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Increasingly, there are two sides to Capcom. On the one hand, we have franchise-friendly Capcom – the Capcom of Resident Evil, Onimusha, Devil May Cry, and a frankly bewildering run of 2D and 3D beat-em-ups whose subtle variations befuddle all but the most devoted fans. This is hardly a dull, unadventurous company – in this year alone it’s revamped survival horror with Resident Evil 4 and supercharged the Devil May Cry series – but nothing in those games can prepare you for those moments when Capcom shows its other side. Crazy, anarchic, subversive, postmodern, self-consiously arty, this other Capcom has already given us the frenetic cartoon adventure of Viewtiful Joe and now it brings us Killer 7: the world’s most confusing arthouse video game.
It’s fitting that a company so schizophrenic, with its strange satellite studios feeding into the central Capcom system, would come up with a game that has multiple personalities as a central theme. The titular Killer 7 are members of an assassins’ syndicate, and at the same time physical manifestations of a master assassin’s split self. Confused? We’ve only just begun. This is a story that manages to tie in terrorism, political corruption, mental disorder, nuclear weapons, bizarre sexual kinks, espionage, professional weapons, restless spirits and just about everything else. If you’re looking for sense or simple action, you won’t find much of it here.
And there’s no point going any further without mentioning Killer 7’s style. Most games have a graphics engine, a collection of characters and some landscapes for them to walk around in. If we’re lucky, a talented art team uses these basic building blocks to create a coherent world we want to explore, and if we’re really, really lucky, that world connects with a storyline and some great mechanics to form something that obsesses and enchants us for days or even weeks at a time. Killer 7 is different. Killer 7 has an aesthetic.
This aesthetic governs everything from the storyline to the characters to the script to the way it looks. Especially the way it looks. Imagine a blend of Japanese anime, punk rock, Tarantino movies, horror, David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, all the oddest parts of US and Japanese indie cinema, all wrapped up in a stark, cel-shaded, four colour visual form. Imagine a game that’s shot and even edited like a film. Other games – XIII, Jet Set Radio – have tried to look like graphic novels, but Killer 7 goes one step further; it’s the world’s first graphic novel/video game/rock and roll/movie hybrid. Believe me, it’s not like anything else you’ve played.
Of course, it also doesn’t play like any game you’ve ever played. Capcom has at times tried to portray it as a first-person shooter, and to be fair there are plenty of moments when you’re shooting from a first-person perspective. However, it actually works quite differently. You control one of the Killer 7 syndicate at a time, mostly from a third-person perspective. You can’t actually control where they move, you can only make them move forward along a preset path, make them turn around and move backwards along the same path, or have them choose between several paths at a junction. Every now and then something happens. In some cases, it might be the discovery of an object or puzzle. At others it could be the arrival of a character, the most common being Iwazaru, an informative spirit in a red spandex gimp suit, and Travis, another weirdo spirit adviser with a penchant for cryptic slogan vests. I kid you not.