May the Lord smile… And the Devil have mercy. One of the opening lines of Suda 51’s whacked-out, blood stained, politically-soaked sledgehammer to the mind – Killer7. This is a game that has had praise heaped upon it for its artistic vision and willingness to be different, and criticism for… er… its artistic vision and willingness to be different.
As many developers quickly learn, you just can’t please everyone all the time, and no matter what your approach, or how imaginative you may be, stray off the beaten gaming path, and you’ll usually get praised and condemned in equal measure.
Killer7 certainly falls into this category, and while many see it as a sheer work of genius, others simply hate it, despising the on-rails gameplay and unfathomable story. Maybe because Suda 51 (real name, Goichi Suda) correctly realised you can’t please everyone, all the time, and so, didn’t try. He just made the game he wanted to make, for a market he knew existed, albeit not all that much outside of Japan, sadly.
Explaining what the game is about to the uninitiated who’s never seen or played the game is like describing nuclear physics to a gibbon, it’s impossible. Even people who’ve played the game through several times still struggle to make full sense of the plot, but this doesn’t mean that writing of the story is sloppy. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Just as David Lynch intentionally writes his material to be off-the-wall, leaving plenty to the imagination, so too has Suda 51, and the plot of the game does leave plenty for the player to figure out and fill in with their own unique take on things, long after the final bullet has been fired. In fact, so open is the plot to interpretation that an official explanation of the story commissioned by Capcom entitled Hand in Killer7 was released to help clear things up for players who wanted more solid closure. But, even this version contained irregularities, and many (including myself), see this as mere opinion, rather than a concrete explanation.
And that’s how some stories should be. With the ever-growing practise of dumbing down TV and media, little is left to the imagination these days. TV stories are so bland, and predictable, there’s little for the mind to do anymore, leaving the masses to stare blankly at the screen, being spoon-fed every last morsel. I don’t know about you, but give me an intriguing and engaging plot that forces you to think any day.
As you may have guessed I solidly stand in the love it crowd when it comes to Killer 7, and personally rate it as one of the greatest games ever made. But, this love of the game also stirs in me a kind of conflict. Deep down I know that it just shouldn’t work. The lack of total control of the player, the basic FPS shooting gallery elements, a plot that may make some player’s heads bleed and the endless, weird, ghostly voices that babble incoherently at you, often saying totally random phrases that don’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things.
But work it does, and all of the elements in the game meld together to produce a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it’s the sharp as a razor presentation, with a graphical style that oozes class, or maybe it’s the superbly ludicrous characters, most of which are initially fragments of main character, Harman Smith’s, psyche.
Harman, also known as the ‘God Killer’, is the world’s most feared hitman, despite being wheelchair bound. He’s a crack shot with his massive anti-armour sniper rifle. But his real power comes from his shattered mind, in the form of seven split personalities, each able to be manifested in the real world. Each personality has their own look, and more importantly, skills and weapons.
There’s Dan Smith – a psycho with a massive magnum revolver and the ability to fire Dragonball Z-like power blasts, Coyote Smith – a thief able to leap over buildings and pick any lock, Kevin Smith – a mute knife thrower who can turn invisible, and Con Smith – a blind teenager who possesses great speed and superhuman hearing (he’s blind you see). The last three include KAEDE Smith – a deadly female assassin with a penchant for using her own blood to break down barriers, MASK de Smith – a Lucha libre-esque masked Mexican wrestler in a sharp suit who wields two grenade launchers, and finally there’s Garcian Smith, the ‘leader’ of the seven, and the only man who can see the main enemies in the game, the freaky, giggling, suicide bombing Heaven Smiles.
Each character has a full history of sorts, and as the game progresses, the real truth behind the Killer7 is revealed. Because of this, the urge to get deeper into the politically-heavy plot, and discover more about these excellent characters is another reason why the game works so well. Whatever the golden ingredient actually is, I can’t quite put my finger on it. What I do know is that, in a good way, Killer7 plays and feels like no other game, and in today’s market of endless sequels, Sims expansions and mindless cash-ins, isn’t that something that we should praise above all else?