgic trip back to a style of gaming that encourages players to find their own answers by exploring a rich universe.
~~ Final Score: 8/10 ~~
Review copy provided by NIS America for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.