Certain niche games fade into obscurity and others live on in infamy through cult followings, Killer7 fits into the latter category. Sometimes this following could be argued as being undeserved, and it is undeniable that Killer7 was met with divided response when it was released in 2005. However, now that it is coming to Steam, with refinements to cater to modern audiences, it’s worth a second look to see what all the fuss was about.
The story of Killer7 is as utterly insane as the characters involved in the plot. The player controls the “Killer7” a small group of assassins in an alternate reality 21st century that are all physical manifestations of the leader, Harman Smith. As a group, they are hired by the United States government to complete hits in the interest of national security. However, the plot of the game runs far deeper to take in a wider story of political tensions between the United States and Japan.
Whilst this primary plot is unfolding, there is a thread running through telling of an ongoing rivalry between Harman Smith and the primary antagonist, Kun Lan and his minions the Heaven Smile, as well as the mystery as to who or what the Killer7 actually exactly are. So there is a lot of narrative to digest here, which can become a little too convoluted at times, but Killer7 does do a remarkable job at ensuring the key plot points are noticeable amongst the other noise of the tale.
This is mostly because these important story beats are expressly told through cut-scene dialogue between characters, usually involving only Harman or Garcian. This being said, there are a lot of intricacies and world-building details to be found via interacting with the NPCs in the game too, even if their means of conveying information might be a little confusing to get to grips with initially. Looking at you Travis, and your often nonsensical babblings.
Grasshopper Manufacture worked here to make a game that feels remarkably unique, with its combination of on rails exploration, puzzle solving and first-person shooting. The player essentially only requires three buttons to navigate through the world; one to move forwards and confirm actions, one to perform a 180 degree turn, and one to choose between options if a choice is available. However, in this new port, they have added extensive options for remapping the buttons, should the player wish to do so.
I have to concede at this point that if you decide not to remap the buttons, this control system is unbelievably jarring to begin with, but very quickly this method becomes second nature. There’s just something about this control method that perfectly complements the rest of the game; it’s stripped back to the point of excess, in a game almost rife with excess, creating a wonderful feeling of balance. Also, now we have brought up excess, this would be a great time to discuss the special abilities of the personalities.
These abilities can be something as simple as being able to fire a more powerful charged shot than others or being able to unpick any locks that the player might come across; or can be a little more out of the ordinary, such as KAEDE Smith’s ability to rain her own blood on barriers to shatter them and remove them from the way. You can learn all of these from either talking to Izawaru or searching out the carrier pigeons in levels, both of which will give tips about the personalities and their powers.
You can switch between the personalities at will from the pause menu, so if you find yourself in a situation where a particular ability is needed, you can simply change over. However, to level up the personalities, you need to be in Harman’s Room (of which there are several in each level) and turn on the TV. Then you can transform thick blood from enemies into serum vials and use these vials to boost various stats.
Finally in terms of exploration, there are the puzzles that need to be solved in order to find key items in the game, such as Soul Shells. These, more often than not as spread across multiple rooms and involve information or objects being brought across. Luckily, a lot of puzzles will have Yoon-Hyun nearby, who will give a clue as to how to solve the puzzle. You can also elect to shoot the luchador mask that he is carrying for more clues, at the cost of thick blood as payment, but usually his clues are brazen enough that this won’t be necessary.
The combat of Killer7 sees the player gunning down the Heaven Smile with their particular chosen personality. First, the player has to scan the room to be able to see them, but then can let rip, targeting known weak points to gain more thick blood, which you will know by the explosion of blood – obviously. However, you allow them to get too close, they will maniacally laugh whilst detonating themselves, so don’t delay in dispatching them.
If a personality falls, the player will revert to Garcian Smith, and will need to find the little takeaway bag of flesh (yep, gross) that represented the fallen personality to revive them. Be careful during this process, however, because if Garcian falls it is game over. If the player is diligent in talking to Izawaru though, they can find out the weaknesses of every new enemy type, so a game over is a pretty rare sight.
Once the player has fought their way through a level, and if they have collected enough Soul Shells, they will be able to pay the Gatekeeper to enter the final stretch of that area, and the boss therein. The bosses tend to combine together knowledge pooled from speaking with the various NPCs in the level, and also often are a puzzle and an encounter simultaneously. The bosses manage to be both immensely satisfying to engage, and visually interesting, making each encounter wonderfully memorable.
Visually, Killer7 is incredible, opting for an intense cel-shaded art style that has aged very well, with only a little sharpening of the visuals made in this port. All of the character and creature designs are distinct, and all of the menus and locations just ooze the level of style that we have come to expect now from SUDA51. The whole look of the game is undeniably bold, and it pays off in creating an arguably unique package.
This unique style passes over to the sound design, with a moody score laid over the action, occasionally giving the player complete silence to allow the easier location of the initially invisible Heaven Smile. Speaking of which, some of the sound effects that these creatures have can be deeply unnerving, such as the gently growing chimes of the spherical Spiral Smile creeping towards the player’s location.
This game is one of the rare instances in which the hype of a cult, fanatical following is completely deserved. Killer7 is a massively stylish thrill ride through the mind of the madman that is SUDA51, in more ways than one, and I could not be more glad that it is being given a second lease of life on Steam. It will definitely not be for everyone, but it deserves more people to have played it. So, if you’re even the littlest bit intrigued from reading this review, give it a shot.