Weird, hard and sad. Why would anyone want to play Killer 7?
It was a game full of violence. It had a number of adult situations and themes. The story was long, complicated and downright weird. But, if the story was weird, the characters, especially the support characters, were even weirder. The game mechanics were retro, movement was limited and confining and combat took a bit of getting used to. And though the combat could be hard, frustratingly hard at times, the puzzles were almost absurdly simplistic.
Killer 7 was a game that a lot of people hated. Not me, I loved it.
The first thing about it was the way it looked. It was cell shaded, cartoonish and clean but still managed to maintain a sense of drama and intensity. It’s a fine line when choosing such a dramatic visual device. On the one side you may pull it off and end up with a stylish and striking classic, while on the other hand you may end up with a distracting pile of self-indulgent and unimaginative excess. Just ask the makers of The Spirit.
I found the graphics superb. From the moment we saw Garcian Smith accept his first contract, I was hooked. While I’m sure that many of the in-game choices, in terms of sparse textures and environments, were influenced by technical constraints, I found none of it distracting. I found that it served both the story and the characters perfectly.
Killer 7 was a story of murder. It told of the death of gods, it touched on global war and the destruction of countries. On the way it also managed to include religion, various Japanese traditions and conventions and a few strange sexual practices. But it managed to return to a rather personal examination of the consequences of murder. That’s what got me, a video game that considered the consequences of murder on a very personal level. Amongst all the weird goings on, all the ‘what the..?’ moments, those sad and intimate moments were perhaps the strangest things I’ve ever come across in a video game.
The title of Killer 7 referred to seven contract killers. Or alternatively, it referred to the wheelchair bound Harman who could take the form of seven different killers. All seven characters could be accessed early in the game, and switched at will. My favourite was Dan Smith. With his too long sideburns, suit and tie, and modified Colt Python, he was the first one I’d level up and the first one I’d call on to clean out any new area.
But all of the killers had something special. Luchador Mask de Smith had his slow loading grenade launchers and goofy voice, sounding like a lost twelve-year-old in a thirty-year-old body. Con Smith was blind but fast, Kaede Smith was stunning and terribly sad, with her blood splattered dress and penchant for suicide. Kevin Smith had knives and no re-load times and Coyote Smith had the coolest kill phrase in gaming history.
It was one of those games that caught my eye before it came out. The kind that you use as wallpaper and then count the days till it’s released. When it came out I rented it for a week and played through to the end. I had always meant to buy it to play through the Killer 8 alternative and the Hopper bonus level, the sly nod towards Suda51’s development company Grasshopper Manufacture, but for one reason or another I never did. Looking back, it’s surprising that it has been only four years since the game came out. Maybe because of the transition to next-gen consoles and all the remarkable games that followed.
I got a chance to play it again recently. I left it on the shelf for two weeks. I was almost afraid to play it. Scared that it would be like one of those movies you used to love, and you see them a few years later, and they’re crap.
When I did have a go there were all the faults and failings that I had either not noticed or forgotten about. Horrendously long load times every time you walked through a door. Garbled voiceovers that made you read through all the text, and all the pointless hints and tips to some really lame puzzles. But worst of all, and one of the things I did remember, the endless re-tracking every time you lose a life. And this time around, I lost a lot of lives.
I don’t know how I lost it so badly over the last few years. All that Fallout 3 (a game I was seriously considering doing this Life Changer on), GTA and MGS4 where you never die, and the game seemingly baby’s you through to the end. There was no babying when it came to the Heaven Smiles. Heaven Smiles, with their glowing critical points, that run, grin and explode with maniacal laughter and a shower of thick blood.
But, I still loved it. If anything I loved it even more. It was hard and twitchy, especially with a controller beaten to death with Fight Night 4. Iwazaru, the ghostly gimp, still called me Master and Con and Kaede still broke my heart. I enjoyed the grinding, collecting all the thick blood I could until I broke the machine and I read through all the pigeon messages. I shook my head again at the one named after Pussy Galore and was amazed how claustrophobic and creepy the scenes were between Harman and the vicious Samantha.
I don’t know if another game like this will ever be possible again. Graphics rule now, or rather graphical detail rules. No time for involved story development when you’re spending all that effort on making every pixel just right and making sure that it runs smoothly for the online tournaments. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it's just another reason why companies will plumb for the safer options as opposed to the Killer 7 options.
I’ve played it safe in the past. My previous life changers have been Baldur’s Gate and San Andreas, games that have been both commercial and critical successes. It was easy to talk about how great they were because I could be pretty sure that 99 percent of people reading it would agree. But there is nothing safe about Killer 7. I know a lot of people hated it and I can see why. Just not me.